Many things in our home previously belonged to our relatives. I claimed many books, dishes, pieces of furniture, and framed artwork from my grandparents’ homes after they died. Daniel’s parents and grandparents have given us household items that they don’t need anymore but that are still useful. Making use of these things in our home is a way of running them into the ground while also triggering memories of old times in another house and, in some cases, of people who aren’t with us anymore.
Daniel’s cousin Mike and his wife Barbara hosted the extended family for Thanksgiving for many years. Barbara had a flair for decorating and a fondness for ladybugs. In the breakfast nook of her red-and-black kitchen were shelves displaying the ladybug-themed gifts people kept giving her. After Barbara died, Mike offered us our choice of ladybug stuff.
One of the items we brought home was a plush ladybug with a magnet in its belly. It’s cute, but we found it didn’t work very well for holding shopping lists and so forth because it covers such a large area that you can’t see the paper. It was just a decoration hanging on the side of our refrigerator for several months.
Meanwhile, we were using our dishwasher, which has an LED that illuminates when the cycle is complete and stays lit until you turn it off or you open and close the door. It’s a convenient reminder that the dishes in the dishwasher are clean and need to be put away. If we opened the dishwasher to grab just one spoon or something, we’d carefully push it almost closed but not latch the door, so the LED would stay lit.
This worked just fine until our daughter Lydia started walking. She would grab the edge of the dishwasher door as a handhold, and if it wasn’t latched, it would swing down and bop her on the head!
Over the past two years, Daniel and I and our 12-year-old son have adapted to this new house rule: When you open the dishwasher to take out a clean dish but not put away all the dishes, put the ladybug on the door. When you have put away the clean dishes and the dishwasher is ready to collect dirty dishes again, move the ladybug back to the refrigerator. Simple!
Of course, the plush ladybug hanging near floor level proved irresistible to our toddler sometimes. We had to teach Lydia that it’s okay to play with the ladybug, but you need to put her back in place when you are done, because she is doing her job. She is a helpful insect, not unlike the real ladybugs we see in the garden. Lydia gradually became so responsible about keeping the ladybug on duty that I can’t recall when I last reminded her.
Using a cue like this helps us conserve water, energy, and money by running the dishwasher only when it’s full. Because we eat different things from day to day, we have different amounts of dishes, so it’s hard to predict when the dishwasher will be full. Many people have told me they run the dishwasher every night after dinner so that they can put away the dishes before bed and always have clean dishes in the morning and no confusion about what’s clean or dirty–but that’s so wasteful! It’s also more total work to put away a smallish number of dishes every day than to put away a larger number of dishes every three days or so.
(I’d just like to mention that last summer, I proved to myself that I usually do, too, have time to empty the dishwasher now and get it over with: I put on the Genesis song “Abacab” and emptied the fully-packed dishwasher and even scrubbed that one dish that didn’t get clean before the song was over = 7 minutes, 2 seconds!)
Lydia just turned 3 years old. The evening after her birthday, I filled up the dishwasher after dinner and turned it on. Daniel told me that when he and Lydia came into the kitchen a while later, she immediately noticed the sound and said, “The dishwasher is washing.” Then she took the ladybug from the refrigerator and put it onto the dishwasher. She has learned the rule!
Our ladybug is very helpful in the household routine, and it also brings a little bit of Barbara’s ladybug-loving legacy into our daily lives so that we remember her fondly.