Can there be a better time to recollect? Can there be moments of clarity greater in degree or emotion than those which come after too many hours of daylight, at a time when the village sleeps, when the family dreams, when all the memories of a day coalesce into something more than the minute-by-minute drudgery of cleaning up messes or wiping off faces? I say no.
Before bed, the children sometimes bathe. I say sometimes because, as their primary caregiver, I must assume some guilt-laden responsibility for not bathing them every night. Still, it is the lack of such a routine, I believe, that creates such wonderfully sentimental moments. Smartypants, the three year old, disappears into the tub. Despite having two legs and lacking any hint of green scales, she’s certain she’s a mermaid. She swims and splashes with a handful of Barbie doll mermaids and drowns in a world of fantasy few adults can imagine. As for Smiley, the toothy fourteen-month-old mess with dirty feet and a carefree demeanor, she nods, splashes joyfully and chews on a sponge. They are happy, and as a whirlpool dirtied by the filthy remains of the day's activities sinks and swirls and vanishes down the drain, you realize you've survived another day. And, to greater relief, so have they.
Thus begins a descent into reverie.
They allow you, often with tremendous resistance, to put them to bed. Quiet consumes the house. It's a silence no childless human being can quite understand. It signals relaxation, perhaps, or opportunity. It's often accompanied by a new breath of wind surging into your lungs, an invigorated sense of the possible. Your children are finally asleep, and, for a few hours anyway, the world is yours once again.
You do what you must. Some watch television. Some read. Some eat ice cream or make love. Some work, some sleep. A deranged few offer to babysit for others. Regardless of how you spend this time, whether alone or with another, whether in silence or amid howling artillery fire blaring from the 5.1 speakers mounted to your television, eventually the need for sleep overtakes you.
It is then, at day's end, when everything becomes clear. You straighten up the house, combing the carpet for crumbs or lethal objects, tossing dirty clothes into the hamper or, if you're like me, into a pile on the rocking chair which, you lie to yourself, will find its way into the washing machine tomorrow.
Occasionally you stumble across a memory. It needn't be much. The hair clip Smiley yanked from her mane and cleverly stuck in your shoe. The bottle of milk she didn't want, tucked behind a cushion on your couch. If it's a hot day and the air conditioning isn't on, that's a memory you don't want. But all these little things remind you of earlier. Perhaps, at the time, you felt overwhelmed, exhausted even, and you didn't have the opportunity to be amazed at Smiley's trickery, at her cleverness and absolute intent. Perhaps you didn't notice, when it happened, that Smartypants had put all the refrigerator magnets in alphabetical order. But now, as you remember it, you hear her repeating all the letters to herself. You hear her saying, "No, Mr. Q, you don't belong after Ms. Y. Please go where you belong." And of course you hear Mr. Q, in a deep voice, saying "I'm so very sorry. I apologize. I'll go where I belong now." And you can't help but smile. You can't help but marvel at the mundane. Try, if you can, to imagine all the things you miss in a day. I spend all day every day with my kids, and still I miss a million little things. Imagine how much you miss when you see them only a few hours each day.
Imagine it, and then look forward to tomorrow. Look forward to every hour, every minute you spend with your children. You may not enjoy all those minutes. You may not want to remember all those minutes. But, at day's end, when you rifle through that field of chaos disguised as your house, when you loot the battlefield of your daily parenting war, the spoils you uncover will make every second of that battle, every stained piece of clothing and every bitten finger, the treasure of a lifetime. And, like any brave soldier, at day's end, you'll understand why you're fighting the good fight, and you'll be eager for more.