Sundays were normally reserved for church and laundry. Like most mothers, my mom was in charge of doing the laundry for the entire family and the children had to tag along with her. We would work together to carry the heavy baskets from the third floor of the apartment building, to the elevator, to the first floor, to the laundromat across the street. We usually had about three baskets, so we had to make a few trips.
Once we got to the laundromat, my mom would quickly scan the area, looking for an empty washing machine. Sometimes, we ran up and down the aisles to see if we could find one faster. Because everyone else did their laundry on the weekends too, it was usually very crowded with moms and their children. The moms were usually yelling at the kids to stop running around.
One time, I ran into one of my friends from school. She was putting all the folded clothes from the counter into big, black, plastic bags. I said hi and was hoping to hang out with her, but she was on her way out. When her bag was filled up, she twisted the top and began to drag it across the floor because it was too heavy for her to carry. Oh well, I thought.
It wasn’t rare for me to see children my age, about ten years old, doing entire loads of laundry all by themselves. I was considered spoiled by my friends at school because my mom never made me do laundry by myself. My parents, however, thought I was lazy and my mom scolded me a few times for not being able–and refusing–to do laundry on my own like some of the other kids. To me, however, it didn’t seem right for me or any other kid to be responsible for doing an entire load of laundry. That was grown up stuff.
Yet, a lot of kids were expected to wash their own clothes. Sometimes, kids at school would show up with a bleach stain on their pants and if you asked what happened, they would tell you that they didn’t realize that they weren’t supposed to wash certain clothes with bleach. But, I guess next time they would know better.
When I see children now, I think of innocent and fragile human beings that need to be protected at all costs from all the terrible things in the world. They shouldn’t have to worry about adult situations or tasks. I can’t imagine sending my own child to the laundromat down the street to do their own laundry.
But whether it was out of necessity, custom, or both, many of us growing up in East Palo Alto had to grow up a little faster in one way or another.