I awake in the early morning hours, before dawn. Shuffling to the bathroom in a haze of lifting sleep, I stumble over something on the floor and hit my foot on the wall. A flash of pain shoots up from my foot and meets a burst of anger in the middle where it has raced to my gut in the form of a stifled scream. Don't wake the children. Bending over, I pick the thing up that caused me to trip and see that it is a doll. Four plastic limbs and a head full of strands of blond plastic hair attached to a soft cloth body. A Christmas present I often find lying on the floor these days. I set her outside the door of the children's room, and make a mental note to remind them to keep their stuff put away. It's a thing I say a lot these days.
11:30 am and I arrive home from errands to an empty house. Everyone has gone to their respective jobs. Husband to work, making smiles more beautiful, children to school, filling their heads with bits of this and that that the world deems essential. I am alone and it is quiet. A dehumidifier hums a melancholy, monotone tune from two rooms away and I can hear a cat playing with a bit of paper not far from me. Scanning the kitchen I notice that there are little messes everywhere. An empty box, left on the counter. Three stuffed toys, on the floor, forgotten in the haste of the early morning rush. The telltale signs that someone had a banana and possibly a yogurt recently lay on the table, voiceless tattle-tales in the din of silence.
I feel myself beginning to become angry as I survey the mess that I bear in my perpetual state of domestic martyrdom. I find myself becoming a broken record lately. Am I the only one who cares about the messes around here? If you can't put this away, I'm going to take it. All I EVER do is clean!
My life is so many things, so many thoughts begging to be heard, begging for a few moments of my time, but it rarely comes. In my self-pity I realize that I have become reduced to a simple maid, and not even one that gets to wear a cute costume and have a French name like Babette. No, the scullery kind, in clothes that children use to wipe their noses on and muddy-pawed canine's jump onto in gleeful abandon. Is this what is to become of my life? MY life. Is this my future? My mind's eye envisions a home, decades from this one in which I am chasing grown children and their children around begging them to hang up their coats in the proper location and for the love of Pete, put your dishes in the dishwasher! as I drag behind them, gray and wizened, clothes still full of boogers and muddy paw prints, only from a new generation.
And then I look to the three stuffed animals on the floor…and I stop. Two puppies and a cat, having tea. They sit in a small circle and in the midst of them sits a tiny tea pot, pink and painted with a picture of Hello Kitty, her likeness framed in yellow flowers. Next to that sits a matching tin plate, and on it three cloth petit-fours. They are having tea. I am given clarity in this moment and I see something outside of toys not in their proper homes and more messes for me to rectify. This is the imagination of my child, laid out in still-life before my eyes, magic that I can behold. My beautiful child, full of wonder and mischief, set this scene before me and ,in that moment, I understood that she loved those toys as if they were real. To her they are real. This deep understanding came in a flash, like lightning, and it pained my heart. All of this magic happening around me and I, lost outside of it, trapped in the agony and seeming redundancy of my own predicament, was missing it.
Suddenly, I had new eyes. There was love and magic everywhere I looked. The empty box on the counter had contained something that the man I love had been waiting for for a long time. Its arrival had made him as happy as a child at Christmas but I had failed to see that because I was too busy bemoaning the sink full of dishes. The shoes kicked off in haste and hiding bottoms up half way under the sofa were no longer another burden for me to bear. They were the vessels that carried the precious little feet of my child to whatever adventures awaited her. An unmade bed was no longer another chore, but a place that harbored and facilitated dreams, and I carefully set it to right, smiling at the sleepy visions that would come and praying for them to be full of fancy and wondrous things as I smoothed the sheets and placed each stuffed animal in a different animated position.
So often I value time with my own thoughts so highly that I become lost inside of my own head and it becomes my prison, shutting me out from the rest of the noise and the magic. My eyes begin to grow blinders and my world shrinks to a tiny microcosm of my own feelings and pain. But how much more is life than this! What a greater joy there is to be had when we behold our circumstances through eyes that seek to find the love and magic that is always present before us, if only we take the time, and lose enough of ourselves to see it. Because in the end, we are our own greatest hindrance.
So now, as I empty the dishwasher for the second time in a day, it is no longer a tedious chore, keeping me from what I REALLY want to do. Now it is a time to reflect upon the hands that lifted food to their mouths from these plates, the words and stories that were shared as we gathered around them and fed ourselves. Love happened here, even if I didn't notice it. I lean over to the dishwasher to set the plate inside and it slides out of my soapy fingers and comes to rest with a clink next to the others. As I look around the room again at what I once beheld in anger and frustration, I now see tiny moments of lives that have forever slipped into the black, velvety folds of the past. Moments of laughter and pretend, chaos and joy, and each one of them beautiful for its uniqueness and humanity.
It is a beautiful mess.