The sun sets lower in the sky, and it glares through the large picture window in the living room, and onto the girls’ pink-and-white, chevron-patterned teepee.
The intensity of this brightness smooths my oldest daughter’s face into radiant porcelain when I turn to her as she starts talking. Her tiny features glow and her animated eyes appear to speak to me, since I can barely see her mouth without squinting through the light.
She’s made up another game—she’s incredibly talented at working out games through her own imagination; ones that both her and the baby find enjoyable, and that teach her baby sister words and songs, even if it’s not completely intentional (although often it is).
Her bright eyes are determined, as she asks me to participate in this game that she’s invented, but I’m picking up the house. Lately, it feels like I’m the “Martha” and not the “Mary,” and I try to appease her without stopping my cleaning, but it doesn’t work. She leaves my side eventually and goes towards the television in the background that’s just started playing a Sunday night movie. (I usually try to make a game of our picking up, but it’s getting late, and she’s been helpful today, so I let her wander off while I continue.)
I wonder at my thinking from when I was a young-enough woman that I was still truly a child; that I would never be that notorious parent discussed in the song Cat’s in the Cradle. I could never be the duty-oriented Martha to the Mary that chose to sit and entertain Jesus. I would never be the parent that always worked and didn’t play.
Only it feels like I am.
We all are, in a way—that’s why these stories are so universal that there are even Biblical examples.
But the floor will nearly always be dirty with two young kids living in a semi-country house, and the carpet with a 5-year-old and a 1-year-old will probably always have evidence of yellow Goldfish crackers, however small the crumbs.
The window–left open accidentally as we quickly and spontaneously ran out for ice cream—will inevitably leave more dust upon its ledge that needs wiped off later, and I’ll need to equally help teach my girls this careful balance of knowing when to stop and relax.
I am not an anal-retentive parent, but I’m also not the idealistic granola-hippie that, in my youth, I thought I would be.
I don’t let my kids dribble food everywhere. I tell them to get their elbows off of the table. While we do picnic outside on the front porch as often as we’re able, more often than not we’re inside, and I’m telling them not to lean on their chair’s back—an awful personal pet peeve.
I write, most commonly, with the baby crying at my feet and, by default, letting her cry for a few moments so that I can allow some of these thoughts to drip out.
I do the dishes after lunch when I theoretically could let them sit—and I do occasionally leave them, and go read a book with my daughters first.
I don’t aspire to be a “Martha.” I don’t want to be the one that runs around performing menial tasks while someone else chats and hangs out.
But I don’t have a maid. More, I don’t have an office. I’m a mother that writes, and I do it at the same time as I’m raising these precious, busy children. While I’m conscious that my most important role right now is to raise them to feel loved and cared for, it’s also my job to set boundaries and examples.
I want to show them how to curl up on the carpet in an extraordinarily sunny spot after dinner and play and create, but I need them to witness that sometimes, when you’re a big person, we get our work done first.
Parenting these days feels a lot like being pressured to be fun and ever-present, but we’re still adults with work to get done—and our kids need to see us being responsible.