The sight of clutter usually frustrates me. I fall into the typical, almost knee-jerk reaction of "Why do I bother cleaning?" or "Can't the kids pick up after themselves?"
But not tonight. The sight of such stray items makes me want to cry for different reasons.
Some day, everything will be neat and orderly, clean and fingerprint-less. A gallon of milk will last for an entire week. The kitchen table won't have crayon marks. The carpet will lack Lego confetti. The cushions will be on the sofa instead of the ground, where they serve as perfect landing spots. And the bathroom towels will hang perfectly in the center of the rail.
I can hardly stand the thought of it.
This afternoon, I had coffee with a friend whose children remained young in my recollections. We'd not seen each other in a while. It had not been years and years. Still, she mentioned how her children now are preparing for college. I could hardly picture it.
"What? They were just little kids. Does it happen that fast?"
"Yes, it does."
I looked at my children then, so diligently producing the Roman Empire in the sandbox at the park, with its various tunnels and routes throughout its width. My little girl with her high ponytail and apple cheeks is already eight. I've only ten more years before college. And then, my son, strong and purposeful in his endeavors, seems so much older than six. I sometimes even see glimpses of the man he will be. Something in his look or stance. Sebastian, naughtily eating sand and crabby from not having a nap, has already passed the snuggling, nursing age.
It happens quickly?
Only eight years ago, I was introduced to the first of these beautiful beings and given the monumental task of taking care of God's children on loan to me.
Only eight years, did I say? Already eight years.
While I plan and manage the household and get school done and juggle a thousand other tasks, the children keep right on growing. They refuse to wait until I am more patient or smarter. They will not remain on hold until I get the more obvious errors and flaws of my personality smoothed out. No. They move on. They keep evolving and stretching taller and leaner, impatiently hurling towards adulthood, which has only just begun to make sense to me.
Right now, when my children are so little, it breaks my heart to think of the days when they will not be under my roof. These evenings, I am the mother hen, content and happy and joy-filled as my chicks roost in the coop with us. Yet some day it will not be so. And though I love my husband beyond words, though I can think of ways to occupy myself, though I can think of places to visit and projects to undertake, all when the children are grown ... I know that it won't be the same. It won't be like now.
"How can mothers stand it?" I ask my own mother, knowing I did the same to her. I grew up and left, too.
"It's very, very difficult. Enjoy these years, these happy, wonderful years."
And so tonight, while the toys are scattered everywhere despite my insistence for neatness, my iPod has more children's tunes than grown-up ones and our TV recordings feature more animated flicks than documentaries, I appreciate all the evidence of children living with us. I find joy in the Reading Program flyer on the fridge, the stickers lining the bookshelf in offbeat patterns, the heart-balloon drawings from the girl, and the knights and teddy bears sharing a place on the love seat.
There will time, there will be time, for the taking of tea, for the million projects that I think about doing which seem so important to me right now, for the peace and quiet that I feel I deserve.
Right now, I am happily immersed in motherhood. My life is filled with laughter that is too loud, with hugs that squeeze the life of me and sloppy, enthusiastic kisses, and underscored by crayon drawings and children's music.
Thank God. Thanks so much ...