Did You Make Your Bed This Morning?

unmadeWhile waiting at the dentist’s office this week, I read an article called “Happy Habit: Make Your Bed” but Jackie Ashton. In the article, Ms Ashton admits to hating to make her bed and resolves to amend her ways, explaining how this daily chore sets the stage for a more orderly and productive day. Her catch phrase, “messy bed, messy head” spoke a resounding truth to me, for I am a bed Nazi.

I’m not sure where it began, but I think I can blame my mother for my obsession with a neat bed. It was my mother’s expectation that our beds be made before we left for school in the morning, and I, being one of the eldest of the clan, had to set an example for my six younger siblings.

Without fail, at 30 Green Street, every Saturday morning all beds were stripped and all sheets washed. My mother hung them on the clothes lines, where they would flap in the breezes of the backyard until they were dry, to be carefully returned to the beds before the youngest child’s bedtime. The ritual did not stop there, however. When Saturday evening came, all heads were shampooed and all nails trimmed, and by nightfall, every child was scrubbed and shiny, clad in clean pajamas and tucked between smooth percale sheets that smelled of fresh air and sunshine.

I was a teenager before we had contour sheets for our beds. My father, who had been in the Navy, taught us to make square corners from flat sheets, showing us that sheets on a well-made bed would endure several nights of slumber before coming un-tucked. We often paired up in teams of two to make beds on Saturday afternoons, and my sister Robin and I devised ways to make the chore more enjoyable. Making beds for ten people could be a daunting task, but our games made the work less mundane. We bent back the mattresses and pretended they were horses while we jumped on the bed springs. We folded blankets like flags, creating tidy wool triangles that sat on the sheets until it was time to unfold them and tuck them under at the foot. We tried flipping coins on our freshly made beds, in hopes that they would be as taut as those in the military barracks my father had described. square corners

The real test of our bed-making skills came when my mother came to our beds to hear our prayers and tuck us in. A poorly made bed would result in a “tsk tsk” as my mother smoothed the sheets and refolded the square corners. She would unscrew the handle on the steaming radiator to turn off the heat, and prop the window open a few inches- even if the night skies were filled with snowflakes. She would sit on the side of the bed, stroke our heads and listen to our vespers, then with a kiss the cheek, she would tuck in the sides of our covers so tightly it was almost impossible to roll over. The ritual worked. It took me moments to enter dreamland, and I never woke until morning.

It is probably because of my childhood that I am so obsessive about my bed. Every morning, as soon as I have showered, I make my bed. I do not remember a time when I have left it rumpled from the last night’s sleep. I hate when people sit or lie on my bed during the day, but I tolerate it, knowing that having my kids flop on my mattress for a heart to heart talk is more important that how my bed looks.

But when it is time for bed, the rules must be followed. The bottom sheet has to be wrinkle free. The top sheet has to be neatly pulled up to my chin and carefully folded over the end of my comforter. My pillows must be plumped, smooth and cool. And truth be told, during the winter I am known to open the windows just a crack, even if the snow falls from the night skies.

bedI have thought about my bed making rituals many times. Perhaps it is to bring order to the chaos of the day. Perhaps it is to prove to myself that although I cannot control the entire world, I can control mine. At least a little bit. Perhaps it is just a way to pay homage to my parents, who gave me years of peaceful dreams in a little house with too many kids.

Ms Ashton, I am happy you have joined the ranks of the bed-making brigade. Now, let’s talk about the towels on the bathroom floor…

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All the Same, or Different?

Are you an “all the same” or are you a “different?”   Confused?  Let me explain.

When I was a little girl, we rarely had matching dishes at the dinner table.  I think that somewhere in the beginning of their marriage, my parents had matching dinnerware, but as their family grew and their finances did not, our meals were served on a mishmash of different china and stoneware.  The same was true for glasses and cutlery, and on evenings when it was my turn to set the table, I would carefully choose my favorite plate and fork, and put them at my place at the table.  I never felt guilty about this- all of the children in my family did the same thing.  We all had favorite spoons, or cups or plates, usually the oddest shaped or most colorful, and the person setting the table had first dibs on the most coveted cupboard items.

Indeed there was cheating, and it was not unheard of to reach for the favorite spoon after the food was blessed, only to find that a sibling had slipped a quick exchange while everyone else’s eyes were closed.  My parents would tolerate no fighting at mealtime, so the sin was dealt with by dirty looks and perhaps a swift kick under the table.  But by the time the meal was over, and the dishes piled into a sink full of soapy water, all was forgiven.  After all, another meal was right around the corner.

The eclectic décor of our dinner table was continued throughout the rest of the household.  The living room was furnished with an old couch and easy chair that were handed down from my grandparents, the dining room table from an auction held in the playground of South Main Street School, and the bedrooms filled with dressers and beds of different sizes, with blankets and comforters of myriad colors and patterns.  Nothing in our house matched.   But nobody seemed to mind.  Our home was always filled with people who didn’t seem to care about the broken furniture or the peeling wallpaper.  They crowded around the dinner table on mismatched chairs, their backgrounds and conversations as varied as the plates from which they ate.

By the time I was in elementary school, I became aware that my friends’ homes were far more harmoniously decorated.  They had matching sofas and chairs that coordinated with carpets and draperies.  They had table cloths that were not frayed and dishes that all looked the same.  Their rooms looked like pages in the Sears catalogue with chenille bedspreads and curtains of the same color.  I dreamed of the day when I would have my own home and everything would go together.  Everything would match.

As a newlywed, I was excited to decorate our first apartment.  We were given a set of beautiful blue and white china as a wedding gift, and during the first few years of our marriage, I would carefully set the table with matching plates, cups and saucers.  Although our home was filled with hand-me-down furniture and curtains I sewed from reams of bargain bin cotton, I worked hard to create an atmosphere of soothing sameness with color and texture.

Then children happened.  Kids barfed on the bedspread.  They chipped china. They took spoons from our wedding cutlery to school and lost them in the black hole that contains socks, hair ribbons and little green army men.  Our kitchen cabinets held plates and bowls of various sizes and shapes, as Tupperware replaced stoneware and sippy cups replaced coffee mugs, and for years, nothing matched.  And when my children set the table, they put their favorite fork or plate at their place, cherishing the moment of use, knowing that at the next meal someone else might be using it.

When the kids grew up and my marriage ended, I saw the move to my own apartment as an opportunity to create the harmonious living space about which I had always dreamed.  For my room I bought a comforter the color of the sea, with matching shams and bed skirt. I chose hues for the living room that blended and coordinated.  And I bought a set of clear glass dishes that would never clash with anything on the dining room table.  Every space had its own color combination.  The rooms flowed from one to the other in calm coordination.  It was spa like.  It was beautiful.  It was…boring. 

I slowly came to realize that dreaming about a perfectly decorated home is much more fun than living in one.  I missed the chaos of mismatched prints and texture.  I missed colors that clashed but somehow worked together.

This summer I will fill my home with the people I love. They will bring the people they love. They will have hair of brown and red and yellow and black.  Some of them will have white skin and freckles. Some will have accents from another country.   They will crowd around the table, sharing ideas as new as green leaves, laughing in bursts that make blue and brown eyes sparkle and dance.  They will not care if they drink from matching coffee cups, or eat from matching forks, or drink from matching tumblers.  They will add the spice and the color that has been missing from my life, and I will cherish spending time with them, like the special plate or spoon in my mother’s cupboard.

Apparently I am not an “all the same.”  I am a “different.”  Anyone in the market for a set of matching glass dinner plates?  They go with everything.

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