She turned a year old in January. I find cloth napkins strewn throughout the child-friendly area of the living room and dining room because she grabs whatever she can at the edge of the dining table. We manage hurtles to get past the baby gates to cross the house. I think to myself that someone else must be spreading her toys so far and wide, but no, it is she.
The mornings begin at 6 a.m. when she has borne the sorrow of sleeping long enough and will rejoice in the coming day, though the room is still clothed in darkness except for the flickering light of a battery-powered candle. I change her diaper, dress her, and stagger into the living room. At 6:30 a.m. the next child emerges, with a similar temperament, too alert to movements of the house to sleep longer. He takes a spoonful of peanut butter and settles onto the couch with a Thomas the Train blanket to read under the light of a vintage lamp.
By 7 a.m. the rest of the children have awoken. I open the curtains of our bedroom because even though we woke every two hours, it is best to start the day. Coffee brewed, cereal poured, table set. The day begins.
With breakfast consumed, I set out three library books of various word counts and hand one to each reader. They read to each other while bickering about who can see, who is touching the book, who is making noise, and when the reader should pause and when the reader should read. Morning prayer follows, then lessons.
Recess is the current anchor of the day.
Lunch happens around noon when the youngest among them have completed their subjects and the 5th grader alone remains. After that, a limited routine follows until 5 p.m. The weather has influenced how much attention the 5th grader receives as the warmth and sunshine draws me out to my garden, impatient to begin the new cut flower garden.
In between our steps roams the toddler, demanding attention, diaper changes, feedings, playtime, rescue from choking hazards. Finally, in the afternoon, she is done with the boundaries of her little castle and would roam outside. I open the gate and then the backdoor. She runs as fast as her toddling legs will take her. The next hour passed, following her, telling her “yucky” when she puts a rock or dirt in her mouth and longing to cross the yard with a hoe and spade and go to work.
I call in the crowd at 5 p.m. to direct them to clean. We eat at 6 or 6:30 p.m. The toddler-baby goes to sleep around that time having not taken a long enough nap, ever.
In the evening, I settle with my books to reset my mind, complain to my husband of what difficulties were had. I both look forward to sleep and dread it, all the same, knowing it will be long and interrupted. The nights were short when I woke only once.
On the weekends, we make plans. I take Saturday for myself. Sundays are spent in a quiet routine while my husband plays organ at our parish in Turlock. We attend outdoor mass in the afternoon. The rest of the day is spent in relaxation and play, usually with a movie.
I practice patience (with 3rd-grade math), letting go of the things I want to do for the things I must do (read, write and decorate), caring about the things I would rather not care about (evening dishes), and finding ways to stimulate my mind without making my angry lectures too high-brow. It is a different season, a quiet season, like winter, fallow, starting seeds, seeing them grow inch by inch, waiting to be transplanted into the wider world and warmer weather.
And they will, my pen pal reminds me. One day, I will not need to follow a toddler around, braid hair or soothe frayed nerves. One day, my time will be my own. While that is beautiful, a certain strange loneliness will follow. Taking her advice, I will accept the fallow field in its potential and hope, trusting that the work is done here and now will bear fruit in due season.