It's My Job, Sink or Swim

by Kathy Tirrell

I live in the sink. My world is awash in dishes and bubbles swirling around my rubber-gloved hands. My objective: Scrub those pots and pans! Take a bite out of grime! Make those glasses shine!

Outside, the spirited cries from the neighborhood boys playing basketball interrupt my thoughts. I crane my neck so I can see them through the kitchen window having fun, as free as a bunch of birds. I envy their freedom. How I would love to trade places. Hey—any of you guys wanna wash some dishes?

My mind begins to wander. Suds. Soap. Soap operas. How come women on soap operas are never shown washing the dishes?  Do they OWN dishes? They seem to dine out for every meal. But soap characters usually have big bucks, so I guess they can afford to.

If I were a rich girl…The Fiddler on the Roof song floats through my mind. Wouldn't have to work hard. Maybe not, but I'd probably get bored. Take away all of the dishwashing, bed-making, floor washing, clothes washing, oven cleaning, vacuuming, and kid wrangling, and what have you got left? Lots of free time! But how to fill it?

Sure, for a while I'd love the freedom from the drudgery of lowly housework. The maid would do all of my chores while I played tennis, shopped, hobnobbed, and traveled the world. Yes, it would be great, but sooner or later, I know I'd be itching for a pan to scrub.

Maybe there's something about daily rituals that become ingrained in our personalities. Even though I hate housework, I'm used to it. My fingers need something to clean, something to iron, something to make right. And when I'm assembling a lunch for my 9-year-old son, I'm putting some of myself into it. Here's a sandwich I made for you. Here are some of your favorite cookies. I can just picture the happy look on his face as he's unwrapping these little tokens of love.

But I must admit I sometimes find myself wondering how one measures the significance and worthiness of a life spent folding t-shirts, scrubbing stains, mixing recipes and mending boo-boos. Is this the job I'm meant to do? And how good a job am I doing?

The answers come to me in subtle ways, if I'm paying attention.  Like the unexpected pennies and dimes I find in the pockets of my apron, there are little clues sprinkled throughout my days.

It's the stranger approaching me in a restaurant saying,“Your children are so well-behaved.”

It's the satisfied look on my oldest son's face as he's finishing up his second helping of lasagna.

It's the birthday card, written and designed with love by my daughter.

It's the sweet way my youngest son declares,“I'm lucky to be in this family.”

These are the clues, the answers to the mystery. I'm not rich in gold, but I'm rich in family. I've sacrificed an income and a career for my kids to be their first teacher, their nurse, their nurturer, their attentive and loving mom.

There will be a time down the road for other things. I can postpone my own dreams and aspirations for a while, but I can't freeze the fleeting milestones of these childhood days. Each moment in time is precious and will never be seen again.

So for now I'll wash these dishes and scrub these pans. And I'll smile, knowing it's the right thing to do.

After all, it is my job, sink or swim!

Note: This essay was previously published in Stories of Strength in 2005. And it was written back when I was a stay-at-home mom. Also, I have edited it a bit for this posting.


  1. I love this!
    Can totally relate, and it IS all worth it when we look at our kids isn't it!!

  2. It is a treasure to have my son's friends ask if they can be adopted. It is a pleasure to make a home people want to come home to, even if that includes living with dish-panned hands.

  3. Thanks.

    My kids' friends always wanted to come over. When my oldest son was a teenager,his buddies used to just open the fridge door and find themselves something to drink. I think they felt very at home.

    I had my days when I went a little insane, but the good times outweighed the bad.

  4. My copy of Stories of Strength has a cherished place on my shelf. Every story means so much. Thanks for sharing this.

  5. Thanks, Amy.
    Yes, Stories of Strength is a wonderful collection.

    I guess I could have tried to write a more modern love essay, but being a mom during the early years is what love is all about to me.


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