Photo by Evan Weiss
Written in response to the New York Times writing prompt: “Is your family experiencing greater conflict during a time of self-quarantine?”
My mother stormed up to her room one night, almost in tears. My brother and I don’t help enough with the dishes, with the laundry, with anything, really. It’s totally our fault. No, honestly. I’m not trying to come off as sarcastic. We don’t do enough. But we do try.
My mother is not a nurse. She’s not a doctor or a grocery store employee or anything. But she runs a remote company. Not a company that has gone remote since this happened. It’s always been remote. So, virtually — no pun intended — nothing has changed for her. She wakes up, she goes on phone calls all day, she rarely eats, she rarely sleeps, and she works all day every day, which is nothing out of the ordinary for her. What is out of the ordinary, though, is her virtual life in addition to cooking and cleaning. So considerably, tensions have been high.
The house is dirty — it’s always been messy, but it’s never been dirty. I can’t say I’ve been doing my best to fix it, but I sure can say that I am purely disgusted by it. I walked downstairs in between class A and class B. I’m not calling them class A and class B because they’re the “A and B carriers” or whatever. I have no idea what that means. I am calling them class A and class B because they could truly have been any class. Life is one meaningless blend of Zoom calls.
So I walked downstairs in between class A and class B. That was when I saw the kitchen. Well, I saw what should have been the kitchen. Instead, I was confronted with a world of crusty cups, grimy bowls overflowing with cereal debris, and plates stacked up to what felt like the ceiling. I anticipated the freak-out my mother would have, about how we don’t help (because we don’t), and quickly, before anyone came down, I started rinsing the dishes. While carefully placing them into the dishwasher, I remembered what my grandmother always said: “There’s always room for one more dish.” I tried. And tried.
I squeezed and stretched and pushed and placed and rearranged and removed until everything was in. That was where my area of expertise ended. I grabbed a small plastic-wrapped white pod and opened the door. “Max,” I groaned. “Please help.”
“What? No. I’m playing.” NBA 2k18 is a more pressing issue to my brother than daily chores.
“Max.” He came over. “I don’t know how to put this pod in.” And so we tried. And then tried some more and prodded and finally, we flipped the right lever and found a hole in the compartment that had to be destined for pods. We pressed START and waited for the beep. Then I returned upstairs, feeling proud and accomplished. My brother remained downstairs to play the next round of his NBA 2K18 tournament.
My mother came down an hour later. I watched her descend onto the 1st floor. I couldn’t wait for her to see what we had done. I counted to 10 and then I heard a disgusted scream.
“Arghhhh! Why does it smell like bleach?”
I came running down as my brother explained meekly that he had noticed the smell for half an hour (the dishwasher’s exact allotted time) and failed to mention it.
“Sophie…,” my mom asked slowly. “Where did you get the pod you used?”
“Uh. The counter.”
“Cool. Cool,” my mother said. “Now our dishes will be extra clean.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Well,” she said, “you bleached them all.”