Sunday, January 23, 2011

Weekly Column: Let a Willing Toddler Help

 There is a right way, and there is a wrong way to fold socks. 
The right way, of course, would be to mate a matching pair, roll the tops down together, and toss the whole bundle into the sock drawer – at least according to my quick-and-dirty approach to laundry.  Whether my mandates would hold steam with a verifiable expert in sock-folding (with whom I’ve yet to meet in my daily wanderings) isn’t important.  The point is,THIS is how it’s done. 
Enter: my two-year-old. 
Sitting atop a pile of clean laundry as if it were at once her royal kingdom and her private amusement park, she rolls and climbs, tunnels and tosses.  Close by, I work diligently to dismantle all of the park’s most entertaining rides.  I yank a t-shirt from under her wriggling body, coax a sock from under her giggling head, and generally disrupt her mayhem.  She doesn’t mind: it’s all fun.  As playfully as ever, she begins hoarding socks into a pile of her own: a bit of kingdom that’s watertight in its construction and which cannot be undermined by my work ethic. 
But before she can roll around upon her freshly created castle, she is hit by a flash of brilliance: she can FOLD!  She can be like MAMA!  One by one, socks are plucked from the rubble.  A black, businesslike affair with tiny, gray diamonds is laid out with care.  Several flaps and pats are required before it submits to my daughter’s will and lies perfectly straight.  Then, gently, the toe is folded towards the heel, the cuff is jelly-rolled towards the toe, and voila: a folded sock.  Triumphantly, my two-year-old protégé wads the whole thing into a handful of fabric and lays it to one side.  She begins again.
It is all I can do to leave that sock alone. 
For one second, I contemplate distracting my child with candy in order to allow myself a moment of emergency-sock-correction.  But I don’t follow through.  Instead – and with much effort – I leave the sock alone.  I praise her helpfulness.  I help her uncover the matching sock, and sit patiently by as she gives it a similar treatment. 
Slowly, her pile of ‘folded’ socks grows. 
Slowly, my will to perfect dwindles. 
She is learning.  She is helping.  She is enjoying a chore – one that, in a few years, may be the bane of her pre-adolescent existence.  I will not shrink her enthusiasm by criticizing her attempt.  Soon, when she’s capable of executing the trusty Roll & Toss method of sock folding, I’ll teach it to her. 
But now, in this early hour of chores and responsibility, I’ll do whatever I can to help those tasks be viewed in a positive light.  A fun light. 
If she scrapes a vacuum hose over the same spot a dozen times and leaves crumbs anyway, I’ll cheer the effort.  If she wipes a mirror and leaves more streaks than she first found, I’ll admire her helpfulness.  If she sweeps more dust out of the dustpan than into it, I’ll applaud her joyful spirit.
I trust that her desire for perfection will grow as she does; my five-year-old bears proof of that hope’s possibility whenever she knowingly corrects the slightest imperfection in anybody’s attempts or ideas.  With her, we’re working on more generosity of spirit in accepting different levels of ability and creativity.  A skill that I must repeatedly learn, myself.
And I’ll hope that when my daughters are teenagers, all of this happy practice will have led to some helpful, beneficial fruits, the least of which will be well-folded socks.


  1. she can come fold socks at my house anytime! they don't even have to match!

  2. My daughter likes to "fold" the towels when I do laundry. It takes every ounce of restraint for me not to re-fold them the way I would do it, but somehow, I manage. And she's so happy to have helped. That look of pride and accomplishment is worth stacks of wrinkly, creased towels. =>


Hmm...And how did that make you FEEL?