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Lahey: Laundry 2.0

This morning, my younger son woke me up by shouting his usual complaint,


My reply is always the same.

"Do you mean 'I have no pants' in the sense that you have no pants, or in the sense that you have pants, but don't know where they are?"

Because, of course, he has pants. More than one pair, even, and I knew precisely where they all were: dirty, inside-out, and strewn across his bedroom floor. Most of them, anyway; one pair lay in the middle of the living room floor, where he'd stepped out of them the night before.

This situation would be irksome for any parent, I suppose, but it's particularly distressing for this parent, because those dirty pants mark the spot where my personal and professional lives converge. I am a parenting writer. It’s my job to give parents advice about how to raise kids who keep their pants in working order.

Clearly, it’s time for a reboot. A long time ago, I tried my hand at computer programming, and while I was awful at it, I learned a lot. I learned about the programming loop, a sequence of instructions repeated until a certain condition is reached. A programming loop tells the computer to do something, such as pick up pants and put them in the hamper until a certain condition, such as the lack of any more pants to pick up, is met. Then, the computer can move on to the next step. My programs, however, tended toward infinite, inescapable loops, endless procedures without an exit routine.

This morning, those dirty, discarded jeans were a blinking, beeping, error message alerting me to the flaw in my parenting program. While I have a pretty good vision of what the end result of this parenting job should look like, and I've spewed out plenty of code, I've left out too much detail. My programs – and by extension my children - suffer from a lack of clear, executable instructions.

Enter the dry erase marker. The surface of a washing machine is the perfect palette for these markers, so I spent an hour writing out specific instructions for every step of the laundering process on the machine itself, from separating colors, to folding dry clothes.

And so, when The Boy Who Has No Pants is fed, happy, and ready to listen later on today, I will update him on the new version of our family program, a little something I'm calling Laundry 2.0.

Jessica Lahey is a teacher, speaker, and author of The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed. She writes the bi-weekly column The Parent-Teacher Conference at The New York Times and is a contributing writer at the Atlantic. You can find out more about her work at
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