Let’s face it: socks are to the laundry as silverware is to the dishes. They are the last ones left in the pile. They are not the glory items that connote progress such as towels, jeans, and sheets. They are small and sneaky, clinging to unsuspecting shirts, snaking around under slacks. They sit, coiled under the pile of clean laundry, hiding, deliberately separating themselves from their mates in a cruel game of hide and seek.
Chances are very high that at least one time in your life, you have had a fight/disagreement with someone in your household over the issue of socks. The likelihood of that fight/disagreement increases dramatically if you have small children.
Now, when the boys were little, I was bound and determined to do it all. I had a fairly stressful job outside the home but still I took the boys to school. I picked them up afterwards. I took them to soccer practice. I took them to scout meetings. I cooked. I cleaned. I did laundry. I helped with homework. I collapsed into bed each night and woke up to do it all again the next day.
SO when it was time to make sock purchases, I had no time to plan, analyze or study the situation. Often times, I screeched into the parking lot of some giant store, ran in, grabbed a bag o’ socks and drove home.
Over the years, I made A LOT of sock purchases because
1) Our boys did not understand that socks were not indoor/outdoor wear.
2) Our cat Zelda has an affinity for carrying socks around and hiding them in unusual places, even taking them over the fence into the neighbor’s yard. I have very vivid memory of both boys standing barefooted in the garage one morning before school, waiting, while I crawled under the van to retrieve a variety of socks that Zelda had placed there.
3) To a busy mom, new socks in a bag are one of God’s greatest gifts. They are like soft serve ice cream cones: they make everybody happy. They are inexpensive, clean, white, and beautiful and all the more special because you know they won’t last. I, like many mothers, have pulled new socks out of the bag and held them against my face, nearly in tears at the beauty of these little miracles. Clean socks. My children have new, clean, perfect socks. I. am. a. good. mother.
So we had lots of socks, and lots of different styles and brands. To me, that made sorting and folding them a bit like a game of Memory. All it took was some concentration and time, and being willing to bend the rules and go with a close match if an exact one was not possible.
Now HOB (Husband of Betty) had his own philosophy when it came to purchasing socks. (Note: he did not purchase socks for the boys; he just knew how it should be done.) It was when I asked him to help me fold the laundry that he was most likely to share his soon-to-be-patented, surefire, safe-and-sane method of sock purchasing.
With evangelistic zeal, he would launch into his sermon about how I should buy just ONE kind of sock, ONE color, ONE size, ONE brand, ONE style and that way sorting and matching them would be easy. He would stand over the pile of clean laundry late at night, preaching, shaking one sock with a red band around the top and one sock with a yellow band around the top at me so I could see the error of my ways. Meanwhile, I worked busily, concentrating on getting just enough clean clothes off the bed so I could fit in it.
Once I asked him why, if he had this system, he did not implement it. He said he most certainly would, but it would require him to throw out every sock in the house and start over.
Every sock in the house had to go. No exceptions.
“You’d never go for that, would you?” he said.
Indeed I would not. I explained to him that we had a lot of good socks and all we had to do was to spend eight minutes doing the work of matching them up. This caused the Jimmy Swaggart of socks to shake his head in disbelief at the skepticism of the nonbeliever and launch into his passionate dissertation once again.
Then one fateful night it happened.
It was time to fold the three loads of clean laundry that were on the bed. We had folded most of the big-ticket items and I noticed HOB was avoiding the socks more than usual. He left to take a stack of towels to the bathroom. I reached under the pile and brought out assorted socks and sprinkled them on top of the pile of remaining clothing. He came back and I saw him pick through the clothes, avoiding all socks—even those matching ones on the very top that were practically throwing themselves together.
Finally, all that were left were the socks and the man mysteriously disappeared. I called to him. He came back in the room. I confronted him while dramatically pointing at the giant pile of socks still left on the bed. He proclaimed that the socks were “just too much” and that since I would not follow his plan of sock purchasing, well, he just couldn’t participate in the folding of the socks anymore.
Then he left the room.
Now, it is very dangerous to refuse to help a tired, stressed-out mother with sock duty. It is even MORE dangerous to refuse to help a tired, stressed-out mother who is also a highly sensitive, writerly type of woman who has a tendency to see symbolism in even the smallest acts/items.
When I looked down at that pile of socks I did not see a pile of socks.
Instead, I saw all the small tasks that were left to me, and me alone. I saw the purchasing of birthday party gifts. I saw the writing of thank you cards. I saw permission slips for school. I saw the napkin that had been on the floor for two weeks that needed to be picked up. I saw Christmas gifts that needed to be purchased and mailed. I saw the lunches that needed to be packed. I saw the damaged banana that everyone had left for me to eat while they ate their beautiful, perfect bananas.
I called HOB back in and eagerly shared with him all of the above observations. I don't really remember too much of the text of my helpful address to him. I was seeing a lot of colors at the time and the room was sort of tilting as I moved about to make my commentary just a bit more effective. I do believe my voice may have been a bit higher and faster than usual. I remember HOB squinting when I hit a few of the more important points of my keynote address. It was as though the pitch of my voice was piercing his temples like an ice pick. Oh, also, I do remember going on about the banana for an extended period of time, perhaps longer than rhetorically necessary.
Finally I was done.
I stood, looking at him, daring him with my eyes to speak.
“So,” he said, locking his gaze onto mine. "Do you want me to deal with those socks?”
“Yes,” I said, distinctly and clearly, meeting his stare, my pupils widening.
“Do YOU (pointing at me) want me to deal with those socks?” (pointing at them).
“Yes.” I said, enunciating the word like never before.
Reminiscent of a “Wild Planet” show, we stood, our eyes locked.
"Do you want ME to deal with those socks?"
Are you sure you want me to deal with THOSE socks?”
"Because I WILL deal with those socks!"
"Good! It's about time you dealt with a few of the socks around here!"
That is when the bull moose headed for the pile of socks on the bed, scooped them up and dramatically headed for the trash can, dropping them all in.
“There!” he said, triumphantly throwing his hands in the air. “I have just dealt with the socks!”
No he didn’t.
Yes, he did.
For the sake of our marriage, we do not speak of this incident too often.
Life is easier here now that we have only one boy home. He picks out his own socks and, in typical teen boy fashion, honestly doesn’t care if his socks match or not. Occasionally, he actually does his own laundry too.
There are those times, though, when I am sorting the laundry and HOB enters the room. I see his eyes flit to the socks on the bed. I look at him and he looks at me and we give each other little smiles.
“Want me to help you deal with those socks?” he says.
“Sure,” I say.
And he actually does.