In the kitchen, Evaline is laying on a flattened cardboard box on the floor with a marker-doodled, naked, baby doll. She murmurs excitedly and I catch a word here or there as I stand by the sink, stirring my coffee. Look, my castle! I love my sister. Oh, hi, Peter Pan!
(Yes, clearly, she is living in some Disney fairy tale. It was a long winter. Don’t judge.)
In the living room, Alex is reading a book of Asher’s favorite bedtime stories. He’s nine, reading a four year old’s Christmas present, because he knows he’s supposed to be reading before school, but he isn’t ready to finish the biography of Albert Einstein (that he was unable to put down just a week ago.)
What’s going on? I ask him. You’re almost done, why don’t you want to finish?
It’s too sad, he tells me, not quite able to look up from the tale of the Red Hen. He dies at the end.
Well, that’s true. But, isn’t it wonderful that his life was so remarkable that someone wrote a book about it and all of the good things he accomplished?
Alex doesn’t seem convinced, and now that I’m eyeing the small stack of biographies I have planned for him to read over the next year of homeschooling, I’m beginning to wonder if I should have considered his sensitive soul before choosing books that all end the same – with a grave.
I know it seems sad, but it’s not. Not really. It’s just part of life, for everyone. Our bodies will all die someday, it’s inevitable.
His silence suggests that I’ve misinterpreted this conversation. It’s not a teachable, talk-it-out, moment. It’s just a boy on a lazy Monday morning, who would rather read about a big red hen making bread and scolding those who didn’t help along the way, than about a genius whose life ended. Period.
I met a woman this week, while working a wedding, who is going to die sooner, rather than later. I don’t know what she is suffering from, but the wedding of her son was pushed up months ahead of schedule so that she could at least be there to see it take place. She wasn’t elderly, but frail and slight with shoulder bones protruding through her sweater.
But, oh, her smile.
million, billion, dollar glowing smile, watching her son say I do.
I wondered on the ride home, how it must feel to know that you’re at the doorstep. Do things taste sweeter, does the sun seem more brilliant, or the rain more cleansing, the wind like it could carry you home?
If you know that this is the week, or this is the day, when goodbye is true – do you become an open book? Do you have nothing left to hold back? Do you make nice and set right the relationships that once went wrong? Or do you hold your breath and bite your tongue, knowing you’re almost done and these secrets will all be six feet under too?
Do you really, honestly, live? Not just in a bacon and ice cream for breakfast and jump out of a plane sort of way – but do you live, for real, like it matters eternally? Because, This. Is. It.
Does it change anything at all?
(And shouldn’t we all be living sort of like that, anyway?)
Here, the children have moved on from books and cardboard boxes on my kitchen floor. It’s April. It’s nine-thirty in the morning. We haven’t started school yet, and I’m looking at the disaster of this space we call home.
The oil ran out (again) on Saturday, while we were clinging to hopes of spring. So, we are chilly.
The table hasn’t been cleaned off, in earnest, since Friday evening. So, we are cluttered.
This dishes aren’t done, the stovetop has cinnamon toast crumbs and buttery fingerprints, the floor is sticky, as usual. So, we are a mess.
The school books I once had so well arranged and organized, have become piles, upon piles, of chaos. My kitchen is now a room with a giant blue classroom calendar and an abacus and boxes and boxes of pencils and crayons and rulers and flash cards and biographies of famous people which my son will not want to read any time soon.
So, we are this. This perfect mess.
When we first had children, it was like jumping out of a plane. I remember the feeling, vividly. I felt so, completely, alive. Terrified and unsure of anything, but alive and with a second heartbeat, there, safe beneath my skin.
Then, the inevitable happens, mess and clutter and chaos.
The laundry piles that swell into mountains, spread into entire countries of their own as they flow from bed to floor, to treadmill.
The hours between dinner and bedtime, when the clock seems to slow to an excruciating grind (in a way that it never does when you’re out on a date with your husband, or when you’re catching up with a dear friend.)
The dark quiet moments of night come, when you find yourself remembering how you once knew what it was to sleep soundly, to rest and wake up without feeling like your body was used as a tissue or pillow or punching bag all night long.
This is us, living in the inevitable that began with a leap of faith and a heartbeat.
This is us.
Learning, growing, fighting, loving.
And someday, the great inevitable will happen too. I wonder if I’ll know, or if it will be a flash. I wonder if there will be time for goodbye, or if someone who loves me will always wonder where they stood in my heart.
I wonder, because I’m human, and because I have four little people who keep me alert to the greater picture, daily and nightly, with their questions that stretch beyond my immediate frustrations over a leaky pipe and a dog that needs to go out (again.)
I know it’s why I write. Here, there, anywhere I can.
Because, all this precious messiness, this extraordinary ordinary, will, one day, be neat and boring.
And whenever that time comes, these words, scrawled down from my heart in the midst of disrupted routines and spilled apple juice and children in backward sweaters and construction paper clippings and so, so many crumbs, these are the memories, these are the words, that will make me smile when I’m lonely and longing for a reminder of what once was.
Or, someday inevitable, they’ll be the only ones left of me at all.
*This post was, in part, inspired by Momastery’s Messy Beautiful Project. After talking to another messy, beautiful, mother this weekend about how we are all in this (messy, chaotic, confounding, motherhood-is-the-hardest-most-wonderful-thing-ever) life, together, I decided to go ahead and link to this project and support the community of women out there, supporting each other. You can read more about the project and Glennon’s book, here.