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“I need to make room for myself,” I think quietly as I shove toys aside with my foot and toss the dog-hair-covered blankets onto the couch behind me. This endless carousel of shuffling clutter weighs on me, but I try not to dwell on that fact right now.

Clearing a space for a quick strength class between Zoom calls requires almost as much effort as the class itself. Plastic play food and melodic baby toys lay strewn about the room (the whole house, really). Scattered LEGOs and Hot Wheels wait to attack unsuspecting bare feet at any moment.

To say we are in the weeds would be an understatement.

I recently read that having small kids closely imitates cleaning up after a frat partyexcept forever. And while I never attended one of the latter, I can easily draw on the similarities based on surface-level knowledge.

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Empty fruit snack wrappers and grass-stained socks litter the backyard. Toddler underwear casually takes up residence in a barrel meant for monkeys. Broken toys wait patiently in a queue to be fixed by the trusty hot glue gun. Tidy and vacuum one level of the house just to see another has since been destroyed.
 
I wish I was lying when I admit we recently found a stainless steel water bottle in the cupboard full of spoiled milk. It sat there nonchalantly, amongst its peers, waiting to serve on-the-go hydration. Instead, however, it inflicted intense gagging from my husband and left me grieving one of the only properly working water bottles left.

We are in the trenches, folks.

“You’ll miss this!” empty nesters say.

“These are the best years!” parents of teens exclaim.

“The quiet house feels vacant without those little voices and sticky fingers!”

I smile and nod to each “enjoy every moment.” Smile and nod, as my mom says.

But how can diaper blowouts and picky eaters be the years? When will I feel like more than just a rung-out sponge day after day? Will I ever sleep in or pee alone again?!?

For the past six years, having small kids means I put those little ones first, always.

Their laundry before minehe needs his field trip shirt for tomorrow. Their meals before minethe baby cries impatiently for a bottle. Their time before minebedtime stories and hugs can’t be rushed.

Post-workout, I realize this one-foot swipe of toys symbolizes my next season of lifetossing aside those early, idealistic days of what motherhood should look like to make space for who I want to be.

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I can be a good mother and wife, and a well-read book club attendee.

I can be a fun mother and wife, and make detailed sassy cross-stitch.

I can be a warm mother and wife, and create gardens for bees to visit.

We don’t have to pickwe can make room for both. For all versions of ourselves past, present, and future.

That night, I put on a new sweater and (literally) brushed the dust off a pair of decades-old earrings in preparation for a dinner with family.

“Earrings?” my husband asks, in a shocked yet admiring tone, a smirk peeks through.

Once home, with the littles snug in their beds, I power up the computer to comb slowly through photos and videos, neatly organized into subfolders by kid and by year (credit goes to my Enneagram 1, type-A version). The past six years of our lives reflect back at me from the screen as tears well in my eyes. Even a few snorts of laughter escape as the remaining minutes of the day fade away.

“Maybe someday,” I think gently, “I will miss those little voices and sticky fingers.”

Rachel Schuehle

Rachel resides in Minnesota with her family. Her three boys keep her busy and her house messy. Any snippets of free time she finds, she enjoys amateur gardening, easy puzzles, and listening to live music.

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