Perfectionism, Parenting, & Panties: A Lesson from my Laundry.

Via Lynn Shattuck
on Oct 8, 2013
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Laundry Soap

It happens at the playground: Why is my child licking the swing set like a giant ice cream cone?  

It rears up regarding my career: Why is she younger than me, but has already published a book and has a story in the New Yorker?

And you better believe it happens at the gym: Did you see her butt? It doesn’t move when she runs! My butt is so big, it has its own pair of Nikes!

Needless to say, this voice sucks. It is not helpful or inspiring. Instead, it’s loud, bossy and persistent.

Sometimes, when I’m smack in the midst of struggling with a life lesson, the universe provides me with a little extra material.

“Mommy, you left your underwear at my school,” my son Max says. Four-year olds say many weird things.

They flail from the existential: “When is everybody in the whole world going to die?”

To the bizarre: “Pitano is a monster who puts his penis out!”

To the embarrassing: “Why are your nipples so big? Are you going to have another baby?”

With young children, weird questions and statements are the norm, not the exception. So the underwear comment semi-permeates my consciousness, but quickly glurps beneath the surface of my quicksand mama-brain.

But the next day, he says it again.

“Max, what are you talking about?” I ask.

“Bev was holding it up,” he says matter-of-factly, his arm outstretched to demonstrate.

Oh dear God.

I can hear the spark of static that his nap blanket and sheet create when they come out of the dryer, clinging to each other like new lovers. I remember not taking the three seconds to shake them out and fold them before I dropped Max off at preschool on Wednesday morning. This must be why most people wash their sheets or towels separately from the rest of their clothing instead of tossing it all together, a bright stew of darks and lights, nap sheets and panties.

I bet the other mommies all shake and fold. They probably even do it the night before school, right after they finish cleaning up from the five-course organic meal they made for dinner, I think.

When I drop Max off at school the following day, my fears are confirmed. In his cubby slumps a crumpled plastic shopping bag, the kind that his clothes come home in when he gets pee or vomit on them. The bag of filth and shame.

I peek in and spy a flash of bright pink.

“Hiiiii, Bev!” Max bellows to his teacher as he struts into his classroom. My toddler, Violet, makes her bowlegged way after him, heading straight for a tray of small, shiny beads that are exactly the same size as her esophagus.

“Hey, Bev,” I say. We make brief small talk about the upcoming auction for the school. Meanwhile, my underwear blazes in my son’s cubby. I take a breath and decide to confront the situation head on. “So… Max tells me a pair of my underwear made it to school the other day?”

“He told you?” she says, surprised.


“You’re not the first,” she says. A breeze of relief flushes over me.

“Really?” I ask.

“I’ve seen thongs…all kinds of things…” She trails off, a war veteran trying not to summon the horrors her eyes have beheld.

“At least it was clean,” I quip. And not the enormous, leftover maternity panties that I drag out once a month, I think.

After I hug and kiss Max goodbye, I grab Violet. And my underwear.

Maybe that wasn’t so bad, I think. The grocery bag with my undies makes a crinkly noise, perhaps in protest.

I’m so tired of trying to gauge how I measure up, inevitably coming up short. It takes up so much energy. I make mostly good choices. My kids are healthy and loved. They are, hopefully, becoming kind human beings. It is unlikely that the underwear incident will be mentioned at my funeral.

We are human. We have body parts and children that don’t always behave as we’d like them to. We are wildly imperfect, shimmeringly flawed creatures.

Slowly, I’m trying to learn to embrace my quirks and shortcomings. To view them with the same amusement and tolerance with which I embrace my children. When Max tips a cup over, dribbling tidal pools of milk across the couch, floor, and his clothes, I say, “It’s okay. It’s just an accident, Sweetie.” When Violet wakes up all sweaty with her duck fluff hair bent like a member of Flock of Seagulls, I find it adorable.

If I could view my mistakes and imperfections through a mother’s eyes, I’d say You sweet little thing, you brought your underwear to your son’s school! That is so you! Classic!  Or, So, you can’t cook. You’re funny and kind and you can parallel park like nobody’s business.

Maybe it’s time to make, if you will, a laundry list of positives for every mistake, every imperfection.

That being said? It might be time to look into that whole laundry sorting business.

Like the mindful life on Facebook.

Ed: Sara Crolick


About Lynn Shattuck

Lynn Shattuck lives in Portland, Maine with her husband and two young children. She blogs about parenting, imperfection, spirit and truth telling—you can connect with her through her website or find her on Facebook.


17 Responses to “Perfectionism, Parenting, & Panties: A Lesson from my Laundry.”

  1. Heather Grimes says:

    This is so good, Lynn! Your voice is fabulous. The perfect thing to start my day!

  2. lynnola says:

    Thank you, Heather! Have a great one!

  3. storywhore says:

    I was a preschool teacher for a time and we LOVE the parents who remind us of our humanity. Years later I still remember little Marissa announcing that her very conservative, lawyer father only wears red underwear. Truth? I thought, "huh, he seemed so dull; maybe they are a fun family after all." We are all more alike than we are different. Want to feel normal? My youngest threw up all over the Walgreen's check out counter yesterday. So much for decorum…..

  4. Michelle says:

    "We are human. We have body parts and children that don’t always behave as we’d like them to. We are wildly imperfect, shimmeringly flawed creatures." BEAUTIFUL!

  5. Eileen says:

    This is a hilarious article. I just loved reading this. There is so much truth to this. We are all so imperfect, but so worthy of being loved and respected. thanks

  6. lynnola says:

    Too funny. Happy to help remind my kids teachers of our humanity! 🙂

  7. lynnola says:

    Thank you, Michelle!

  8. lynnola says:

    Oh, thank you Eileen! My best to you.

  9. scoochdaily says:

    I love this article. We may, in fact, be living parallel lives in Maine so please take comfort in the fact that there is a woman living the same existence with her two children in Camden and luckily the sense of humor that comes with the humbling job of parenthood keeps us going! xoxo, Licia

  10. lynnola says:

    Thanks, Licia! Glad to know you are nearby living similarly! My best to you, and thank goodness for a sense of humor.

  11. Alice says:

    A good hidden opportunity for laundry sorting business

  12. lynnola says:

    Haha. Thanks, Alice!

  13. Nancy says:

    This is such a great article, with a message I *really* needed to read today. Thanks!

  14. moonsprig says:

    Wonderful read. Funny and compassionate for all of us humans, mother's or not. I can cook but not parallel park which is one of those things I tend to get freaked out about.

  15. lynnola says:

    Thank you, Nancy! 🙂

  16. lynnola says:

    Isn't that funny? We are all so different and perfectly imperfectly.

  17. Katie says:

    From one Maine mama to another, LOVE THIS POST!