When I was 14-15, my parents started setting a fixed “clothing allowance” for my siblings and I. Rather than go on a big shopping spree at the start of the school year (or having my mom buy clothes for us) they decided that it would be easier if they just provided a set amount of money for us to divide ourselves depending on what we needed. We would keep track of each purchase in a little notebook tucked in the scrap paper drawer in our kitchen.
This system worked out great — if we didn’t feel the allowance was sufficient, we had to get a job, which is what I did. Because of this — and because I didn’t want my Dad shrinking the shirt that took an entire shift at my $5.15/hour job to pay for — I started doing my own laundry around the same time. Also, I didn’t want my sister snaking clothes out of my laundry basket.
While I still tossed clothes in the communal laundry basket, I typically was a tad bit territorial about my laundry. I wanted to do it myself, make sure everything I needed washed got washed, and that nothing disappeared along the way. My boyfriend, however, had a different experience.
His mom has always done the laundry in their house. And while I know Joery technically knows how to do it, I can probably count on one hand the number of times he’s actually had to (I know this is a little unfair, while he was living in Italy and in the States he probably did it quite often). My point: laundry was the domain of his mother, and she was just as territorial of her position in her household as I had been in my parent’s.
On my first trip to visit Joery in Belgium (my first trip to Europe), he was living with his parents between semesters in the U.S. I had met his parents briefly during their visit to New York a few months prior, but I hadn’t spent a lot of time with them (I think my relationship with Joery was only a few months old at this point). So this trip definitely had a bonding-with-the-boyfriend’s-parent’s component to it.
The most awkward bonding experience occurred about a week after I arrived. My trip was two weeks long, but by this point I had run out of clean clothes to wear. I wanted to throw a couple of things into the wash at Joery’s house, so he told me to ask his mom about how the washer works (it’s pretty standard, but all the info was in Dutch, so I couldn’t tell which setting it was on. Also, Joery’s mom has a gazillion bottles of detergent — gels, stain removers, powder, dark clothes, whites, colors, softeners etc. — and it was a little overwhelming choosing which to use).
Joery’s mom (Linda) followed me to the basement and watched me toss a load of soiled clothes into the washer. She directed me as to which setting to use, picked out the most appropriate detergent, and pushed “Start” before we both headed back up to the kitchen.
About an hour later, I went back downstairs to throw the clothes in the dryer. Linda followed me and, as before, watched as I transferred the clothes from washer to dryer. I was just grabbing the last of it — a teeny tiny black lace thong and matching bra — when she stopped me. Taking the set from my hand (disregarding my insistence that I could just throw it in the dryer), she motioned for me to follow her back upstairs, where I helplessly watched as she set up a drying rack in the middle of their kitchen (where Joery’s dad was casually eating his lunch) and, using two clothespins, gingerly hung my racy underwear up to dry.
Maybe I’m just overly dramatic, but all I could think was,”lovely, the clothes I wear to seduce your son are being displayed in the center of the kitchen.” But they did sit there for the better part of the day. One lonely black thong and bra set hanging in the middle of a (relative) stranger’s kitchen.
On my next visit, I made sure that all underwear was Mom-appropriate (to Joery’s disappointment).