Somewhere in the middle of the night it occurs to me that I have an overdue library book. As if she can see my eyes flutter open, little Ruby stirs across the hall, calling for me. I groan as my feet automatically take me to her side. They know the drill. It’s got to be at least a couple miles I’ve walked in the darkness over the past several years. A few hours later I wake up again, this time to someone poking my shoulder asking if it’s time to get up yet. Ugh…it is.
By 8:17 a.m. they’ve been dressed, fed twice, and have already played outside. It’s time for something new to do. I grab a book to read them. She climbs on my lap, pushing her brother aside with a shrill cry of jealousy. She can sit through most of a story now, her attention span growing as fast as her little legs. Hardly fits on my lap anymore. “Un mo bookie, pweese,” she begs. When did she start talking in complete sentences, I wonder.
Letter sounds, number games, some practice with a pencil. His focus intense in short bursts. A little more endurance building with each day. In between interruptions from his sister, we talk about what he’s interested in. When will the new Panama Canal open? Can we visit Mt. Rushmore? Where is Abu Dhabi? Why doesn’t our house have a window that faces west? Who is Donald Trump and why can’t we call him on the phone? When the guy shot Abraham Lincoln, was it with a gun or a bow and arrow? Do landscape architects study volcanos? And on it goes. Each day a new topic to explore, a new conversation to be had. Connections in the making. A mind growing up before my eyes.
All day long the learning continues. Among errands and to-do’s we navigate the various social realms. It seems routine. But they watch. I demonstrate. They assimilate the information about how to survive outside their home. How to talk to strangers. What behavior is appropriate and where. What is money used for. How to take a few basics and turn it into a meal. I multitask, managing three personalities while getting the to-do’s done. Inevitably I say no to something they are not ready for or cannot handle today.
By lunchtime I’ve reached my capacity for engagement and send them outside to play while I figure out what to put on a plate. They gobble it up, asking for more as soon as I get the dishes cleaned up. Quiet time for him; nap time for her. And I regroup. Pay bills, return emails, jot a thought, make a call, fold something, clean something, stir something. And they’re up! Time to get outside. Play, run, take a walk, read more, write more, work on that unfinished project. My mind whirls with all things I need to add to my list; ideas and topics and character traits that need to be shaped and taught and addressed. Hours ticking down until dinnertime. I work hard to fill that space with patience and understanding. It is no one’s best time of day.
A sink full of dishes greets me as I start my dinner preparations. I open the dishwasher door and realize everything in there is already clean. Meanwhile the buzzer on the dryer goes off, a load of clothes not even my own ready to be folded. One kid down the hall starts crying. On que little feet rhythmically pat towards me, the wailing growing louder as she approaches. The other one bursts through the door from the backyard, kicking off his boots. Clumps of mud fly through the air landing on the freshly vacuumed floor. He tells me he’s hungry. Of course.
My phone buzzes. A text that needs my response. The little one needs her nose wiped. And the dishes are still staring at me. I wish I had three hands. I give him carrots to peel and her utensils to sort. Standing at the sink he hums a tune about how much he likes peeling. And she’s engrossed with the salad spinner while I chop an onion.
And for five short minutes, we are there. Together. Working alongside each other with joyful hearts, preparing the meal to nourish our family. I smile. They eventually lose interest. The baby needs attention; someone spills something. Family harmony slowly building it’s stamina.
Dad walks in, filling my world with relief. I am no longer outnumbered, a fresh mind for them to devour. Our attention shifts to cleaning up and getting organized for bed. They’ve reached their end; I’ve reached mine. Snuggling a freshly washed little bundle, she claims she isn’t tired. Red eyes and yawns would argue differently. We read. We sing. “I love you, sweetie,” as I lay her down. “Wuv you, mama. Nigh, nigh.” My heart turning to butter as I shut her door.
Six a.m. and the calls from the crib become too loud to ignore any longer. All at once it starts.
Yes, my hands are full. But so is my heart.