the breaking that isn’t

The dishwasher is broken.  It broke in the middle of our charity cookie baking extravaganza.  This was a problem.  Clearly, it was a problem.  I am the woman who will quote to you the study (thank you Sociology of Work) that showed that in the past 150 years, the dishwasher is the only labour-saving device that actually saves us time on housework.You see, we raise our standards every time we make something easier – own more clothes that we wash after fewer wearings, aren’t content with simple meals but want more variety, have bigger houses with more space to clean, etc.

The dishwasher was important to me.  When we were new parents we hadn’t yet gotten over the university student approach to dishes (i.e., pile them ’til necessity dictates otherwise) and my failure to keep a clean kitchen in the midst of parenting wee ones is one of the things for which I still judge myself harshly, despite knowing I was never doing less than my best in each day.  But the dishwasher…you put the dirty dishes out of sight and while you sleep it turns them into a chore of 4 minutes of placing them in cupboards.

So when the dishwasher broke I expected to be very irritated.  And the first few days I would indeed walk through the kitchen (very centrally and very visibly located) and be irritated that there were dishes on the counter.  ‘Oh, right.’ Sigh. ‘ Hand wash.”

But it turns out to be ok.  Better than ok, in fact.  It was like the medicine I needed.  It turned out to be something I liked, even when I wasn’t liking doing it at that moment.  Puzzlement.

Yet greater puzzlement when my in-laws announced that they’d buy a new washer for our Christmas present and I said, “Do we have to?  It’s important to me that we wait at least ’til after Christmas.”  Rainer stared at me.

What was up?

Was washing dishes the magic solution that made the kids realize that they could help with the housework and bond with me?  Was washing the Zen meditation that unlocked my inner peace?  Have I reconnected with my hands in a world of increasing automation?


I do the dishes alone most of the time.  I don’t feel like imposing my weird urge on the family, especially the kids who have PhDs in resisting household responsibility.  Having company is nice, though.  Rainer and I, in particular, interact in a quiet way that we don’t usually right after supper.

I think what is going on is this: I live in my head most of the time.  It’s just my way.  It makes it hard to parent in a mindful way.  It particularly makes it hard to parent Matthias who lives so totally in the moment that I don’t feel like we’re approaching reality in the same way.  And the act of seeing the dishes on the counter, much less washing them, connects me to a world outside my mind.


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It’s been my touchstone word since August.  Every morning I fill a line in my journal with the word to remind me to connect with the moment and with those I love.  I want emotional connections.  I want mindfulness.

This act, of tending our dishes, reconnects me with our home.  Not our house, our home.  It connects me with ideas of stewardship.  It connects me to physical realities of eating and nourishing.  It reminds me of the importance of life outside my spiralling thoughts.

The moments like last night, when Rainer washed and I dried and danced and made everyone laugh, those are just bonuses.


10 thoughts on “the breaking that isn’t

  1. Lisa says:

    Interesting post. We lived for 7 months without the dishwasher and my kitchen stayed cleaner…. I tend to put it off till there’s a “full load.” I’ve been breaking myself of that! The “study” sounds interesting. Surely a washing machine saves time over the old “boiler” and all that? I don’t always use the drier, but I had to hand wash everything in Africa and it took ages to wash!

    “Connect” is an excellent message for us all to ponder in our mothering, family-ing and living!

  2. Jennifer says:

    That is exactly how I feel about hanging laundry on the line. Time to be outside, to connect to domestic chores and the clothes on our backs. Time to listen to the children play outside around me. So glad you were able to connect with your dishes.

  3. hjdong says:

    My dishwasher broke yesterday. A timely post but we’ll see how I feel once it’s fixed. DH will fix it. Eventually. :-).

  4. Chrissy says:

    I agree with the thinking while doing the dishes. I do seem to clear my head more, but I do wish I had a dishwasher. I have not had one in 7 years. I miss my dishwasher because I am the one and only dishwasher. I have tried and tried to get my children to do them, but it is like pulling teeth. I have come to the conclusion that I am only one person and a dishwasher would just make me a little bit more sane.

  5. Big Mamma Frog says:

    We didn’t have a dishwasher till a few years ago and when we got one it was a decision between a dishwasher or tumble drier (we only had room for one or t’other). For me the dishwasher was a way of clearing the surfaces, especially when I have friends (and their multitude of kids) around for food during the day and a way of not having a permanently high stack of washing up draining on the draining board (we never owned a t-towel clean enough long enough to dry up).

    In a typical 1930s kitchen, like ours, where you can stand in the corridor – I mean kitchen – and reach all the cupboards without moving, you can imagine how much surface there is. Not much, and most of that is in the firing line behind the door (great for getting flattened when the kids come charging through to go out in the garden). So the dishwasher is just like a cupbaord that hides dirty stuff. Trouble is, dh likes to potter in the kitchen, do a bit of washing up by hand, while the kettle is boiling. So, still piles of stuff, unnecessarily lurking on the draining board (no we still don’t own a t-towel that hadsn’t already been used for something else first).

    If the dishwasher broke I’m sure I would appreciate the therapeutic motion and ‘connection’ of hand washing…but I think the novelty would wear off after a while lol.

  6. Lucille says:

    The way you speak of washing dishes, I feel that way about hanging the clothes out in the summer on the line and racks. I feel like I am connecting with the clothes and whose they are and shaking them out and being peaceful—all things I don’t sense and feel when I’m down in the dungeon in the laundry room tossing things into the dryer in a big ball.

    I suppose I could be more mindful when using the dryer during these winter days—and maybe I shall, now that I’ve commented on it—but still…. When I hang clothes, or when I wash dishes by hand, I feel more strangely maternal and domestic, and I don’t get to feel that way very often because I work full time outside the home and I’m always on the dang computer working and thinking and writing and calculating…

    One time my mom came over and I had two racks in front of the windows because it suddenly was going to rain and her first words were “Did your dryer break?” and I was like uh, no…… 🙂

  7. Miranda says:

    A very wise parent once told me that she believed that the glue that had held together the wonderful strong relationships between the parents and teens in her family was dishwashing. I took that to heart.

    However, we have always had a dishwasher. I have sworn off its use several times, but always, since we’ve had a perfectly functional machine, we’ve gradually slipped back into our old habits.

    The last two days, though, our 12-year-old appliance has been making some rather sinister noises. Heheh. Here’s hoping it’s about to give up the ghost.

  8. Tsoniki Crazy Bull says:

    I hesitate to wash dishes by hand anymore, since my Grandma died. I always, always called her when I did the dishes by hand. I would do dishes, pick things up, straighten up, etc., all the while catching up and visiting. And since she’s gone, it’s just another reminder for me that I can’t call her.

  9. Mariah says:

    I find this same connect in the kitchen, but not around doing dishes. For us it’s as we eat and then lingering after the meal. There may some shared cleaning, dancing, games — but there is almost always this lingering and chatting. Putting our feet in each others’ laps, touching.

    Now as I reread your post I see I’m somewhat off topic — or maybe alot off. Right now I’m not very connected to acts of tending my home. I’m distracted with knitting and school and sewing. And this ramble comes from the brain that’s been knitting and ripping and knitting and ripping the same few rows again and again………….

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