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My dishpan hands are my own

November 29, 2009

I come from a strong tradition of therapeutic dishwashing.

This article reminded me of how cleaning is cleansing in more ways than one. I agree with Cate Blanchett that vacuuming can be satisfying, especially that clicking noise as debris gets sucked up into the vacuum. My fancy bagless pet hair vacuum doesn’t make that noise very often, probably because I’m usually vacuuming up mounds of cat hair and not dirt. Perhaps this is why vacuuming isn’t my therapy chore of choice.

As I’ve gotten older, washing the dishes has transformed from a chore to part of my evening ritual. It’s the way I close out the day, my own version of  “Goodnight Moon” before I turn in for the night. It takes only a couple of minutes, but the soap, water, and dishes slipping through my hands provide a way to quiet my mind. It’s a fitting bookend to my morning ritual of dirtying a cereal bowl, a glass for my orange juice, and a mug for my coffee.

My mom might be responsible for teaching me meditation through dishwashing. She does the dishes every night after dinner. She doesn’t let anyone else do them. Once, after my stepfather died, I tried to help by doing the dishes for her. When she snapped at me that she’d do them herself, the tears in her eyes revealed the importance of the task. This was her meditation, her constant through tough times, the one thing to anchor herself amidst uncertainty. Several years later, upon hearing the news that a friend had committed suicide, the first thing I did was run hot water in the sink and squeeze the soap out of the Ivory bottle. It was all I could think of doing when the sense of helplessness washed over me.

As a feminist I subscribe to the idea that, by itself, doing housework is far from a rewarding experience. It can, however, provide the mental routine we need to make it through the day. It sounds silly, but even when everything else is spiraling out of control, the dishes are the one thing I’ve got on lockdown. I understand now that even when Mom grumbles about the pile of dishes in the sink, it’s not a situation I should intervene in. In my family, clean dishes are a clean mind.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. November 30, 2009 11:45 pm

    Doing the dishes can be therapeutic for me too. So can mowing the lawn. People think I’m crazy, but I actually enjoy it.

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