Sometimes, when I'm visiting my grandsons' house, I'll fold the clean laundry.
I do this partly because if I'm there and it's there, why on earth not, but I've discovered intense pleasure in occasionally smoothing and folding tiny T-shirts and onesies.
Even the word onesie gets to me. So cute. I know onesie means one piece and not someone's age, but I wish we could keep it going, somehow. Why not twosies and threesies?
Of course, this inevitably leads to tensies or even forty-foursies. On second thought, let's enjoy onesies and call it quits.
And the pants my 17-month-old grandson wears! They could be oven mitts or maybe a nice scarf, the debonair kind you tuck inside a coat collar. Or puppets. I slide one hand in each pant leg and have the legs greet each other: "How's life on your side of the waistband?" Then I fold each pair the long way, fold it again and start making a pile.
Over here I put my 4-year-old grandson's clothes: T-shirts with planets, T-shirts with diggers, T-shirts with fish, zoo animals and the words "Free to Wear Pink."
I fold several small collared shirts too, somehow reminded of the uproar in seventh grade when girls started pulling off the loops sewn to the backs of boys' shirts. The boys, of course, were quizzical, as boys are when girls start tearing at their clothes, but then their irate mothers started calling the school, and "fruit loop" collecting was shut down.
Understand that I'm not an angelic grandma, folding her fingers to the bone. I do this because it's been years since tiny items dominated my laundry. Enormous wash loads these days are composed of enormous pieces: Bed sheets, towels, blankets.
But I remember when the clothes dryer regularly disgorged thousands of little white T-shirts and tiny socks shaped like plump check marks. Sorting and folding was a monumental task, like picking apart a Roman mosaic chip by chip.
Undershirts are no longer must-have baby garments. That's fine with me. My childhood undershirts drove me nuts. They were either too short or the spaghetti-strap sleeves were loose and slipped off my shoulders.
The only thing more irritating than feeling a loose strap under your sleeve is feeling your socks sliding into your shoes. No wonder I had so many before-kindergarten tantrums, shrieking, "My socks don't feel good! My shirt doesn't feel good!"
It wasn't really my socks and my shirt; it was my kindergarten, a place so grim it was probably the model for Jane Eyre's Lowood. But it was also the socks and the undershirts. A person can have the heebie-jeebies about more than one thing at a time.
A week or so before my older daughter was born, I washed a pile of tiny new undershirts and, like a rookie, ironed them. I knew even as I poked the iron's hot tip into the seams that I'd never iron the shirts again.
This was a ritual, a rite of motherhood I was compelled to perform, just as a sea turtle is compelled to lay her eggs in the sand. Like a good turtle, I didn't question my instincts. I just ironed away until all the shirts were pressed and pristine, and then I dragged myself back to the sea. It wasn't easy, considering my condition, but that's what flippers are for.
Meanwhile, back at my daughter's, I'm matching socks. A pile of one million socks eventually becomes a pile of 500,000 rolled-up balls, or maybe 499,000 rolled-up balls and one little sock on top. This task gives a person real appreciation for those who do painstaking work: Making hand-knotted rugs, for instance. Bookbinding. Sorting gravel.
People who do necessary work which must inevitably be repeated -- dish washing (or dishwasher emptying, which is even more soul-destroying), dusting and laundry, for starters -- are true heroes.
I abandoned my dedication to all that is pure and wholesome when my second daughter was born. I don't mean I went from homemade yogurt straight to vending-machine cookies. But I had no time to even fantasize about ironing anything smaller than my hand.
And now if you'll excuse me, I must attend to these bibs.
Write to Margo Bartlett at firstname.lastname@example.org.