Maybe I sighed as I threw the sixth load of laundry in the wash that afternoon. After a hardy round of stomach flu circulating through the young male population of my house, I was in sanitizing mode. And maybe I was tired. Maybe I was just a little bit done. Except, I wasn’t done, of course. Motherhood starts with the marathon of childbirth and doesn’t really let up. At least, it hasn’t for me in the last nine years. Oh, I have wonderful, memorable, spectacular days as a mother and I absolutely love this life I’m called to. But that doesn’t negate the fact that strings of sleepless nights catching puke falling from various bunk beds can make basic daily functions close to impossible. Like explaining algebra. And describing cancer. And remembering to eat.
So where was I? Oh, at that place called done. The dishes were marinading in a sink soup full of swollen cheerios, hard boiled eggs, and orange juice from breakfast and pickles and ketchupy-chunks of leftover chicken nuggets from lunch. The aroma was starting to pervade the kitchen and blend with the overflowing trash. The dining room table was piled with the half-finished remnants of math and the toddler’s attempt to doodle on every page of my planner, then rip out said page and stuff it in his mouth until soggy. Someone had spent an inordinate amount of effort to painstakingly cut the corners off of several sheets of construction paper. They kept cutting corners until there was no paper left. Just snipped-off corners. Hundreds. Under the table.
The living room was paved with library books. Most still appeared intact. I only saw a few loose pages. It was hard to tell, though, since half of them were buried under the other five loads of laundry that were waiting to be folded when I got around to it.
It was getting close to supper time, but I didn’t have any idea what to make. Half the clan probably wouldn’t eat much anyway, since it wasn’t staying down. The other half was fragile, just recovering appetites and digestive function. Chicken soup would have been nice. If someone else could have made it. Personally, I was starving. But I didn’t have the time or ingredients for a decent supper now, nor could I find the counter space or a chance to run to the store. Daddy wouldn’t be home from work for hours still. He would sleep all-too-briefly and return to work while it was still dark. It wasn’t the time to dump the dirty laundry in his corner. Not today.
That’s when I noticed. It was quiet. True, the toddler had just climbed up on the little table behind me while I was staring dejectedly at the counter, and was now munching happily on several apples. (He alternated bites between the three that had been left there.) So he was accounted for. But I had four other boys. Why was it quiet? Had I missed the rapture and everyone left without me?
Heart rate rising, I peeked around the corner and almost missed the bodies. They weren’t moving. The oldest was on the sofa amidst a pile of blankets and sheets which awaited a semblance of folding. His face was hidden behind a chapter book on the pilgrims. Only the toe sticking out from his old sock twitched languidly. The second and fourth lay sprawled together over a big book with about a viking village, picking out the scruffiest looking caricatures on each page to claim as their own character. The third was engrossed in a kids’ book about the body that we had pulled out earlier when talking about how germs make us sick. He was propped up in one of the laundry baskets, unconsciously twirling a lock of hair into a tight knot on the back of his head. I stared from the doorway. What manner of witchery was this?
But as I gazed over the quiet chaos, I smiled. This wasn’t really an unusual scene. True, it was odd for everyone to choose the same activity at the same time, but the mess was certainly normal. The haphazard bodies were normal. But even the little minds soaking in books were normal. And that was the beautiful thing. It was the end of a school day, nearly the end of a sick day, the end of a messy, tiring, overwhelming day. I couldn’t wait for it to end. But in my Martha-like busy-ness, I was about to miss the delicate sweetness of this moment. The overwhelming chaos so bulky in my view almost barred me from missing the whole point.
My kids were together, safe, warm, resting, healing. And learning at the same time. Yes, the house was messy and smelled like old diapers and used chicken. Yes, we were officially behind on spelling practice and science experiments. Yes, my husband would have to come home to eat cold cereal (again.) Yes, I would probably be woken several times in the night to catch more puke. But this simple moment – finding my children together, choosing to read – vindicated so much of the craziness of my daily life.
It’s a little thing. But it made a world of difference to me that afternoon. There is actually young fruit showing on the vines. The scene reminded me why I stay at home as a mom, even though money can be tight on one paycheck. It reminded me why I homeschool, even though it’s so difficult to get everything done for every grade every day. This is why I plod through days when my back is sore and my eyelids are propped open with caffeine and all I really want is to cry or take a looong nap. There are days when I see no proof in the pudding because the pudding is all over the baby and the floor and probably my cell phone. But those days, I still have to keep mothering – and teaching – and housemaking – and chauffeuring – and cooking – and hugging – and trusting that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be. And every once in a great while, I’ll see evidence to support it.
So I took a deep breath and went back to the kitchen. Because I guess I’m not quite done yet.