“Stop jumping on the throw pillows!” I turn and yell from the kitchen, hands pruny and sudsy from doing dishes, splattering drops of water on the floor. The two children in the living room ignore me, quickly piling pillows in a beige and orange and turquoise tower between the couch and coffee table. The youngest crouches on his toes. He is a coiled ball of four-year-old boy-limbs, quivering with energy. He leaps, and his gleeful hollers reverberate in my head as he becomes a panther and pounces onto the pile. I cringe, watching as he topples the mountain of pillows.
“My turn!” shouts the six-year-old, long brown hair falling in her face as she scoops the pile back together. The younger scrambles out of her way, and I scowl as she takes her turn.
“What have I told you about jumping on the pillows?” I shout with teeth clenched.
“But, it’s fun!” They grin at me with wide, hopeful smiles, hair askew, and cheeks pink from exertion.
“No!” I wipe my still dripping hands with a towel and march over to yank the back door open. “If you want to be crazy, go outside,” I command. Smiles fading, the children trudge out the back door.
Grumbling, I dismantle the tower of pillows and place them in their assigned spots. I notice a tear in one and set it strategically in a corner. The permanent marker on another faces the back of the couch. I place the unblemished ones in front, breathing an orderly sigh of relief. Now I can do the dishes in peace. I know I might be unreasonable, but I can’t seem to help myself. Motherhood is unpredictable, the children throwing tantrums one day and behaving perfectly the next. They keep me on my toes, constantly guessing what the day will bring. Putting things in order has been my preferred method to anchor myself in the chaos.
As an adult, decorative pillows are the way I bring peace to this chapter of motherhood. Without order, I am anxious and irritated and unable to focus. I feel my skin crawl, and my head spins at the entropy around me. I might not be able to convince my children to eat healthy at every meal or pick up all their toys, but I can coordinate turquoise and orange throw pillows in the living room to match the stripes in the curtains. They are something tangible that I can see and control. Right now, there are throw pillows in the sitting room, soft and fluffy, on the couches. I have them on my bed, perfectly placed on either side. They are in the children’s rooms, resting neatly on comforters, drawing my eye away from the toys scattered on the floor, and up to the order I try to maintain for my own sanity. Seeing them in their place, exactly where they should be, anchors me.
The dishes are done, and I’m wiping the countertops when my daughter opens the back door, shaking off leaves and dirt from the yard. My son follows on her heels.
“Mommy, we were swinging and jumping off to see how far we could go!” My son tells me. “I jumped this far!” He says, holding his arms wide.
“That sounds fun!” I smile. I place the sponge on the sink where it goes and survey my work, thinking of what I want to organize next.
“Can we build a fort?” my daughter asks, interrupting my train of thought.
“Yeah, we want to build a fort!” my son chimes in, jumping up and down.
“Go for it,” I say. “But don’t touch my pillows,” I give them a half-hearted glare, pointing at the living room I just reclaimed, my haven from the disorder of the children. The throw pillows beam at me from their places on the couch, and I smile back at the order I have maintained.
“Okay!” they respond.
I watch as they move the chairs out from the dining table and into a row. My daughter slides the piano bench out while my son grunts and scoots the heavy coffee table across the floor. I cringe as my nicely arranged room is disassembled, but I control my impulse to push the furniture back into place. A glance at my throw pillows tells me I can put it all back when they are done. Right now, I stand off to the side and observe their progress.
They run upstairs to grab blankets, throwing them over the stair railing to land in a heap on the floor. The chairs and bench and table are soon covered in Frozen and Batman blankets–the room transformed into a series of tunnels. Little heads poke in and out, giggling and playing. Dolls and stuffed animals come downstairs, and a card game is set up underneath the fort.
My heart swells as I watch the two of them play together, creating their own imaginary world and organizing it how they like. They arrange and negotiate and set things in their places, putting order to chaos, creating harmony, doing exactly what I do, in their own way.
With young children, I realize peace isn’t something I can display and put perfectly in its place. Sometimes peace is messy, with furniture all over the place and my sitting room covered in blankets. The smiles and giggles of my children remind me that I can let go of order and move things around. I have learned that my heart is still happy even when everything is not where I think it should be. But, lest you think I’ve become a new person, let me remind you that my throw pillows are still off-limits, a compromise of sorts between my old life of control and order, and this new, chaotic one of motherhood.
Beth Robinson resides in Northern California with her husband and children. A former schoolteacher, she spends her days homeschooling, reading, writing, or gardening. She lives by Benjamin Franklin’s motto, “A place for everything, everything in its place,” and happily makes her bed every morning. You can find her on Instagram.