of throw pillows and washing dishes

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.

how to level up – a story

One morning this week, I pulled out my phone to check the forecast. Ninety degrees. Ew. Not abnormal for our city, but when we’re used to spending the summers up in the mountains at camp, it feels abnormal. And gross. I scrolled over to the next day’s forecast. Ninety-one degrees. More ew. I tapped on the “10 Day Forecast” tab, hopeful and a little bit desperate. More nines and zeros. Some nines paired with other numbers, not zeros. Numbers like four and five. 

And in my attempt to leave the house while avoiding the heat while also not walking around Target spending unnecessary money – I determined to go for a hike. We were headed up in the canyon, one of those hot, winding roads where you wonder if vehicles are supposed to make this sort of noise. I packed up two water bottles and a baby-carrier for my back. I threw a toddler’s camouflage hat into the diaper bag because we lost the regular hat, threw in some protein bars to snack on, and in the sudden realization of what I was hoping to do, ate a big piece of chocolate while I loaded a three-year-old into his car-seat with cheerful promises of “a special adventure walk”. Seriously though – who expects a toddler to cheerfully climb a mountain, even if it’s a nice, moderate eighty-five degrees and there’s a cool bridge to cross?

I was not expecting much. We would happily eat the protein bars. That was a guarantee. (We ate them in the car, on the way. I can’t seem to hold out on snacks.) We could enjoy the drive up the canyon, since nobody is prone to car sickness and it’s a pretty, twisting little road. We might make it up the first one hundred feet of the trail to the bridge. We might not. I tried to prepare myself to be ok with this. I’m a vigorous hiker – usually I pass people more often than I am passed myself. Slowing down takes a bit of mental preparation. 

We made it to the trail head, and the parking lot was full. Maybe it’s a sign. Maybe we shouldn’t even be doing this. I could be ok with just taking a drive this morning. And then I caught myself. I hadn’t put in all this work to turn around and go home. Maybe there’s a pullout ahead. There was a pull out. I ignored the steep, hiking access point from the pull out – it connected with another trail, no bridges guaranteed. We walked cautiously down the narrow busy road. I kept the toddler on the outside, hoping he wouldn’t choose this moment to fight my hand-holding policies.

And then we found our trail, and we started hiking. It was hotter than I expected. The trail was exposed and we took pretty frequent water breaks – Erik squatting on the gravel while I both refused to him sit too long, or to drink while he walked, wandering distractedly close to the edge of the steep trail. He took breaks to climb on exposed tree roots. I tried to explain that the purple flowers were called Showy Daisies and that the wild raspberries along the trail would be ripe in just a few weeks. To my surprise, we passed the bridge in mere minutes, and Erik took off running up the trail ahead of me. We hiked and climbed and scrambled and stopped in the shade and walked some more. He never complained. After about half a mile, we turned around. I was in awe of us. Emily was napping sweatily on my back and Erik’s face was red with heat despite his hat and frequent water stops, but we’d actually done it. We’d gone hiking together. 

The mental battle to prepare for disappointment was over, and then suddenly when we reached our truck again I wondered Why haven’t I done this before? If hiking was going to go so well, why wait this long at all? Maybe I should have been out hiking for months before now. And I nearly let this thought begin to bother me, warm and sticky with the truck’s AC spitting out hot air before the cool. But then I stopped. No, no that’s the wrong question to be asking. And slowly the answer grew out of the questioning as we wound back down the canyon. I didn’t do this before because the before was preparing me for the now

Before – all the months of effort learning first how to leave the house with two children and then how not to be late, and then learning how to plan time for a coffee stop – these were the moments that prepared me to go hiking all alone with two littles. The days of barely making out of our pajamas before 10 and the days of getting up and ready, stopping to get my coffee and a second cup for a friend, the days showing up with two kids and two coffees still five minutes early were the days that built into me what I needed to finally make it out and away for a morning of hiking. Sub in protein bars for the coffee and trade out the weight of pushing a stroller for the baby carrier backpack and the too-eager toddler running uphill on a hot day; I wasn’t catching up on lost opportunity, I was walking into a new challenge. Leveling up. 

I think that realization in the truck as we drove into the city with our windows down at lunchtime was an important one. That wasn’t the first time I’ve beat myself up for not having tried this or that hard thing before. I’ve asked myself why I was so afraid to try water skiing that I refused for something like two whole summers, and I’ve wondered what would have happened if I had started writing more publicly sooner in my life. But the wondering tends to be a bit fruitless – I can’t go back and get up on skis sooner. And I think now I really wasn’t ready to share my essays any sooner than I have. I needed practice. The years spent writing in private are the years where I began to edit, hone, develop a voice. Those were important years. Those years were preparing me for these years. 

So friend, don’t come down on yourself for only starting now. You’re starting, and that’s what’s important. You probably can’t see yet all the ways that your past has prepared you for your future, but it’s there and it’s working for you. Don’t beat yourself up. 

Go forward. Take adventures. Hike on the days that seem too hot, and take the little people you didn’t think you’d be able to manage. They might surprise you, but even more importantly, you might surprise yourself.