I shut their bedroom door and sigh deeply, pausing, hesitating to move, as I question the whining behind the thin walls. It is the lingering cries of children insisting they are absolutely and completely not at all tired. I know better; they are indeed tired. I need to ignore the sounds. But they weigh heavy like a cloud, adding to the accumulating precipitation of a long day spent parenting young children and the storm of emotions that comes along with that. Putting distance between me and their needs motivates me to move down the stairs.
The remains of the day greet me at the bottom. Perhaps “greet 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 who feels the content of her brain and body have been upturned onto the living room floor like a toddler who just found my purse.
Thus begins the nightly ritual—the putting away of the day. As I roam from the bookshelf 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, my mind wanders. The thinking begins with frustration, at the children, at my home, at me, for letting it get this chaotic. I move onto reflection, pondering what I can do differently, how I can make tomorrow better.
With each step, that knot in my heart begins to unravel. The twisted bunch of anxieties and doubts and negative emotions from the day follow me around the house, straightening itself bit by bit, item by item, breath by breath. It is the yoga class I didn’t make it to today. Deep breath in, deep breath out. The savasana of my day. That’s my favorite part of yoga—the nap.
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 my eldest drew me during her nap—the little stick figures holding hands. “It’s us!” I remember her saying with pride, causing me to immediately forgive her for interrupting my quiet time. I pin it to the clipboard on my desk. I collect the various vehicles strewn about the rug, replaying his sweet toddler voice when he learned to say, “GO!” I take down the pillow fort they created, recalling their silly laughter as they wrestled under blankets, signs they are 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 small plastic dinosaur, a brontosaurus. I spot it sitting on the edge of the coffee table, next to that book of art and basket of coasters that some style magazine insisted makes the perfect vignette to demonstrate a “quirky yet sophisticated vibe in today’s modern home.” I’m not sure the dinosaur was what they had in mind when they said quirky and sophisticated. But here it lies, confidently, like it belongs. And I leave it there.
While this ritual is about clearing away the remains of the day, it is also about finding the right place for the things in my life. That dinosaur belongs here. It looks good sitting there amongst our things. The children 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 the bookshelf. Early on in this parenting journey, when it was just the baby, burp cloths and teething toys and board books were put away, out of sight. I didn’t want them in my space. This used to be a safe place just for me–the grownup who wanted to clear away the reminders of a day spent doing nothing like the life before baby. But I realize tonight, as I willingly leave that dinosaur next to the book and the coasters, I have made more room for them, my children. As they get bigger, and the messes along with them, we continue to practice this ritual of returning the day 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 tiny fuzzy animal. Whatever it is, I am leaving room, opening up, forgiving faults, inviting play — breathing in, breathing out, restoring order, accepting change.
Breathing in, 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.
Rachel Nevergall, mom of three and wife to a man who is WAY better at cleaning the kitchen, is a Minnesotan newbie, curator of family adventures, builder of epic train tracks, lover of all of the library books, and writer in the in-between. She shares about the confluence of her child development background and the realities of parenting on her blog and Instagram.