I shut the door, the sounds of crying still lingering behind me, trailing, weighing heavy like a cloud, the cloudiness of the day, the accumulating precipitation of a day with one miss step after the next.
Bedtime is not my shining moment.
What is written in the baby books about the peaceful transition from day to sleep with cuddly pajama time and soothing stories and sweet lullabies, that is not my reality. By this point in the day I am just. So. Tired. It is a cruel demand on the weary mothering soul. Here is how I see it…What they need: to drift dreamily into a blissful sleep feeling safe, secure and loved. What I need: quiet. What they are doing: Fighting my every request with their desires of independence and free will. What I am doing: Fighting right back with my own desires of independence and free will, in the form of quiet solitude on the couch with a glass of wine.
I am tired. They are tired. We need to hit that refresh button and fast. But before that happens there are monkeys to wrestle into tight pajamas and alligators with teeth that need cleaned when the alligator can “do it by myself” but really can’t because they are an alligator. There are the butterfly types that flit and float getting distracted by each pretty flower that comes their way when what they should really just be doing is making their way to the potty just two feet away for gosh sakes and sitting on it. That is all. And they are crying so naturally I am crying. Where is that chapter in the baby book?
The door closes, and I schlump downstairs. (I don’t know if this is really a word but I read it 22 times today in the Eloise book, the queen of drama, and for some reason this moment where weary frustration meets exhausted relief and the body is slowly dragged down the stairs, there is no greater word than schlump.)
So I schlump down the stairs putting distance between me and the whiny/fussy/”how can you leave me in this jail of a bedroom when I am absolutely not tired at all” crying coming from the children’s bedroom. The remains of the day greets me at the bottom. Perhaps “greets me” is too kind a phrase. In this moment, the remains more or less taunt me, reflecting the self portrait of my soul, the one that just spent a long day mothering and feels the content of her brain and body have been up turned onto the living room floor.
Thus begins the nightly ritual. The putting away of the day. As I roam from the book shelf to the toy box to the pantry to the bedroom, depositing items, finding their homes, restoring a picture of order and control, of peace and harmony and all things zen, I think, as one does. The thinking begins with frustration, at the children, at my home, at myself. Why do they play like this? Why do I not have enough space for this, why do I let it get this bad? I move onto reflection. What could I have done differently? Play more? Yell less? Read more? Scrolled less? Slept more? Slept less? (Never, is the answer to the last one.)
Slowly that knot in my heart begins to unravel. The twisted bunch of lies and anxieties and numbing emotion from the evening bedtime routine follows me around the house straightening itself bit by bit, item by item, breath by breath. I once read about this process being described as the breathing in and out of the day. I can feel this. It is the yoga class I didn’t make it to today. The shavasana part of my day.
As the breathing in and out moves me closer to restored order, I start to notice more of my surroundings. I pick up the picture Caroline drew me during her nap of the sun and the person holding a heart and the scribbling of a few letters in her name. I pin it to the clip board on my desk. I gather the various cars remembering Elliott’s sweet voice from earlier that day when he learned to say “GO!” after my ready, set prompt. It’s one of the early developmental tasks I would use with my clients back in the day but to do it with your own child is a whole other level of awesome. I gather the trail of diaper and underwear and sandals remembering the giggling of wet sticky bodies after a splash in the pool, how silly they were together, how they are both learning to play with each other, the making of a sibling relationship we dreamed up two years ago.
Breathing in. Breathing out. Finding a place for each and every item. A place on the shelf, and a place in my heart.
There is just one thing left. A dinosaur. Brontosaurus I think. It’s sitting on the edge of the coffee table, on top of that book that has sat on our coffee table since before there were children, not because we read it but because it just looks good. Next to the box of coasters that we have because you are supposed to have coasters when you are a grownup but you don’t really need coasters when your furniture is fake wood from Ikea. The dinosaur sits next to these things that have their place. And I leave it there. Because it has a place there too.
Because while this ritual is about clearing away the remains of the day, it is also about finding a place for the things in my life. A place for the good and a place for the bad. And that dinosaur, it belongs in our life. It looks good there. These kids, they belong here too. And they need an invitation to come back. An invitation to breathe in a new day.
It wasn’t always like this, leaving things on the coffee table or on the book shelf. Early on in this parenting journey the burp cloths and the teething toys and the board books were put away, out of sight. I didn’t want them in my space, the space that used to be just for the grownup, the grownup who wanted to clear away the reminders of a day spent doing nothing like the life before. But I realize tonight, as I willingly leave that dinosaur next to the book and the coasters, I have made more room for them, the children, not the toys. While the messes just get bigger as the children get bigger, and the ritual is practiced each night to bring it back to zen, we make more room for them on our shelf, at our table, in our hearts. Today it’s a dinosaur. Tomorrow maybe a matchbox car, or a lego tower, or a Barbie doll (probably not that last one, because no one needs that reminder of an impossible body shape staring at them at the end of the day.) Whatever it is, I am leaving room, opening up, forgiving faults, inviting play. Breathing in. Breathing out. Letting go of the bad, saving room for the good.
There is a glass of wine in my hand now. I glance upstairs at the bedroom door. It’s quiet. I breathe out. And I smile. At the dinosaur. And the day. And tomorrow. Ready to breathe in again.