Doing Dishes
tom walsh


When I was a kid, the only important thing about chores was trying to get out of them, or at least to get them done as quickly as possible so that I could move on to more important things like hanging around and doing nothing.  But one of the worst chores was that of drying dishes.  There was no way to hurry it, and there was no way to get it done early--it had to be done after dinner, at my mom's pace, when she wanted to wash.  Dishes couldn't be dried until they had been washed and rinsed, of course.

But the biggest problem was that after dinner came one of the most important times in an American family's day--Prime Time.  I was fortunate, and I wasn't nearly as interested in television as most of the people I knew, but there were still some shows that I enjoyed, and doing dishes for an entire week meant that I would pretty much miss a show or two.  My mom was good about trying to finish quickly when she knew we really wanted to see something, but sometimes we would be going to the kitchen door, looking in on the TV with a plate in our hands, then going back for the next plate with the hope that we wouldn't miss an "important" part.

In retrospect, though, those times doing the dishes were probably the most important part of growing up for me.  That was the time when my mom and I would talk, with no real distractions.

Our family was neither affectionate nor communicative--life went on whether we expressed our feelings or not--and my father's alcoholism put up many barriers to communication, for there were just too many things that we couldn't talk about at all.

My parents both had many fears, too, which made showing affection very difficult for them.  And usually there were plenty of distractions around which made communication unnecessary, especially the TV set.  Why talk when there was plenty of passive entertainment to be seen?

But doing the dishes with my mom--when there was nothing "good" on TV--gave us the opportunity to talk to each other.  We had the opportunity to share some thoughts and feelings.  My mom could ask me how school was going, and we could talk about my grandparents and how life was for her when she was growing up.  Since my father was in the military, we could talk about the different places that we had lived, and how this place compared to the others, and what we liked and didn't like about each place.  We could talk about the music and programs and movies that we liked and didn't like, and sometimes we even talked about my father's alcoholism and the effects it was having on all of us.

That daily half hour or so every third week provided us with the only time that I could recall that we actually connected as human beings, sharing our selves with each other.  I would grow up to have a lot of problems with interpersonal relationships, as most adult children of alcoholics do, but I can't help but think that the time I spent drying dishes as my mother washed them provided a spark that allowed me to see a bit of light when my problems sometimes became overwhelming.  It was important to me to be able to share my feelings with someone who was going through many of the same things I was--moving often, losing friends, a lack of stability, fear of my father getting drunk again, a completely uncertain future.  We could connect on a human level, rather than a mother-child level, and I learned more about my mother then than at any other time.

At times, I have to admit, I even looked forward to doing the dishes.  I wasn't big on sharing my feelings, but I often found the experience to be very relaxing and very fulfilling.  I often finished the chore feeling much closer to my mother, and that was a feeling that I needed very badly to experience.

So I thank you, mom, for insisting that I do the chore when it was my turn.  I thank you for sharing yourself and allowing me to share myself.  We were both going through trying times, and I'm glad that we were able to find an opportunity to connect.


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