Today we had dinner guests. Church was very small and we had some recurrent visitors, so everyone stayed after church and ate together. I have now made a habit of prepping Sunday dinner on Saturday afternoon, so cooking time was about thirty minutes and I didn't make too much of a mess. After we had finished eating our pad thai and cashew chicken, we had chocolate cake and ice cream for dessert.
The children finished their dessert while the adults were still talking, so Brandon told the children to start cleaning up the kitchen. When they asked how much they had to clean, I told them just to clean it all. We adults continued talking for some time and the children trickled out of the kitchen and went off to play.
I remember when they were all little and we couldn't get them to go off by themselves because the only thing they wanted in the whole wide world was to be close to us. We once had dinner with friends whose five children ran off to play as soon as they finished eating and I marveled that the adults were left in perfect peace while the children entertained themselves without any help from us. Now I'm at that same place in my own life and it really is a wonderful place to be.
Our guests eventually left and Brandon and I went to finish cleaning the kitchen. But it was almost completely clean. The dishwasher had to be started and a few (washed!) dishes had to be put away, but that was it. I stood in the middle of the kitchen for a few minutes and marveled that the kitchen had been entirely cleaned without any input from me. Then I stood for a few minutes and marveled for a few minutes more.
A month ago it snowed. I enjoy looking at snow and I even enjoy sledding in snow, but I really, really hate putting children in snow clothes. It seems to take at least an hour and by the end I'm hot, irritable, and exhausted. Then someone has to go to the bathroom and I have to do it all over again. Whenever people tell me that cold places aren't that bad as long as you have enough appropriate clothing, I look at them and ask how many children they have to put those all of those weather-appropriate layers on.
That afternoon I was busy paying the bills and didn't notice when the children went outside to play in the snow. After awhile I realized that the house was very quiet and looked out in the yard. I counted heads and found six children playing nicely in the snow, all wearing snow pants, coats, mittens, boots, and hats (except for William who was just wearing his snowsuit). I stuck my head out the window, took a picture to commemorate the event, and went back to paying bills. But also I did a happy dance and felt true joy that comes from not having to put on a single mitten and having no children in the house.
I have now reached the amazing stage of parenting where I have Truly Useful Children. I don't have a Truly Useful Child, I have Truly Useful Children. Kathleen is eleven and a half, Sophia is almost ten, and Edwin is eight, which means I have three children that can follow instructions, read lists, go to the store for me, cook breakfast, clean the kitchen, clean up the house, change beds, get and clean up their own lunch, entertain themselves, entertain their siblings, pay household help, let in workmen, fold and put away laundry, change laundry, change diapers, wash out dirty diapers, bathe themselves, bathe siblings, and do their school work. And the best part about this is that I will always have at least three children who are able do these things. I will never go back to having all small children ever again.
Having all small children is a very exhausting job. You are the only one who is capable of doing anything useful and everyone else in the house is actively working to break down any order you attempt to create. Nobody is capable of rational thought and everyone wants you to interact with them all the time and make all the fun. I remember counting down the hours until Brandon would come home and I could talk to another adult and have four sets of hands to stem the tide of chaos. Our children went to bed very early in those days.
But now I have helpers to deploy against the chaos and the siblings that create it. I don't have to do everything myself because I can have Kathleen set the table while Edwin bathes William while Sophia dresses Eleanor and I cook dinner. It's amazing. It's a whole new, sane way of living. It was almost worth going through the years of craziness to get to the beginning of the era of sanity.
So, to those of who are stuck in the crazy years and don't feel like they will ever end, I'm here to tell you that one day they will. And life will be better. Just hold on. It will be worth it, I promise.