If there is one iconic symbol of my devoted years to motherhood, it is certainly the sock basket. It sat on a table in the laundry room holding mismatched socks, but it also contained 25 years of mystery and intrigue.
I raised three girls, all spaced 18 months apart, so for all intents and purposes I had triplets. These girls had reason to own dozens of pairs of socks: socks for soccer, cheerleading, running and skiing. They had socks for dates and socks for boots and sneakers. At any given time, there were at least 50 pairs cycling their way between my children's feet and the laundry room. Only half of them would ever make it back into their drawers. The rest went into the sock basket.
That basket became the repository for all of my motherly woes. There was never a time when it wasn't overflowing, and for the life of me, I couldn't understand why. Once a week or once a month, my husband and I would sit in front of the television matching socks and on the rare occasion we'd find one, we'd yell (rather competitively) "I found one!" and we'd wave the pair in the air as if we'd scored a touchdown. Sometimes I'd go into the laundry room and throw my head down over the sock basket and ask myself how my life had ever gotten to this point. This was all there was for me, I'd wonder? I'm a sock matcher?
Other times, the disgust would turn to intrigue. Where do the other socks go? I'd set out on fruitful missions to find the missing partners, asking if I were a sock where would I hide? I'd find them under beds, in gym bags, in the backseat of our car, tangled in sheets, stuck in boots. Once when the snow melted I found one in the rose bushes.
I am not kidding when I say this went on for years. Sometimes the stress of this basket would become too much, and my husband would introduce desperate measures. We decided once we would throw away all of the socks and start over with only one color for all three girls. This worked well for a time, but before I knew it, old socks would turn up again or new ones would appear, and before long the old basket was up and running again.
One of my daughter's friends stopped by to visit once and wouldn't you know it - I was matching socks. She told me that sometimes she'd find one of my daughter's socks at her house after a sleepover. "Aha!" I said, in my best Inspector Clouseau accent. "Part of the mystery has been solved!" I offered her a basket to collect them and said I'd pay a ransom fee.
When the girls left home to begin their own lives, it wasn't an easy time for me. I missed them more than I care to admit. Eventually we sold their childhood home and as I was packing, I came across lone, dusty socks in the oddest places. I filled that basket up again, as if I were piecing together the past and trying to make some sense of it. Where had the time gone?
When the moving van pulled away, there was not a sock left in that house. There may have been one in the yard somewhere or stuck down in a heating vent, but as far as I could tell, my days of sock matching had come to a sudden end.
You'd think I'd be elated.
But I wasn't.
The toils of parenthood are many. So much of it comes in little pieces: Lego parts, Monopoly money, salty tears, barrettes, marbles, and yes, socks. They are part of the minutia of our child-raising years-inescapable and unavoidable. We tend to those little things as a way of tending to our children. Ask any parent who has spent an afternoon hunting for a lost mitten in a mall, and they'll tell you this is true.
My children came to visit recently. One day, I looked down and noticed my daughter was wearing mismatched socks. She had wandered into the laundry room of my new house with the utmost faith that the sock basket would still be there.
You never know what things might reach mythical status in the life of a family. For us, it's a sock basket, and that's okay. It's a reminder of who we once were, and like a good recipe, I will gladly hand it down to the next generation of little feet. For now, it still reminds me that I am someone's mother.