It’s been a long day. Every day is a long day with toddlers at home. But, we’ve made it to bedtime and I’m doing my nightly cleanup routine. The dishes are cleared, a load of laundry started, and now it’s time for my favorite part of the process – picking up the toys.
Maybe it sounds tedious, like just another chore to add to the never-ending list that makes up work, motherhood, and life. But it’s one I really enjoy, and one that really makes me think. Let me tell you why.
As I pick up fake fruit and vegetables scattered near the toy kitchen, I take in the evidence of play around me. My daughter has plated a meal for her dolls, complete with felt macaroni and hot dogs, two of her favorites. My son, just one year old, already knows you can’t host without coffee, so there are tiny coffee cups hidden under the end table.
They watch everything. How we eat, how we serve others, or even how we argue or complain about cleanup – they see it all. What do they see in our home? What am I teaching them about community? Who will they welcome to their own tables someday?
There are remnants of several villages and princess towers the kids built (and destroyed) today. I break up pieces of magnetic tiles and plastic blocks, and put them in their respective baskets. I laugh, thinking of my son knocking down my daughter’s tower again and again, much to her dismay.
They have a lot to learn about working together. They have a lot to learn about supporting each other’s ideas, plans and dreams. But they’re already learning perseverance, and disappointment. Watching their work get crushed and having to rebuild from the start, that’s a real life lesson. It’s something they’ll learn many times over as they grow up. Still, I’m glad they begin here, where we can cheer with their successes and hold them in their losses.
I pick up wooden puzzle pieces, and put each one in its home. I have done these puzzles many more times than my children ever have. I know them by heart. As I click the pieces into place, I think about how unique my children are.
They are so different from each other, and so different from me. My daughter is headstrong, creative, and silly. But she’s also shy and slow to warm up to new people. My son is adventurous, bold and mischievous. Where will they fit in, as they grow? Where will they find the places and the people and the passions that just click? Doing these simple puzzles reminds me to make our home and our family a place where they always fit in.
I find a baby doll tucked inside a winter hat, like a sleeping bag. Somebody has been digging into the winter clothes drawer, but I don’t mind. My daughter loves putting her dolls and stuffed animals to sleep, singing them songs and reminding us all to be quiet, there are babies sleeping!
It shows me that our bedtime routines help her feel loved. The songs we sing, the effort we put into little things like an extra blanket fluff, they matter to her. The fact that she turns around and treats her dolls the same way, tells me so.
So I finish cleaning up for tonight. I know it’ll be messy again tomorrow, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. The kids are learning and growing – we all are. Learning that everything and everyone has a place to belong, and has something to teach us, too.