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Doing ‘The Washing Machine’ With My 84-Year-Old Mother

  • May 07, 2021

We don’t talk much during taiso. I model a move and she follows. We start with slow tunes and shed our weights for faster music. I lure her with “Circle of Life.” She sways with arms above her head.

“This is a sad song,” she says, “but I like it. Is Elton Johns still alive?” And then, “Look, this arm doesn’t go up as high.”

Sometimes she embellishes my moves, fluttering her fingers like a silly ballerina. When she is in a particularly good mood, she will wave her arms toward the ceiling, demanding a faster song.

“Ma,” I say. “Can you do your washing machine imitation?” She used to be a masterful mimic. Without hesitation, she will jiggle her trunk sideways, hands flailing at her sides, deadpan. No doubt, she still has it. “We’ll be doing that move,” I say, “so pay attention.” During the chorus of Donna Lewis’s “I Love You Always Forever,” I shout, “Washing machine!” and we shake our torsos in agitate mode.

In December, as we pumped our arms to “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” I remembered being a teenager and belting out that song with high school friends. I was dropped into my childhood bedroom — the peach-colored carpet, the walls plastered with Springsteen and Nike posters: “Just Do It.”

Back then, while the radio played in our New Jersey home, Ma might have been folding laundry on the couch, deep-frying battered veggies in crackling oil for tempura, or sprinkling cinnamon on coffee cakes she had baked.

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