"And den she was the line leader, but I wanted to be the line leader, and den I was sad, and den, and den, and den..."
Lately the three-year-old's stories have been 10,000 word soliloquies. By the way, the definition of soliloquy is, "an act of speaking one's thoughts when by oneself, or regardless of any hearers." I have never heard anything that more accurately characterizes the ramblings of a three-year-old. They have simply no regard for who is listening, or even if they are listening.
Meanwhile, the one-year-old was trapped by his own indecision. He coveted the taco I was eating, but threw his own taco onto the floor after one bite, following it up with a dismayed and somehow not ironic, "Uh oh!" and subsequent tears. After trial and error, brainstorming, and various calculations scribbled on a white board, I discovered that he did not want a taco, he did not want a plain tortilla, but he did want a tortilla that had previously housed meat and cheese. The meat and cheese was to be unceremoniously dumped onto a spare plate in front of him. In this way, he could clearly see that the innards of the taco were no longer wrapped in their tortilla blanket, but he could still taste the flavors with each bite. This was in no way exhausting or frustrating for the adults.
As if the children's noise level weren't enough, the dog was barking incessantly from another room, locked away for dinner because he loves to poach food from the high chair. On this particular evening, neither my husband nor I had the patience to enforce the dog's sit-and-stay rule.
By 6 pm, I was ready to clock out. After a full morning of playing with, coaxing, soothing, listening to, reading to, and refereeing my precious angels, followed by a full afternoon of teaching, disciplining, herding, listening to, and shushing my students, my introverted brain and nerves were fried. I began to slip into a daydream of sitting in a plain white room with only the sound of silence, and maybe a cozy white blanket. No stimulation needed, thank you very much.
But clocking out at 6 pm simply wasn't an option. I'm not exaggerating when I say that our house looked like a thief had ransacked every drawer, shelf, and container, followed by a tornado which swirled the mess about in a haphazard manner. The children were in need of a bath, and a calming bedtime routine. The dishes had yet to be done, and the table had yet to be cleared and wiped. Robert Frost's words echoed in my brain..."and miles to go before I sleep..."
After drawing straws to decide who would clean the kitchen, and who would give the children a bath, I stripped both the children, laid out their pajamas, and with a hope and a prayer for a smooth bath time, plunked them into the lukewarm water. As if by magic, what had previously been a scene from Lord of the Flies became a heartwarming display of sibling love and playfulness. Our bathtub was transformed into a royal kingdom complete with washcloth crowns. Imagination, giggles, and splashes
The kids needed that bath. Their faces were covered in taco meat and chocolate (how?), their fingers were sticky, and their hair was in tangles.
Somehow, though, I needed that bath more than they did. I had been feeling so mentally drained that I wanted to cut corners in order to speed up the bedtime routine. I was also feeling simultaneously guilty for wanting to cut corners and cheat the kids out of story time or snuggle time. For the first time that day, though, I was able to simply observe the kids without having to intervene or play pretend. And in that moment, I noticed little details that had escaped me in the blur of parenting: the one-year-old's thunder thighs churning in the water, the three-year-old's beautiful curls cascading down her back, the way the one-year-old regarded his sister with admiration and delight.
Parenting isn't enjoying every moment. We parents are real humans, who do not relish changing dirty diapers, or savor chopping every food into bite-sized pieces. We are mere mortals who tire of repeating ourselves and grow weary with the physical demands of raising young children.
Parenting is the ability to find playfulness in menial tasks. It is taking satisfaction in the hard day's work of teaching children to be civilized members of society. It is stolen moments of wild joy in the midst of exhaustion.
Instead of cutting corners that night, I read an extra story and stole an extra snuggle. After all, before I know it, there will be no more bath times to rescue a hard day.