This post first appeared at The Good Mother Project.
As I look over our plates of tacos (again), I can see the day reflected in my husband’s eyes. After picking our two-year-old Tasmanian devil up from the babysitter, they have survived Costco, the community pool, and a quick trip back to the office, all without the assistance of a white cheese stick. How are we already out of white cheese sticks?
I wipe salsa off of the top of the dog’s head and put a sippy cup of milk back in the fridge. My daughter uses her Little Tykes chair as a ladder in order to flicker the light switch. The strobe effect segues into plain darkness and I hear her slurping up water from the pets’ bowl; apparently sharing food goes both ways. I start the dishwasher.
It is 6:30. Almost time.
Evenings have become my own personal obstacle course after the rat race of work. How many events can I complete before time runs out? Walk home, kiss my people, cook dinner, pack lunches, and promise to water the garden tomorrow while the contents of the living room explode. Daddy gets a head start in the afternoon, Mommy is the anchor in the evening. It is our unspoken routine.
My daughter’s routine is always spoken. She narrates monkey’s check-up, sings the hot dog song, and names every piece of the puzzle while she assembles it. If she doesn’t have anything to say she goes into role call mode, yelling out “MOM!” every seven seconds until she thinks of another topic. She is unaware that I am our family’s lone introvert.
How can a three foot tall person completely exhaust me in three hours?
I don’t allow myself to fantasize about my night until she is soaking in the bathtub. Only at that point is it safe to imagine a glass of wine, the Gilmore Girls, or the library book that I will never finish before it’s due. There could be popcorn, or ice cream, or silence. Anything can happen after bedtime. I am snapped back to reality with a splash of cold water and a slippery body using my shirt for her towel.
I comb her hair. She agrees to put on the third pair of pajamas offered before doing an about face and insisting, “Just my belly!” I fill her bottle with cold water, then head back down to the freezer for one (“Not two!”) ice cube. We read three books. Each of her friends gets tucked under the appropriate blanket in the appropriate order. We say I love you and goodnight.
Her babbling stream of questions tapers off into a gentle tide of deep breaths. The summer sun hasn’t set quite yet, so I watch her eyes flutter until they close. Her body, at all other times in motion, relaxes. She looks lankier than she did last night. I give her thigh a gentle squeeze to assure myself that her impeccable rolls are still intact. (They are.)
I study her eyelashes and that small cut on her elbow. Babies heal so quickly; it will be gone by tomorrow, along with another fragment of her childhood. As she sinks closer to dreams her lips part. Her curls, so recently styled, have already started to separate and frizz.
It happens every night, and yet every night it catches me off guard. As I lay captive next to her and stare, the frenzy of what it takes to keep our family running melts away. I have space to reflect on the day and her antics become funny instead of frustrating, her stunts impressive instead of unnerving, and her spirit is independent, not stubborn.
When she is asleep we’re back at the starting point. It only takes a few minutes of that sacred space to reset. It is the moment that refreshes me. The moment that allows me to reflect on this wild, irresistible force we are blessed to care for. The moment that beckons me to stop and savor.
The chores may not disappear but their urgency does. I don’t need to rush towards the temporary escape television or delicious snacks provide. No matter what else has happened that day, I look at the girl sprawled next to me and know without a doubt that it is good.
For some, bedtime is the end of the day. For me, it is the new beginning.