In the kitchen, I open the oven and shuffle brussel sprouts around with a metal spatula. We’re heading over to our friends’ house for dinner, the six of us. At present, my family is a wolf pack, an ice hockey team, a circus. But all of our people can stay up past 7 p.m., and no one needs a pacifier. I asked my friends if they preferred to come to us, or if it was better (since their two kids are both under three years old) if we came to them.
I remember the days with a baby and a toddler. I just don't remember all of it all that clearly.
Would I want to get out of the house? Or would it be easier if another family, even a big one, came to me? I wanted my friends to make the call.
They decided we should come to them. And that I should bring a vegetable.
I close the oven and set the timer. Ten more minutes, just enough time to jump in the shower.
“Are the kids bathed?” I ask Chris, my husband.
“Yeah, we all showered. But everyone showered at the same time, so the water’s not very hot.”
“Oh,” I reply, not really all that disappointed. “I won’t shower then.”
“You should shower,” he says. I can’t tell if he’s being objective, like how one might say working out is good for your heart, or if he thinks I’m gross and I smell. At baseline, we have different views on showering: he thinks it’s really important. I shower when it’s convenient.
“I barely have enough time,” I say.
“You have time,” he responds. He’s so matter-of-fact. And so clean.
“When the timer beeps, please take out the food,” I say, resigned to my fate. He nods and I walk towards the bathroom.
I probably do need to shower, because earlier in the day, a friend of mine called and I suggested we go for a walk on the nature trail in our neighborhood. Living outside of DC, we experience four distinct seasons. This day was crisp and the changing colors of our trees are at peak.
My friend stopped by the house for a few minutes before we left. “It looks nice in here,” she said after I’d tied my shoes.
“Thanks,” I replied, knowing she’d seen it under normal circumstances, which is not unlike being in the direct path of a repetitive weather pattern of tornados full of lego-and-sock pipe bombs—all with impact radii of 1,500 square feet—forecasted to touch down on the southeast corner of the living room rug. But I’d just spent the last few hours of the day straightening and scrubbing and nice-yelling (it’s totally a thing) to my kids about how “next to the hamper” and “in the hamper” are two entirely different concepts.
Even so, as we started to walk down the road toward the trail, I couldn’t stop myself from lamenting over the house usually being a mess and that I yell at my kids, and that there’s so much stuff (even though I feel like I throw or give away anything they don’t touch for four consecutive days), and that I’m too disorganized and the kids are always fighting, and it seems like there’s never enough time to do everything I need to do.
“But you still have little kids!” she said.
“They’re not all that little anymore,” I replied.
“You still have a preschooler. Don’t forget that.” I nodded, slightly pacified. “Plus, there’s four of them,” she added.
But I don’t think the quantity of children is the issue.
It’s more the fact that I feel like I’ve been here, in this mom-of-young-kids-stage for a short eternity. Next year, they will all be in school, and I’m sure I’ll have big feelings about that too, but for now, it seems like I’ve been in a holding pattern—circling the control tower of preschool, afternoon quiet time, and board books—forever.
“You’re still in it,” she said with a heart full of encouragement.
My friend and I took a left at the trail and began walking over the carpet of fallen leaves. We dove into the big issues on our hearts—the kids, the husbands, the schools, the upcoming holidays. My head started to feel heavy with the responsibility of it all. My eyes fixed themselves down on the trail a few yards in front of where our feet walked.
After a bit, I realized I wasn’t looking around at all. The very reason we were outside was passing me by. Look up! Pay attention! Take all of it in, I said to myself. These colors won't last long. This season is short.
A few times, we stopped (our mouths and our feet) to admire trees in the middle of changing from apple green to sunburst yellow. And those that looked as if they’d been set on fire. At one point, I took a few pictures, overwhelmed by the beauty around us.
But do you think, if this season was longer, it would lose its magnificence?
Do you think I would get to a point, if changing leaves hung around for months instead of a single week, that I’d become blind to the beauty and instead find myself bored? Would I stop appreciating the colors and choose to complain about the parts that annoy me—like always needing to rake?
If this season went on longer than normal, longer than expected, would there come a time that I’d be too rushed to take it all in? Or too busy to stand with my arms stretched wide—in wonder and joy—as a gust of wind blew falling leaves, like autumnal kisses, towards my smiling face? And instead of laughing in awe that we are walking through a real-life Bob Ross painting (Crimson! Yellow ochre! Burnt sienna!) would I just feel tired of the same-old, same-old?
It’s so easy, too easy, for me to lose perspective, appreciation, joy when I’m in a long season.
Back in the bathroom, I turn the faucet all the way to the left and the water is just shy of lukewarm. I rush through my routine. Face, body, shave-super-quick-because-who-knows-when-I’ll-shower-again, and avoid stepping on the … T-Rex, is it? laying in the tub. Two pastel colored ponies rest on their sides next to the four-inch dinosaur. There’s an ankylosaurus (not sure why I know that one’s name) diving face down into an orange plastic cup next to a bottle of conditioner and the lavender body scrub I never use.
I’ve been a mother for over 12 years now, and even after all this time, the toys in the tub remind me: I am not my own. My body, my bed, my living room floors—even my bathroom—they’re not exclusively mine. Despite having a child in middle school, I also have kids who require assistance with wiping and when they get stuck in their shirts while undressing. I still have dinosaurs in my bathtub.
But because it’s gone on for so long, I’ve let myself forget how magical and fleeting this season of life really is.
Interrupting my thoughts, my husband opens the door and pops his head in. (It’s not a sexy “hey girl, whatcha doin’ later?” visit. He’s strictly business.) “It’s 5 p.m.,” he says. “We need to go.”
“I know.” I don’t really know the time so much as I have an internal clock telling me the oven’s timer went off right around the same time I nicked my ankle with my razor. I rinse quickly and turn off the now cool water. I step out of the shower and grab my towel.
I smile at my son’s little dinosaur—it’s a velociraptor—I learn this because when I turn him over and squint, this is the word imprinted on his belly. Of course, I should have known. His coloring is different and his outstretched arms are too long to be a T-Rex. I set him down on the edge of the tub. It looks like he’s waving at me.
I wrap the towel around myself and before turning to leave the bathroom I whimsically, wistfully say to my youngest son’s toy, “Bye, little guy.”
I’ll miss you.
Photo by Lottie Caiella.