It's Sunday night, seven-thirty, and Brandon is putting the children to bed. Shrieks, giggles, and shouts drift through the wall as he supervises teeth-brushing, clothes-changing, hand-washing, and bathroom trips. I can hear the irritation drive his voice higher and louder as hijinks increase in proportion to the time spent getting ready for bed. Slowly, slowly the voices settle down and just one drifts out to me as Brandon reads to the children - tonight is The Horse and His Boy.
Toys, couch pillows, books, shoes, clothes, duplos, papers, and blankets litter every surface in our living room. The kitchen table hosts a scattering of left-behind dishes and dirty frying pans keep each other company on the stove. Half-washed pots crowd the sink, still waiting their turn to be finished and put away. As I walk through the toy room to get to my own, I have to step carefully to avoid the train tracks, horses, more duplos, and markers strategically placed to stop any stealthy invader. My covers are flung across the half-made bed, making a nest for the church clothes, baby blankets, and dirty diaper that haven't been put away yet. Makeup and hair products clutter my bathroom counter, left where they were hastily dropped eight hours ago.
This is my house on Sunday night.
In Baku, we were spoiled. Church started at ten and was done by noon. We had enough time to sleep in and have a reasonable breakfast and still make it home for an afternoon nap. Dinner was usually around four or so, leaving plenty of time to get everyone ready for bed, the house tidied up, and still have a nice quiet Sunday evening. I would write and Brandon would read or talk to family and we had enough peace to feel at least part of our day really did have some rest.
Not so here. When I was a teenager, nine o'clock church was the dreaded hour - always up late on Saturday night, Sunday morning was much, much too early when nine o'clock saw me dressed, waiting to start the opening hymn. But now, I dream of nine o'clock church - finished early enough that I could call family, or take a walk, or read a book before even thinking about eating dinner. Yes, I would have to get up early, but I would be done early too.
But instead, we spend all morning preparing for church. We wake up late (because nobody ever has the heart to set an alarm for Sunday morning), shower, eat breakfast, bathe the children, get them ready for church, prepare as much dinner as possible, get ready ourselves, and then head to church. After three hours of church (which turns into four hours gone from the house), we come home, fix dinner, wash the dishes, put the children in bed, smile at each other for fifteen minutes, and go to bed. Then we wake up at five in the morning and it's Monday again.
Theoretically, three (or four) hours out of my day shouldn't make a difference - after all three hours is three hours is three hours. But somehow church preparation always stretches to fill the time given to it. If we have four hours, we take four hours. If we have one, everyone may look a little less polished, but they still get there on time.
So by the time we get home, everyone has spent all morning getting ready for church and most of the afternoon at church. Brandon has spent the last two hours of church futilely attempting to make three- and four-year olds sit through those same two hours while teaching them a lesson. I've spent all three hours trying to keep Eleanor quiet and so we're both worn out from trying to keep everything together and dinner is an exercise in trying to see how quickly everyone can get the food eaten so we can send them to bed and just have five minutes of quiet.
A few weeks ago a teacher mentioned a book she had read. You should all read it, she encouraged us, maybe pick it up for some quiet Sunday afternoon reading. I snorted to myself as I tried to remember the last time I had some quiet Sunday afternoon reading.
But, soon enough I'll be in Dushanbe when church will be whenever we want it to be (eight o'clock says Brandon), will be as long as we want it to be, and any children who can't behave can be sent to their rooms for naps. And we won't even have to spend an hour coming and going. I might even have some time for quiet Sunday afternoon reading. Maybe.
Only four more months.