Every night after I tuck my littles into bed but before I sit down with a glass of wine, my husband and I blitz-clean our house. I wash the dishes. He picks up the throw pillows (too-aptly named) and the teething toys. I scan the living room for plates and juice cups left out all afternoon. He vacuums under the toddler’s place at the table. I pick up the dirty socks and onesies that got tossed in the general direction of the clothes hamper and put the diaper rash cream back on its shelf. He wipes the counter and measures out the grounds for tomorrow’s coffee. And then we look at each other, and sigh and let our shoulders droop a little, and he mixes up a simple cocktail while I pour some cheap red, and we go sit in our respective armchairs.
And the only reason I don’t blitz the house before dinner or during naptime is because there are other things to blitz while the sun shines. Picking up this puzzle before we can get that one out. Putting away the crayons when we want to go for a walk. Wiping up spilled milk without crying, and teaching a three-year-old to brush his teeth after breakfast. Reading, and reminding one child not to throw the books while I keep the other from putting them into her mouth. Sometimes we remember to say “Sorry Mommy,” and sometimes we remember a little better after there’s been a natural consequence. Sometimes we remember best when we’re not also hangry, or just up from a disorienting nap.
There’s a hiking trail to blitz, or a Starbucks run or a doctor’s appointment or the dentist. A workout, a playdate, a phone call to this or that favorite auntie. And sometimes there are so many things that I sink into a cozy chair at naptime, hungry for a late lunch, and realize I haven’t really sat down since I climbed the stairs to get the kiddos up at 7 am. And after they wake, I won’t have nothing-to-do until after they’re in bed again, and I’ve blitzed the house just clean enough to relax for an hour or so before I brush my teeth again and set my wine glass in the sink as a precursor for tomorrow’s breakfast dishes.
I don’t bring up the blitzing to complain about it. Everybody has work. These people have more work and those have less. These stay home with children all day and those don’t. I stay home. And this season is different than it will be later. One day they’ll take themselves to the bathroom and I won’t even think of diapers, or even of wiping their bottoms when they’re all done. One day they’ll be able to reach the bread and the toaster and the butter knife all by themselves and I won’t spend most of snack time saying Yes, I’m coming – just a minute over and over while I try to remember toast with honey and milk in the purple cup, not the green. One day. Not today. Today I spend a solid six hours in work and busyness before lunch and if I’m lucky only another six after naps.
I understand that this is the way it is. I don’t need it to change before it’s time; kids will grow at their own pace and there’s nothing I can do to change that, nor would I. Except maybe I would fast forward through some of the vegetable battles we have at dinner. I digress. I am not bemoaning the hard and constant work that comes with parenting. But even while I willingly, wearily place one foot in front of the other, I sometimes wonder what’s the point?
What good is there in picking up throw pillows and arranging them on the couch, or putting away rubbery teething toys and shiny rattles if we’re going to pull them out again in the morning? What’s the point in picking up every Hot Wheels car and Tonka car and Playmobil figure and lego person if they’re going to be all over the floor again in ten hours? Why sweep up the peas under the high chair every day if I’m only going to set more peas on the tray in front of my baby tomorrow?
And I know. I know. The place would be a mess if we didn’t. Cars and peas and pillows everywhere – books thrown and chewed and bent. Shelves probably stacked with more sippy cups and empty toddler plates than books or toys. So we pick up and we teach our children to pick up. The dirty table napkins and the onesies and the muddy t-shirts and socks all make it to the laundry basket eventually, sometimes in several migratory tosses as I encounter them in the house and throw them somewhat in the right direction. The three-year-old brings his plate to the counter after dinner, and some days he pretends to wash the dishes in his little play kitchen while I scrub away at “Mommy’s sink”.
And sometimes, in the middle of picking up another puzzle piece we missed under the edge of the couch or setting down my evening glass of wine to put away some laundry I missed – sometimes I am able to reach briefly beyond just the step-by-step mundanity of maintaining a home and realize that maybe, these are the little things we must be faithful in before we can have the big things. Maybe the scrubbed dishes and the peas we swept up again today and yesterday and the day before, the poopy onesies that we scrubbed out and the sippy cups we filled with milk and found soured somewhere in the living room and washed to fill again – maybe these moments are building in us the faithfulness for the much that God promises to those who are faithful in little. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe it builds character, as your mother might say, or lays a foundation. After all, if you can faithfully do the dishes three times a day for three hundred and sixty-five days every year, or even faithfully teach the littles as they get older how to do those same dishes in their turn – you can probably be trusted with big things. And maybe in the middle of the repetition and plodding and mundanity, here and there, when the boy puts the books away unprompted or remembers to wipe his hands after dinner – here and there you might even find a moment of glory.