When you have a baby in the home, you do a lot of laundry. I didn’t understand this before parenthood. I thought, “How much laundry can possibly be generated by someone whose clothes are the size of my socks?” Turns out that a tiny baby expels a lot of substances at the beginning of life, all over itself, its clothes, you, your clothes, and, somehow, only the furniture that you did not get free from a bulk garbage night pile. We opted for cloth diapers before Bean arrived, after looking at the $1,500 annual cost of disposables; the composition of the diapers – oil, oil, more oil, many trees, and several toxic chemicals that are banned in Europe; and the landfill content generated by a disposably diapered baby before its first birthday – a full ton of waste that will be sealed into the ground, turn even more toxic, seep into the water table, and not break down for about 500 years. “What’s a little extra laundry?”, we thought. “It’s the environment!”
Modern cloth diapers are quite simple: you start with a cute waterproof cover – dinos, giraffes, robots, sadly no hot dogs – that adjusts as the baby grows. It has these great plastic snaps that obviously can’t rust and aren’t sharp like the diaper pins of old. You take a square cotton insert, called a prefold – though for the life of me I cannot figure out why because they are flat and you have to fold them, so they’re clearly not prefolded – and make sure it is tucked inside the cover, and then voila! Snap it on your kid’s adorable bum. At the end of the day you haul the heavy diaper pail to the bathroom and rinse the inserts out in the bathtub. By hand. Every night, all those diapers. Diapers diapers diapers. It’s actually quite meditative once you get the hang of it, and much healthier for your baby.
The washing machine in our apartment basement came from Craigslist for $50. It’s a very basic model. It has one temperature – Cold – and the following settings: On, More On, Mostly Off, and Insanely Violent Spin. I don’t actually know much about the washing machine because I am a blessed woman whose husband does the household laundry. Our marriage has been set up that way from the beginning, or perhaps from the first time I shrunk and dyed magenta some crucial item of my husband’s.
Cloth diapers require a hot water rinse, two if you’re really anal – no pun intended – and as I mentioned earlier, our washer has only a Cold setting. There are some knobs and levers on the basement wall that can route in hot water, if you turn them in a particular combination, wait five minutes for the machine to fill up, and then turn them in some other combination, and then…see, The Hubs has explained the hot water routine to me many times, frequently enough that I should know what to do. But as predictably as a narcoleptic in a warm room, when he launches into any kind of technical explanation, my brain turns off, my eyes glaze over, and I start pondering whether a brighter contrast color in the curtains might give the room more depth. If I run out of diaper inserts while he is away, I will likely try Elimination Communication – yes, it’s a real thing – or resort to using his conveniently prefolded t-shirts, which probably explains his thorough laundering sprees before he travels anywhere.
At the restaurant we use an enormous amount of towels and I was similarly naive about laundry when we opened. I purchased for Franktuary a Craigslist washing machine and dryer – are you seeing a theme here? – and thought we could just buy some towels and aprons and do a load every night. Last person out puts them in the dryer, first person in brings the laundry upstairs and folds it and we’re a nice little Happy Home. My first mistake was assuming that anyone on staff wanted to put on a Happy Homemaker Hat, but the biggest issue is that we use roughly the same amount of towels as a college town Holiday Inn on homecoming weekend. Mountains of towels. Piles of towels. Team members clean the grills, the floor, the counters, the fridges, and perhaps even themselves with these towels. Everywhere I go in the restaurant, there’s always a towel lurking, flashing its signature green stripe at me from behind prep tables, inside crates of produce in the walk-in cooler, underneath the food truck… Needless to say we quickly secured a towel, apron, and mat service. Every Thursday our linens guy trundles his Holiday Inn sized laundry sorter into the restaurant and takes away our by that time completely disgusting, stinking, fermenting towels and aprons, replacing them with saran wrapped packages of fresh, clean linens. Beautifully white towels. I cringe at the river of bleach that is, as I type, making its way from a Pittsburgh linens facility into the one remaining coral reef in the ocean, killing all manner of endangered species, so that my prep cooks can sop up the butter they spilled making Sunday’s brioche.
Several of my managers have attempted to hide each day’s worth of towels in the office to enforce a more conservative use of linens. I’ve heard tales of other restaurants that run their towels through the dishwashing machine and then lay them to steam…er, dry…under the heat lamp. We’re not that bad but we have resorted to hoarding, though the secret always seems to be out. From my seat at the computer in the manager’s office I recently watched one of our cooks sneak downstairs, climb over the barrier erected out of upturned booths we are never going to use and Amazon boxes we might someday use, and fish out a package of these top secret towels. She said nothing, gave me an impish look, and retreated upstairs.
And so I am reminded, as I’m about to go fold several dozen prefolds that are not prefolded, that parenting, like restaurateuring, is not for control freaks. May God save the environment; I’m doing my part.
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