Where do you get rags?

This weekend I spent quite a bit of time putting my kitchen back together after we had some work done on the cabinets. As MI and I worked to restore order, we realized that not quite everything was going to fit back in (and some things had to go; I am looking at you, un-stackable, un-dishwasher/microwave safe, chipped mug from San Francisco). And so it was time for another kitchen purge.

I don’t know at what point I will stop fighting the crush of utensils and baking gadgets and instead start collecting mini spoons and never replacing my pans, like the women who’ve gone before me. I assume it will happen in due time. Until then, MI and I have to clean out our little kitchen every year to keep all of the plates and cups and tools from taking over. (Despite intense pressure, I have successfully argued to keep the Bundt pan for three consecutive years. If I ever made you a ‘just because’ Bundt cake, you now know that it was part of the strategy to justify the pan.)

One of the items we pared back this round were washcloths. For many years, we have struggled to find the ‘right’ dishcloths–one set was cheap and pilled quickly, one set was white and looked insta-dirty, the current set works well but is in shades of THE most boring brown and taupe colors. Clearly the perfect chance to convert them into cleaning rags and renew my quest for vibrant, high-quality, preferably self-cleaning washcloths.

washcloth--whitewashcloth--dirty whitewashcloth--brownishwashcloths--rainbow 2

But first I had to dispose of the old rags, you know, to make room for the new ones. With so many failed sets of washcloths, we have developed quite the collection of cleaning rags. The great circle of kitchen linens.

Suddenly, as I was throwing away old, formerly-white rags to make space for new brownish-green rags, I got weirdly nostalgic.

I remembered early, in the first weeks of our marriage when we were trying to set up our first apartment. We had NOTHING because we’d both lived either in college dorms or with family right up until we got married. So we had two suitcases of clothes and all of the generous gifts from our wedding attendees. That was it. The first night we didn’t even have sheets and we slept under navy blue bath towels on an air mattress in an unlit, frigid Connecticut apartment because it was January and we forgot to turn the heat on (good-bye college’s central heating system!). We were green at “adulthood” and “housekeeping” and there were many steep learning curves ahead.

One day in that first week, as we were cleaning the new apartment in hopes of filling it with things we would eventually buy, MI asked for a towel to wipe something down. I checked, but I knew that all we had were the fluffy, new navy blue towels from the registry, and I wasn’t about to have the thing I used after showering also be the thing we used to wipe down the top of the cabinets. (As you, savvy reader, now know, they sometimes even served as a comforter…). I told him he had to find a rag.

We looked around the barren room and then made eye contact; there weren’t rags. We didn’t have any old ripped, stained, dirty anything that fit the bill. MI finally asked, “where do you GET rags? ” I thought; then remembered that in my house growing up we used the old, ugly towels from my Grandma in the 80s and cloth diapers from when I was a baby. Hmm. No old lacey bathroom towels, no ratty clothes (we got rid of all of that when we moved in with two suitcases!), no diapers of any kind.  Hmmm…

Honestly, I don’t remember how we solved that problem (maybe the way I would today: don’t clean the top of the cabinets. Eww.)

But now, more than 10 years later, we have so many rags that I cycle through, throwing them away and replacing them with the new models. Just think: eventually, once I find those ideal vibrant, high-quality, self-cleaning washcloths, and we buy them forever more, we will have fun RAINBOW-COLORED RAGS.

washcloths--rainbow

It is kind of like being rich when you think about it; having lots of cleaning rags means we are established, we have lived, and we are thriving. Ironic, right?

That is pretty much like the whole marriage, really. After ten years, we totally have rags: things that tore or got dirty. Things that are no longer new, no longer pristine.

So  many rags, I have to sort them and get rid of the very old to make room for the new old. I’ve learned how to sort, and reorganize; share childcare responsibilities, tag team at toddler bedtime, and love in-laws; be kind when hungry and remember to use the parking brake; put away the milk after breakfast and call when I am late; to forgive and seek forgiveness every single day.

We didn’t used to have to do those things, and that time seems simpler and easier. And the “simpler and easier” from my memory sometimes gets confused with “happier”–but it isn’t, really. That is what I remembered as I sat in the kitchen with my washcloths. That early time of new marriage was when we didn’t know how to work. We didn’t have a true, established household. We didn’t have the tools we needed to make life beautiful.

Now, we do. As life gets more complicated and history grows longer and things get worn and sometimes broken, we get new rags. The practical, symbolic gift of experience.

I am grateful for them.

Even the brown ones.

Venn diagram, kitchen table, accidental fire.

Marriage is a Venn diagram: your preferences, the other person’s preferences, and the all important area of overlap in the middle that defines the way you can peacefully live your lives.

In fact, marriage is an almost infinite series of Venn diagrams. What music can we both tolerate in the car (MUSIC. Who is mature enough for NPR?)? What vegetables will we both eat (besides french fries, the ‘gimme’ I assume is included in all American Venn diagrams.)? Will the couch and/or bed have throw pillows pileofpillows(I did not, until 10 years ago, realize that this could be a topic for debate with some people. Who dislikes throw pillows?)?

When it comes to the Venn diagram of furniture, MI and I have a rather small overlap. MI seeks the beautiful, the artisan, the statement, the unique. I tend towards the easily and quickly acquired. The I-won’t-completely-lose-it-when-someone-colors-on-this-with-Sharpie. Mostly the “from Target.” 

So our house has all elements. The custom cherry wood bed frame that MI coveted for four years before I finally caved. (I hit my hip on the waterfall footboard almost every night for the first year of D2’s life as I stumbled toward her crying at 2am like a zombie. I think I still have an indent.) There are big box store bookshelves with wood-grain cardboard backing nailed on and shelves that bow like old camels. And who doesn’t have the Ikea Lack table?lack table

Despite the evidence of compromise over more than a decade of joint furnishing, there have been clashes. I vetoed the authentic oriental rug. He vetoed the end tables made of plastic storage tubs covered in extra fabric. I vetoed the amazing, custom hard wood (one bazillion dollar) loft/nook/trundle bunk bed. He vetoed the bedroom decor inspired by 10 things available RIGHT NOW at Home Goods (strike hard when that line is short, I say!)

And so I set up for you, dear reader, the saga of:

The Kitchen Table

MI had one picked out. It was the bed frame’s long lost brother, and for a handsome fee, we could bring them back together under one roof. Or, if we wanted to ‘cut back,’ we could get the same wood from a different place–not quite as artisan, not quite as beautiful, but less expensive and still quite nice.

I had one picked out. I mean, I could quickly have one picked out, once we lowered the back seat in the car and went to Target.

Neither wanted to budge. But we agreed that it was time for the old table to go. Craigslist buyers came much more quickly than I was expecting and all of a sudden, there was nothing in our dining room. Ella and D2 cried–for real–when they came down in the morning; I think they thought “When the Grinch Stole Christmas” was happening to us (and as it turns out, we don’t just keep singing.).

We called it our “Asian dining experiment.” We will love–LOVE–sitting cozily all together on the floor. We bought cute seat cushions. I laid out table cloths. We convinced the children life was now one long picnic. But we were fooling only ourselves. Children would accidentally step on my plate–a new problem when I thought

Me, in the time of no table.
Me, in the time of no table.

I had already faced all of the ways children could ruin a meal. People with joint pain were out of luck about getting back up from dinner. We had to assess whether potential dinner invitees were sufficiently open-minded to dine with us. And the sweeping. Oh, the sweeping.

FOR THREE MONTHS.

One day, I couldn’t take it. I couldn’t even make it to Target. I found an awesome-looking table online for $300 from a company I’d never heard of that they would ship for–who cares?–and was supposed to be easy to assemble. “Place order.” I didn’t tell MI until the world’s largest box was sitting on our porch the following week after work. The kids thought the Grinch had finally returned Christmas, but I could tell that not everyone was full of glee.

But MI, with his heart of gold, assembled my internet mystery table. And admitted that it looked “actually pretty nice.” I thought it was the best piece of furniture in the history of time and we had a full-on feast to celebrate. . . having a table. #classy

I felt a twinge of guilt, though, every time we passed MI’s favorite wood artisan store. And I could see the sadness in his eyes when friends (who came flooding back when we rejoined the modern world) asked where it was from and I couldn’t remember. “Online.” “Probably China.” Sigh.

The Fire

But regret over my pragmatic and cost-effective dining solution, graciously, was not to last long. One evening, less than three weeks after the table’s celebratory welcome feast, there was an accident. I will omit some details here, mostly because they are self incriminating, so I think I am allowed to do that, but choices were made and somehow, inexplicably, there was a fire on the table caused by a beautiful centerpiece tea candle and a reusable grocery bag (I was setting the mood and saving the environment, friends. Remember that.)

Turns out, melted plastic vinyl (or whatever they make those bags out of) is really hard to get off of fake internet wood. Annnnnd, also turns out, that a dinner knife is not as safe for scraping off burnt polyester as you’d think. (Even if you can’t see the scratches, your husband can.)

So, as an unfortunate byproduct of creating a beautiful home and preserving our children’s futures, I mildly, permanently disfigured the very center of the new kitchen table.

Thank goodness for whoever made this table at the low, low cost of $300 plus shipping. Thank goodness for not MI’s beloved fancy table. That fire would have been so much more emotional–perhaps impossible to recover from. I mean, think of the trauma to the bed frame had I killed his brother. It’d seem like motive after the nighttime hip-foot board incidents and I probably would be suspected of retaliatory arson.

So we have my table.Thank goodness for centerpieces, right? (But mind the candles.) And I also have new comfort for the future: I had promised MI that we could look into getting a super fancy table when we could feel more confident that our family wouldn’t destroy it. Turns out, the kids are not the only risk, so I might have bought myself extra time.

Relatedly, I turned the old, no-table floor cushions into throw pillows.  Mwahaha.couch with throw pillows

The Things They Handed Me

Small children value, trust, and appreciate parents.

I can tell. Why else would they think we should get to hold their weird treasures and see and touch their disgusting trash without fear that we are judging them?

Well, sometimes I am judging them. And kids over the years have handed me some ridiculous things.

  • So, so many apple cores. Apple cores in the car. Apple cores at the mall. Apple cores on walks. Apple cores while apple picking. Apple cores while in the grocery store buying apples. And I never get to play ‘Apple core, Baltimore.’
  • Food. Not new food. Not delicious or fresh or clean food. Mostly food that they tried eating (because I made them or they didn’t inspect closely beforehand) and disliked so intensely they couldn’t bring themselves to swallow. So they eject the masticated food into the obvious receptacle: my palm. Some restaurants are just not for toddlers.
  • Toddler underwear. Usually underwear that has had a really terrible day. The  hand-off of the unfortunate underwear usually happens when company is over and is inevitably followed with an overly blunt summary of the potty misfortune and a promise to NEVEREVERDOTHATAGAIN. They never ever follow through on the nevereveragain promise. Potty training has won so many battles. Probably I will win the war. It is a long war.
  • Personal items. Things that adults–if left to their own senses–would never want to touch at all. Where they would use latex gloves or hire professionals or squeal and then compulsively wash their hands.  But, once you have kids, that stuff becomes stuff you stuff directly into your jeans pocket until you can fish it out and discard/display at an appropriate time. At last week’s playdate, for example:

    Friend’s child: “[Ella]’s mom! here, look at this!”
    Me: “Is this. . .”
    Friend’s child: “Yeah! My tooth just came out! Will you save it for my mom?”

  • Vomit. You know sometimes when you are driving your car with a passenger in shotgun and you have to break really hard and you instinctively put your arm out to the side even though the passenger is an adult and you don’t need to do that and your arm would not prevent disaster anyway? And you think, why do I have that useless instinct? But in the moment of car crisis, you just do it? That is what happens when my kids are right, right next to me in a public, non-bathroom space and then they suddenly throw up. I instinctively catch it. Does it make sense? No. Can I stop it? Not yet. I have a great airplane story. Ask me some time you want to appreciate business travel.
  • Goo. I don’t know how toddlers always have this. But they do. And when they’re done with it, they give it back to the universe. And by universe, I mean mostly  just me.

    I broke my egg. The white gooshed out, but here is the yellow.

  • My own things, in less pristine condition. The dreaded “I borrowed…was an accident… really sorry.” Like ‘I borrowed your beautiful ring and then we were playing buried treasure and I buried it and now we can’t find it, but here is your spoon that we used to dig for it and it got bent. I am really sorry.’ Or ‘I took your necklace. And then, I am sorry to say, it got itself broken. Outside. Most of the beads are still in the bush, but I got a few back for you! Can you get the rest?’
  • Mysteries, waiting for answers. These are always gross mysteries that I would not choose tosoapy seashell study if I was ever given proper warning. Do you think this is animal poop or melted chocolate? I cannot tell and I *never* want to hold it if we’re not sure. You figure it out. Just don’t taste it, come back inside, or touch  me again.
  • Thoughtful toddler presents. Like how D2 had a two-month phase where she would bring me seashells filled with hand soap. And Ella collected “nature” that I still display in a vase on the bookshelf; except an omitted piece of bubble gum. Because while it was in nature, we decided it wasn’t actually nature. From my hand, straight to the trash.