Inspired by my recent stay at Sustainable Settings Ranch in Colorado (a ranch, farm and educational center all folded into one vibrant and inspirational setting) I am returning home to begin doing what was on my mind for a while now - washing most of my clothing by hand. With a toddler in tow, I know how often the easiest way to clean a child's room is to toss everything in a clothes' hamper; or how an item may only feature a small spot of food or dirt, yet the whole thing gets washed.
For a while now I have been using our outdoor zinc tub both as a water play destination, and as a place to pre-soak my son's clothing as he emerges covered with dirt from a muddy ditch or covered in dust from the goats' field. The tub also functions as a storage of water for his little potted garden in the back yard. To add up to this tub to make it more friendly for washing clothing is a simple step to take at this point, considering the clothing line is right there too. I like the idea of raising a son who knows how to do most essential work of humanity - washing dishes, washing clothes by hand, chopping wood, cooking, rounding up animals, feeding chickens, sweeping - any and all activities of being a steward to one's environment. I also really don't like to sit in the modern-parent way on the edge of a sand boy, watching my child play (or even worse - use this time to catch up on phone calls...). Children (particularly toddlers) imitate actions of adults. Our work as parents is to offer inspiration to the little ones with our own actions - and I choose to wash, and sweep, and use watering can while spending time with my child to sitting passively on the edge of a sand box with a phone in my hand! That model of passivity is confusing to the child, and it is devaluing his or her work of pretend cooking or building sand castle. To paraphrase one of very special books on parenting, Heaven on Earth by Sharifa Oppenheimer, child's work is play, and adult's play is work.
I am not a playmate for my son, but I am someone who models useful skills, and includes him in it in a meaningful way. At two years of age, he digs in the garden, harvests peaches, tries to milk our goats, brings firewood from the wood pile to the front door, helps to load up the fireplace with kindling which he harvests; he collects eggs, mixes bread dough, mucks the barn, cuts asparagus, sweeps house and yard. He loves to load up the washing machine, but he is now loving the water play around washing clothes even more. Continuing de-mechanising of our household and our lives is what makes our lives more pleasant, unhurried, and what brings forgotten skills forth.
For my personal items, such as t-shirts, skirts, cotton shirts and dresses, being washed in a gentler way is beneficial to avoid fabric damage and untimely loss of shape which is so prevalent with finer t-shirts. Since I don't even own a dryer, this new twist is not going to be a huge change yet a change enough.