I just tucked Eleanor into bed. It has been a long Sunday today; we hosted church followed by a group dinner for twenty people. Everyone had a great time but hosting is always work - work that is worth it, but work nonetheless. This dinner wasn't too bad. We finished dishes and had the floor swept by 7:30, early enough that Brandon could read a short chapter of Harry Potter to the children. Usually at the end of these days my number one goal in life is to throw the children off to bed so that I can finally rest. No stories, no twentieth kisses, no five-minute monologues on dinosaurs or horses. Just bed.
But tonight wasn't that bad. William is sleeping through the night, I'm not pregnant, and I don't have undiagnosed hypothyroidism. Even after cooking, hosting, and cleaning up on less sleep than I'd like (William's definition of 'sleeping through the night' is waking up at five) and no nap, I wasn't that exhausted.
So when Eleanor asked for a story I agreed after only a few seconds' hesitation (even though I knew that her sister had already read her The Giant Cabbage). I read Caps for Sale as Eleanor nestled into the crook of my arm, sucking her thumb and pointing out that the peddler really is small and the monkeys have different colored caps on. After the story I prayed with her and tucked her in to bed.
As usual she asked for a kiss and then gave me a kiss, hugged me and then asked for a big hug. Then, as usual, I tickled her. Because when you're two and being tucked into bed, being tickled is the best thing ever. As I tickled Eleanor and she giggled hilariously (two year-olds really are so easy to please sometimes) I thought about how one day she would be a teenager and I wouldn't be able to hold her close and tickle her and read her a story and make everything better with a kiss and so I kept tickling her, hoping to store up the memories so that they would be able to last for the rest of my life. And then I gave her a few more kisses and hugs for good measure. Because hugging a sweet little two-year old as they wrap their chubby arms around your neck and their wispy hair tickles your ear while their little hands pat your back is really one of the best things ever.
This story would not have happened when Kathleen was two. Or Sophia or Edwin. It might have happened with Joseph. Maybe. But probably not. Because when they were two I didn't notice how quickly they were growing up and how sweet those little giggles were. I was too exhausted from parenting my young children and too ready to snatch some time for myself after a trying day of saying no twenty times over and answering the same question over and over (and over) again. Giggles weren't sweet, they were piercing. Requests for one more kiss weren't endearing, they were maddening. And my children couldn't grow up fast enough.
That is why I'm grateful that I've been able to have six children. I've been granted the opportunity to do toddlers over and over (and over) again until I have been able to see how they are endearing even when they are driving you crazy. I don't have to worry about whether or not they will grow up to be rational creatures because I know they will. I don't fret about whether they will learn to dress themselves and feed themselves because all normal children eventually do. I know that the threes will eventually end and I will enjoy my child again.
And even when they're driving me crazy I can laugh at them. I don't flinch when their grubby hands pat my face. I tickle them at night and actually enjoy it instead of counting down the seconds until I can bolt. I finally understand why people don't want their children to grow up. I understand why Jesus told us to be like little children.
And so when people ask how I can handle having six children, I want to tell them how really great it is. More children to love, more chances to get things right, more hugs and more kisses. I will never regret having all the children I have. I don't care about trips I didn't take or stuff I didn't buy or even sleep I didn't get. Those things are fun, but when I'm ninety-two I'll have something more. I'll have my children. All six of them.