I look at the clock. I push the breath, hard, out through my nose. I know that it is too early for him to be up from a nap. That short respite will not do enough to push us through the tough early evening hours. The Littlest is just too eager to be in my company, too interested in his new ways of exploring to be content with the confinement of his crib. I take another deep breath in, readying myself to do what I know needs to be done. I know there won’t be another pause until long after the afternoon’s dirt is washed off for dinner. After the last dish is placed in the dishwasher. After the Littlest is moved, again, from grabbing a the electrical cords, and the toys are collected off the floor. After bedtime prayers, and kisses, and one more drink of water. But now, I put my feet back down on the floor, push myself off the couch. It was only moments that I sat, but the inertia has weighed me in. And I know that momentum will carry me into evening hours. I take the dozen or so steps to his room to recover my smile, and when I open that door I give it to him.
And, yes, would you believe that the Littlest is up every two hours at night, still? I know, I know. I could just… or I should just…. or have I tried… but really, it is all too much right now, so I just go with it, slog to his room on call, rock, and nurse, and rock some more. I sing, and I hum, and I close my eyes, and I’m pretty sure this is prayer. And when day comes, sunlight piercing my tired eyes, his little-engine-that-could-body crawls faster and harder and stronger than either of his siblings. Mistakenly, I thought I would have a bit more time before I would again have to relegate all small parts to special boxes out of reach, when I could keep his company, folding laundry all the while. But it is a familiar freneticism of ever trying to stay one step ahead of his curiosity. When finally at day’s end I think back over the hours, I only laugh at what I once deemed satisfied accomplishments. There is not much that can be accomplished in days like this.
This is the “tired thirties.” Madeline L’Engle accused it of such, and I feel such relief that it’s not just me. This business of creating, of taking bits of crazy and chaos and mess and truth and sticking it together to make beauty — it’s exhausting. Because that’s what it is, isn’t it? This work of mothering. This is art, and I’m an artist, just like the almost-three year old who sits at the table, her smock tied smartly around her waist, on her knees to reach the watercolors, paper covered with her deep wide brush strokes. Just like the four-and-a-half year old with his pencil gripped tightly in his pincer grasp wrangling sounds and lines and curves into letters to make words to make masterpieces. I gather the food bits out of the sink drain, wipe the rag around the basin before tossing it into the laundry. The seven month old is climbling up my legs, and I think how does he even know to do that yet? But he does. I pick him up, kiss his wide mouth and throw him on my hip, my traveling companion as I’m off to refill the toilet paper, finding the beauty in it all.