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Rote Learning Curbs Resentment

August 31st, 2022 by dk

I don’t recall my mother-in-law offering her daughter and me much advice when we were newly married. Mary and her husband Fred had worked hard to make college available to their four children, an opportunity they never had. They expected us to surpass them. In some ways, they sometimes thought, we already had.

The only domestic advice I recall now, 40 years later, never made sense to me at the time. “Do a load of laundry every day.” Was this a variation of “Cleanliness is next to godliness?” Both were apparent in her life. But then again, I never saw her house when she had toddlers.

I never asked her exactly why she offered this little piece of advice. It always seemed oddly specific. She loved clothes, or at least she did when I knew her. She loved this time of year for the back-to-school sales, returning home from errands, eagerly opening her shopping bags with three words for her grandsons: “Try it on!”

Was she encouraging us to keep our clothes clean? Maybe, but I doubt it. Cleanliness never got in her way when an adventure beckoned. She and Grandpa Fred were always up for a hike or a trip to the beach. My father-in-law never hesitated to lean in to help me with any car trouble I was experiencing. I never saw their cleanliness get in the way of their godliness.

Later I determined that she must have been offering us a tool to not feel overwhelmed amid the noise and conflicting responsibilities that come with raising children. As long as you’re doing a little bit every day, you’re still in the game. You may feel like you’re losing, but nobody can call you a quitter.

This morning I threw a load in and I thought of Mary and her advice. For the first time I noticed what was missing from this now familiar scene — resentment. There is none. Routine routs resentment. I don’t wish these five minutes could be spent another way. It’s just a part of my day, like Wordle but with industrial chemicals.

Athletes train. Musicians practice. Students study. Workers work. At first, they wish they didn’t have to. Skills develop with repetition, making it easier to continue. But after that, the routine tasks seep into one’s identity. You wake up one day and you’re a runner, not to be confused with somebody who runs.

It’s also true for writers. I got into this line of work because I enjoy learning new things. Every story has its own shape. I rarely know how the middle, end, and beginning will fit together — until they do. Some puzzles are solved more elegantly than others, but something new and at least somewhat satisfying always appears at the end.

I can’t say the same about laundry. A stack of folded towels, hung shirts and paired socks — they always look the same when I’m done. I dislike drudgery. But I no longer resent it. It took me a long time, Grandma Mary, but I finally tried it on. It fits.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Wednesday and Sunday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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  • 1 Mike Aug 31, 2022 at 12:26 pm

    Please stop writing as often as you do for the RG. Please insist that they have respected national columnists replace at least half of your columns.