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How to Do Laundry in 237 Easy Steps

Expecting our usual 40-second conversation, I was alarmed to hear an entire sentence: “Ma, I need help!”


AT the end of August, my son left home for the first time, to learn in an out-of-town yeshivah. For context, he is 16 years old, the oldest of seven children. Which means nothing, since he’s male.

I bought him a complete wardrobe before he left. This included 14 brand-new shirts (three for Shabbos, nine for weekday). Charles Tyrwhitt shirts, of course. Is there any other kind?

Despite my lack of hard evidence, he seemed to settle in well. I would have liked to hear more details (actual first names of roommates or chavrusas, for example) but I settled for generalities (“guys”). I mean, everyone goes away to yeshivah. What could go wrong, right?

After two weeks, I got a phone call. Expecting our usual 40-second conversation, I was alarmed to hear an entire sentence: “Ma, I need help!”

I knew this out-of-town thing was a mistake.

Trying not to let my panic show, I said only, “What’s wrong?”

Another full sentence: “I need to wash my shirts and I don’t know how.”

A feeling of joy and pride filled me. He might be a bochur away from home, but he won’t wear dirty shirts. Apparently, all those parenting classes were worth something.

After years of begging him to pick up his socks from the floor, it felt surreal to instruct him about the proper settings on the washing machine. He also called me several times as the cycle progressed.

“It sounds like there’s water gushing.”

“Yes, it’s a washing machine, it uses water.”

“Are you sure?”


Transferring the wet shirts to the dryer was another adventure.

“So the knob says, air fluff, lo heat — it’s spelled wrong — medium care, hi heat — also spelled wrong — and non-iron.”


“But I don’t want to iron my shirts.”

“You don’t have to. That’s the whole point of such expensive shirts. You save the money on the dry cleaning. Isn’t that what you told me?”

“Um, right. Exactly.”

Eventually he determined that the trouble was not in my instructions; the dryer wasn’t working.

“What’s wrong with it?” I asked.

I heard him banging around. “Looks like the gas isn’t connected,” he said, in that tone of oblivious confidence unique to teenagers. “I’ll get a guy to fix it.”

“Guy?” I didn’t like the sound of that; did he mean guy-chavrusa or guy-roommate? “You need a professional to connect a gas line!”

“Nah, Greenberg can do it. He has tools. Hey, Greenberg! Ma, I’ll call you back.”

All I could do was pray for their survival. The shirts, I mean.

He called back an hour later, claiming the dryer was fixed and the shirts were dry.

“Great!” I said. “You’re done. Congratulations!”

“But now what? Do I have to put them on hangers or something?”

“Yes, otherwise they’ll get all wrinkled.”

“But I don’t have any hangers.”

“Yes, you do.”

“No, I don’t.”

“Sweetheart,” I said patiently, “when you brought those shirts to yeshivah, every single one of them was on a hanger. Where are those hangers now?”

Pause. “I don’t know. I don’t think I have them anymore.”

I closed my eyes, counted to ten, and advised him to borrow from the guys. (I don’t know what he actually did.)

Two weeks and 14 shirts later, he called again. Once again, he did not sound good.

“Ma,” he said tensely, “there’s a guy here, his name is Spector, he says I absolutely must use OxiClean when I wash my shirts.”

“You don’t need it,” I reassured him.

I heard voices in the background. They sounded like they were arguing. Then my son came back on. “He says I’ll ruin the shirts without it!”

“Did they get ruined last time?”

“No.” He sounded torn. “I mean, I don’t think so. I mean, how can I tell? He says I must use OxiClean,” he stressed. “He says must!”

“Fine, so use it.”

Now he backtracked. “Are you sure? It won’t ruin the shirts?”

“Chaim,” I said, speaking loud and slow, “do you have those Tide pods I gave you?”


“You see how there are three different colors in the pack? That’s the detergent, softener, and color catcher. You don’t need the OxiClean.”

Dear Mrs. Spector, I can totally picture it. You sent your son out of town for yeshivah for the first time, and you bought him 14 brand-new shirts. And you know the ways of teenage bochurim, and the ways of yeshivah washing machines, so you warned him, “Be careful! Always use OxiClean! Don’t forget! You must use OxiClean! Must!

I totally get it.

I hope we have not corrupted your son. Or his shirts.


Mother of One of the Guys


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 879)

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