Four days ago I stood before the laundry chute in the basement. I felt a brief moment of reluctance before I released the eyehook and watched the hatch swing open, rendering its load onto the floor in a great heap. It reminds me of those office supply commercials where the files keep shooting out of a closet until the unsuspecting intern is buried. Except that I fully expect to be buried now. It’s amazing how quickly the wet towels, dirty socks, stained shirts and muddy pants of two children accumulate.
When I fold our laundry (a project that takes about three days and two nights) I usually encounter four of Ryan’s white tee-shirts, four pairs of his boxers, several pairs of my workout socks and tee-shirts, occasionally a pair of Ryan’s or my jeans. And the rest of Mount Everest that stands in the center of our bed is little kids clothes and bath towels. Bath towels that were dumped in the chute after having been pulled into a full tub of water, used to wipe up spills in the kitchen and syrup tracked down the hall, bath towels that were left in a heap in the bedroom, bath towels that were inadvertently urinated on. A couple of years ago Ryan and I talked about getting rid of all of our old raggedy towels and getting one new matching set. Where would we be if we had done that?
After separating the clothes from the towels (a job that takes a full day after dozens of interruptions to help break up fights, find missing toy parts and doll clothes, feed hungry kids and answer the phone) I wash about two to three loads of each: towels and kid clothes. Kids go through clothes faster than I go through coffee after a sleepless night.
This morning as I walked down the hall to the kitchen, creeping quietly in the dark of predawn trying not to wake any of my sleeping family members, I opened the laundry chute to toss my pajama pants in. A full chute greeted my pants right at the top, spitting them back onto the floor like a basket ball bouncing off the backboard. Well that’s what four days does to our laundry chute.
I joke with my girlfriends that laundry washing and folding could be its own full time job. I wouldn’t even expect a full time maid to be able to keep up with it. Not with all the other things there are to do in a big house. Luckily I like to clean. Cleaning and organizing has been a favorite pastime since I was a little girl and discovered the satisfaction of bringing deeper and deeper organization to my own long and narrow walk-in closet. I soon converted it into a sitting room with a singular light bulb hanging from a clothes hook and a bean bag chair on which I sat to write my earliest short stories.
But like it or not, it’s one of those things I tend not to have time for these days. My birthdaughter’s family watched Twila and Jada the other day while I went to the dentist and I was comforted and pleased to see a healthy clutter around their house. They are going through major remodels and everything is in flux. Sandy managed to make a beautiful lunch for us in the midst of crowded counters and five circling children ranging in age from two to twelve. As we talked I thought back to the first time I came to their house, just after Nicole had gone home with them and how meticulously neat it was. Not a dust speck could be found. Children have a tendency to take their toll on living spaces. And frankly, as a mother with any sort of life, something’s gotta give.
If I want to keep writing novels and doing a half-way decent job maintaining a blog, the laundry chute’s going to be full and the counters may hold a little more clutter than they used to before children were piling things onto them. Of course, I have been known to wipe down counters and vacuum floors as a means to crushing through a writer’s block, which is a technique I did not learn from Dan Brown but, really, who has time for inversion therapy? My inversion therapy is rolling around on the carpet with my daughters.
Twila and I were doing the Jillian Michaels Shred yesterday morning. When Twila got tired she crawled under me as I was doing walking pushups and something about the angle of my face (and probably the strain thereon) cracked her up, which of course, enticed the two year old to come check out the show. Soon we were all on the floor laughing as Jillian Michaels pushed us to work harder.
The life of a mom will always encompass the search for balance. I have been delighted in these recent months to see that it is not going to be an unattainable goal forever. Balance actually can be achieved, which is something I flat out didn’t believe a year ago. Now that Jada is two, talking, sleeping, playing with her older sister, there is time during the day for things other than holding, feeding, entertaining and comforting. When she gets to the other side of potty training—when she starts preschool for goodness sake, I’m not even going to recognize my life. What will I do with my time? How many books I’ll publish; how frequent the blog posts will be then when there are uninterrupted hours to write.
We don’t find a perfect balance every day. And of course, just when the routine gets settled, someone pops another tooth through or spikes a fever or pees on the floor, or dumps icy water over her sister’s head in the bath, and I’m pulled away from whatever I'm doing, shaking my head and sighing. But more and more each day I see them collaborating; I see them maturing and figuring out that it is more fun to play than to fight, and I see myself growing more patient and calm each day and subsequently, more fun. We do more things together yet there is more time to myself too in some magical paradox of time. Maybe it’s just that the time we spend is so much more quality when everyone is happy that they demand less of it, feeling satisfied by what they get.
And I can’t help feel—even as I am delighted for my friends getting pregnant with their second and third children—happy that our family is passed babyhood. It is wonderful, delightful, mysterious and magical to fall in love with a tiny person who only just popped into existence. But it is also wonderful to be less in demand.
Seeing Sandy with her three kids, now twelve, eleven and nine, I see what the next phase of motherhood looks like. It is astounding to have the preview of that stage in watching my birthdaughter grow into a young woman. She is tall and poised and mature, thinking about mature things and experiencing mature relationships; busy with her own life. In the blink of an eye my daughters, now small looking up to their grown-up brithsister, will be there.
So with that perspective, I creep into the quiet kitchen to make my tea and bring it to the office where, ignoring the laundry and the toys on the floor, I write in the dark, uninterrupted hours of morning. Because it’s for me. It makes me happy and it makes me a better mom to do what I love. And before I know it my little girls will have their own lives and their own families and aside from having my husband’s undivided attention back, I will also hopefully have an established writing career. The laundry can wait.