I walked upstairs after a long week of being sick. I knew it wouldn’t be pretty since I hadn’t been in the kids’ rooms for days. I expected some dirty clothes on the floor. Maybe a bin of LEGOs dumped out and the basket of doll clothes scattered across the room.
I stopped at the first threshold.
Naked Barbies, baby dolls and stuffed animals littered the floor. The art table was covered with papers and the drawers of crayons were dumped and scattered. I spotted a basket of folded laundry overturned on the bottom bunk, an upside down bin of ponies was peeking out from under a bed skirt, and everything was overlaid by a funny smell coming from the turtle aquarium on top of the dresser my daughters share.
I turned slightly to peak into my son’s room next door. It hadn’t escaped the toy tornado that had ripped through the upstairs while I had been stuck in bed. Army men, toy dragons and superhero figures fought a vicious battle for space among the ruins of a wooden block city. Board books and wooden puzzle pieces peppered the remaining space, and after hearing a tapping noise I spotted my son in the corner using his plastic hammer to beat on a bucket once full of sea creatures.
“This is ridiculous. Crazy! How did it get this way? Why, just why?”
A blonde head covered in curls popped out from behind the door. “We were playing, Mama.”
“You’re going to have to pick all of this up by yourselves! I’m not touching all of this mess!”
I sighed again, louder this time, added an eye roll, and turned down the hall toward my oldest daughter’s room.
She’s a pre-teen now, and I wasn’t sure quite what to expect. I cracked open her door and looked around.
The bed was made. Her tablet, charger and headphones were on the comforter next to an open novel. There was a bag of toiletries on her bedside table, some journals on her desk, and various hair implements and jewelry scattered on her dresser next to a picture of her and her cousin.
I looked around at the room devoid of the chaos of childhood toys. There were no dolls to pick up. There were no coloring books or LEGOs. I stared at the one lonely stuffed animal propped against her pillow, the last one left after she decided she was too old to keep the rest.
I shut the door quietly and turned back toward my younger children’s rooms.
“Here baby, let me help you clean.”
Because these days are rushing by, and you’re changing and growing faster every moment. Yesterday you were my infant and tomorrow you’ll be my teenager. Yesterday I rocked your little body close to my heart, and tomorrow I’ll sit on your bed trying to get you to share your heart.
So I’ll gladly pick up blocks today because one day soon there won’t be any more blocks to clean.
I’ll help you put away your dolls today because soon you’ll trade fixing their hair for fixing your own. Instead of dressing them up for a ball or a doctor visit, you’ll be dressing yourself for a date.
I’ll gather the superheroes, put away the sea creatures and organize the art supplies.
Today I’ll clean up the plastic tools, because tomorrow I’ll watch you using real ones.
I’ll pick up after you today, because “we were playing” is a good reason for mess—and I realize that one day soon, I’ll wish you still liked to play.
So today I’ll help you clean, because tomorrow you won’t need me to.