It was over 20 years ago that the Huggies company offered a refund of a personalized cassette tape with your child’s name worked into the songs. My children all got a kick out of the words to one song: “Rachel, take a bath, take a bath. Rachel, join the human race, take a bath.” Rachel, however, did not appreciate the lyrics and would wildly screech “Turn it off! Turn it off!” when her siblings played it.
For some reason, I was reminded of these lyrics recently when my sister asked if we wanted their old dishwasher. Was it finally time for us to join the 21st century? To join the human race? Doesn’t it seem that way sometimes, when everyone around you has something you don’t?
Years ago, two of my husband’s sisters visited us when we lived in an old house that was practically falling down around us. We had a lot of good times in that house, despite living in abject poverty. My husband had just lost his job, we had a new baby, and we couldn’t have moved if we wanted to. At the end of their visit we were standing in the kitchen while one of his sisters surveyed our kitchen. “You don’t have a microwave? Or a dishwasher?” She looked horrified. “If anyone deserves one, it is you,” she said to me, motioning towards our youngsters. (we had five children at the time)
Yeah, I thought after they left, if anyone deserves those things it is me. Not only were we going through a rough period financially, our marriage was feeling the stress and strains of too many bills along with too many babies. I’d been sick with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for two years before that. I had no time for myself, no money to amp up my wardrobe or even get a haircut. I felt, and looked, like a drudge. My self-esteem was at an all-time low, and I was really struggling with a sense of unhappiness with my marriage and my lot in life. It didn’t take much, just a simple comment from a sister-in-law, to push me over the edge into the abyss of discontent. For a long time, I wallowed in that discontent.
Fast forward to 2010, three babies and countless bills later. I am the happiest I have ever been, both with myself and our marriage. What happened in the interim were a myriad of things, but most important among them was a shared journey through cancer with my husband David. I know I am belaboring a point I have made repeatedly on here, and that point is that good can come from the bad things in our life, but it is a truth I can’t say often enough. I like to tell others that whatever their marriage is like right now, it can be better, that whatever they are feeling about themselves or their life at this very moment, can change. And part of that change comes from our attitude.
It is too easy to feed discontent, and rage with jealousy over what others have. I have never gone on a vacation outside of Iowa, ridden on an airplane, or even had my nails done. I haven’t owned a brand new couch or bought a $100 purse. The diamond in my engagement ring is so small it can barely be seen by the naked eye. Some of these things are conscious choices~ I chose the modest ring and don’t particularly want to own a new couch. I never want to carry a purse that costs more than my weekly grocery bill. Other things like the fingernails and the vacation, are not so much a choice as an accommodation of our limited budget. Still, after fighting a life-threatening illness with my husband, none of those things seem even remotely important.
I can still get occasional twinges of jealousy. Recently my brother John was talking about the cars teens drive today, mentioning how their parents ask for his help in searching for a car under $3000 for their kids. I laughed then, commenting that if our poor children wanted a car they would have to buy it themselves. Underneath that laugh was consternation, though, because we, ourselves, have never owned a car that new, or that cost over $1800. We haven’t even gotten into the year 2000 yet with any of our vehicles. I said as much to him.
“How much did you pay for your van?” he asked.
We’d paid $800 in cash, and that van has been with us for almost three years. Other than a few small repairs it has done a good job doing what we need it to; transport our family to and from book sales and day trips.
John “gets” our dismay at the cost of used vehicles, and knows just what to help us look for when we are ready to replace one of ours. He has been instrumental in several of those choices. He also “gets” why a parent would look for a newer car for their teen headed to college. I do too. What I don’t “get” is why anyone, least of all a teen, would assume that all teens should have a car given to them. Or why a perfectly good van can’t get another year’s use out of it.
So, back to the dishwasher. When my sister asked if we wanted it, I jumped at the chance, remnants of “I deserve one” reverberating in my head. We’d already set up a time for her husband Philip to deliver it, when David hesitantly said “I don’t really want it.” My first inclination was to accuse him of denying me convenience and joy, something I would have snidely replied years ago. Rather than immediately jump to that conclusion, I stopped and contemplated our life right now.
David has been doing 90% of the dishes since he has been home.
Maybe he actually liked doing dishes. Maybe he enjoyed the quiet, contemplative time at the sink. Maybe he wanted to conserve energy and water.
“Why don’t you want one?” I asked him.
This is the difference in our marriage. Instead of assuming that David was trying to ruin something for me, and berating him for it, I took the time to listen to his needs, to understand him better. He does the same with me.
It turned out his main complaint with a dishwasher is that he didn’t like changes. I pointed out how much he hated the amount of water the kids used when they washed dishes and how much I hated to see a sink full of dishes.
I asked him to try it for two weeks, and if he still didn’t like it, he could sell it for Jane and Philip at our next garage sale. He agreed.
I had to move things around in our kitchen a bit to make room for the appliance. Doing that, I came across some things that belonged in the junk drawer. Of course, when I went to put them in the drawer, I had to clean the drawer. And the counter. Two hours later, I was beginning to wonder just why I had wanted a dishwasher in the first place since it was already starting to feel like it was going to be more trouble than it was worth. But the kids were excited, my husband had agreed to give it a chance and the idea of a clean sink was too appealing to give up now. Of course I had to go to Walmart to get soap for a dishwasher. I was greeted by a shelf full of powders, liquids, tablets and gel tabs. Which was I supposed to buy? I decided on the gel tabs since they looked the most “fun” to use.
Kitchen ready, the dishwasher was delivered by my brother-in-law, who allayed my husband’s increased fears by informing him that no, dishes didn’t have to be scraped and rinsed first, and yes, the dishwasher would heat up the water itself so we didn’t have to set our hot water heater higher.
So today was the big day. For three days we have been putting our dirty dishes and utensils in the dishwasher. The two youngest pleaded with us not to start the dishwasher while they were sleeping, so I waited for them this morning.
The moment had arrived. We pushed the machine to the sink, hooked up the hoses and stood there expectantly, not sure how to proceed. Abby reminded us of the cleaning tablets and we inserted one into what we assumed was the correct receptacle. (we still didn’t have the instruction book) We pushed a few buttons and heard the cycle begin. Then David and I went upstairs to get dressed while the girls played in the next room. An hour later I found the machine still washing. I had to get the kids a drink of water from the bathroom sink. Half an hour went by and the machine was still chugging away. After yet another half hour I wondered aloud, “How is this a time-saving device? David could have washed and dried the dishes four times by now.” That is when Katie told us she’d heard it emptying out the water four times already. Two hours, and the dishes still weren’t done?
I called Jane and asked her for the instruction book. Instead, she came over.
I felt like an alien from another planet. Surely the average American knows how to run a dishwasher?
Jane walked me through the steps of filling the dishwasher and running it. It turns out we’d had the plastic cups in the wrong rack and they would have melted if we hadn’t stopped the cycle after I’d called her. We’d also set the dishwasher on a heavy load with an extra cycle, or it would have been done an hour before.
I’m glad David and I were able to laugh at our own foibles, and I’m sure we gave Jane a chuckle or two. Our inability to figure out the machine, our family’s avid interest in something so simple and mundane, and our enjoyment of it is amusing, I know. Laughter is good for the soul, and in the scheme of things, not knowing how to run a dishwasher isn’t a big deal. That kind of knowledge isn’t as crucial as say, knowing how to love your spouse.
And that, my friends, we know how to do.
Wash your dishes, Mary, wash your dishes. Get a dishwasher, Mary, get a dishwasher. Join the human race, Mary, get a dishwasher.