Most nights I sweep my kitchen floor. Brandon is usually upstairs with the children, reading them a story and putting them to bed. He is spending some precious daddy-time with the children and I'm enjoying some precious solitary time without the children. I used to hate doing the dishes and cleaning up alone after making and feeding dinner, but I can buy some more time with Brandon if I finish the dishes while he's putting the children to bed. So I wash the dishes alone in the quiet.
I grew up in a house that was always neat and always clean. My mother persistently insisted that all of our jobs be done daily and done right. When she would remind me (again and again and again) to sweep the floor each evening, I would complain (again and again and again) about the necessity of sweeping the floor every single night. It had been swept the night before, wasn't that good enough?
I laugh each time I remember this and thank my mother for her patience and perseverance that eventually taught me the pleasure of having a neat and clean house of my own.
As I make my way around the kitchen floor, stroke after stroke of the broom gathers the dried bits of egg from breakfast and toast crumbs from lunch and yellow grains of couscous from dinner. Before me is the scattered detritus of twenty-four hours of living and behind me is a clean floor, ready for the detritus of another day.
I used to be annoyed by having to sweep my floor every day. I would grumble as I picked up the children's coats from where they had been scattered after coming in from play. Seeing pencils, pens and papers would send me into fantasies of the far, far off day when all of those things would stay where I put them with no small invisible hands to un-do my work a few minutes after I had finished.
All of these things kept me from what I wanted to do - read a book or surf the internet or sit and talk with Brandon. They were endless tasks that were never done, a constant interruption to the Good Parts of life. Why would we be sent to Earth, I mused, to spend so much of our time doing the same things over and over and over again? What was to be learned from doing dishes, washing laundry, and cooking meals? These things are only temporary, only something that has to be dealt with in this life. I hope that I don't have an eternity of laundry to look forward to. If so, maybe I'll pass.
Of course these things are necessary; I could personally get away from them if I wanted (and some of them I do), but that just means that somebody else is cleaning up messes and folding laundry and washing dishes and cooking meals. These things are just part of being alive and only increased by bringing more people into the family.
Still, it feels a little like being on a treadmill some days.
All of the crumbs and dirt and flour and mysterious bits are gathered into a neat pile before being swept up and taken to the trash. My mind has wandered over the day while stroke after stroke gathered the dirt. Kathleen is doing better in her math, but still needs some work. Perhaps I'll change her schedule around to encourage her to be more focused. Sophia is doing so much better in reading, thank heaven. It was such a lovely afternoon and marvelous to be out in the butter-yellow sunshine, enjoying the warmth of a sixty-degree day in January. Eleanor is getting so fat and roly-poly; it's hard to believe she's closer to being a year old than a newborn.
The children are quiet now, mostly. Brandon must have finished with stories and put them to bed. I look around the kitchen that had been the scene of chaos and disaster half an hour ago. The counters that were littered with dirty dishes, trash, onion skins, pots, potholders, wooden spoons, spices, canisters of beans, and appliances are now empty and wiped clean of spills and crumbs. The stove, recently plastered with splatters, is shiny and black again, quietly gleaming. The table has been cleared of glasses and plates and silverware and napkins and pots and pans and milk and water. All have been put away and the dishwasher quietly hums to itself in concert with the distiller, preparing another morning miracle of cleanliness. All is quiet. All is clean. All is orderly. All is put away for the night, ready for rest. All is the way it should be.
As I turn to the light switch (up or down? I still can't remember), I am tired, but happy. My kitchen, my place, is clean and orderly for another night. It will get dirty again in the morning. Kathleen will slop oatmeal on the stove which will burn to a crust that she won't quite clean all of the way off. Joseph will create his usual mountain of crumbs on the floor. Eleanor will knock her yogurt off the high chair tray and the splatters will reach all the way to the wall. Edwin will drag half his toys down two floors and scatter them across the floor. Sophia will smear peanut butter across several cupboards while making lunch. The clean kitchen will be a distant memory.
But in the evening, while the children are hearing of the prehistoric creatures at the center of the earth, I will unmake all of the messes. The oatmeal will finish coming off. The crumbs will be swept up with everything else. The last splatters of yogurt will come off the wall. Edwin's toys will be returned to the third floor, and I will wipe the peanut butter off the cupboards.
Most of life has unresolved messes that I can't do much about. Every time Edwin's face crumples before he runs off to cry silently in his room after I've lost my temper and screamed at him to stop hurting his brother, I wonder what it will all add up to. Will we make it to a happy ending and he will realize that I really do love him even though I make mistakes?
After Brandon and I have discussed, again, how we can help each other better and I think over all of the selfish demands I have laid on him, again, while he has quietly borne them, again, I wonder if I can ever grow up all of the way and be the person I'd like to be and not just who I am.
I wonder what will come after Dushanbe. Maybe Central Asia again? Another baby? More language training? Will Brandon be able to find a good job? Will we be able to retire and live all of those fabulous dreams that keep us going when we make another strange house in another strange country work for us, again.
There are so many things that I just have to wait for. So many messes that won't be untangled and cleaned up until I'm old and maybe not then.
But not my kitchen. Every day, my kitchen is a mess. Seven people live and eat and fight and play and talk and cry and love and almost everything explodes out of its place by the end. And every evening I put it all back together perfectly. Some days it may take an hour and some days it may take fifteen minutes, but by the end of my time every single evening one mess in my life is cleaned up. And then, I can rest.
One mess down, an unknown number to go. But still, one down.