There's an absurd monotony to life with a toddler and an infant.
Don't get me wrong — it's not a bad monotony, exactly. There's a book I read recently called Long Days of Small Things, whose title I feel is a pretty spot-on summing-up of what it means to have very young children.
The funny thing about the way the days run together is that the main thread that ties them is a strange mix of routine and chaos, stress and joy. Little kids thrive on routine, and Audra's days are predictable in a way she clearly finds deeply reassuring. She wakes up, we have breakfast, she goes to school, she comes home for a snack, we have dinner, Ellie goes to bed, a while later it's her turn. From Ellie's point of view, she wakes up, eats a little bit, gets alternately fawned over and vaguely bossed around by her older sister, goes to school, comes home and takes a catnap, wakes up to be vaguely bossed around some more, has dinner, and goes to bed.
Rinse and repeat.
Smack in the middle of all that reassuring routine, though, is the fact of my whirlwind girl herself — it takes her all of ten minutes to turn a clean living room floor into an obstacle course of tiny wooden spoons, random teethers she's stolen from Ellie, matching-game cards, books, crayons, stickers...
I swear the house is mostly held together with stickers now.
For all that she loves to spread every single thing she touches as far apart as possible, she's also laser-focused on every minute change to her environment Jason or I make. If I place a peach on the countertop, she will notice it from three rooms away and around a corner.
Keeping the house clean enough to even consider letting anyone who isn't us into it becomes sort of desperate cycle of trying to stay ahead of Audra's mess, and it's a bit like determining to myself that I'm going to "dig up" today... if I was trying to "dig up" with a shovel someone had stuck googly eyes to and kept trying to take away from me.
It's not going to work, I'm just going to tire myself out, and somehow I'll end up buried deeper than when I started.
So I find my zen where I can — I'm working hard to make more time to read, I'm re-watching an old favorite TV show of mine and watching its new revamp as the episodes are released. I have a gym membership now, but to be honest my time in the gym is the opposite of zen for me.
Right now I find my zen in the grocery list.
Every week or so I sit down with a weekly budget and just sort of stare at a blank page, then start filling in the essentials: eggs, milk, sausage for breakfast. Then I think about what we already have in the pantry, and I start making a menu and creating the list.
Somewhere in the middle of this task I realize my shoulders have relaxed for the first time all week.
It takes an immense amount of mental energy to teach tiny people what it means to be a human, especially when neither of my tiny people is interested in allowing me the slightest moment of rest. One is teething and one is a walking argument with a mop of blonde hair and both of them are fairly convinced I exist solely to give them various objects they can chew on.
On the other hand, sometimes I get a morning where Ellie just won't be happy unless I'm holding her, and she snuggles her head under my chin every chance she gets. And sometimes I get a night when Audra cuddles up with me on the couch and we read book after book after book, with her mouthing along when she knows the words. I get to watch my baby start to memorize her favorites entirely. I get to watch my actual baby baby's face light up when Audra or her daddy or I enter a room.
I get to watch Audra cuddle with Ellie sometimes, the two of them settled in on the couch, Ellie watching her sister with unadulterated adoration while Audra sings to her a song that as far as I can tell is about chickpeas (which she calls 'tick-beans') and the color blue.
I try to ignore steady increase of stickers on every conceivable flat surface in our house.
You didn't know the walls and the floor were just a clean canvas on which to create a sticker masterpiece, did you? Well now you know.
Honestly, I have no idea where they're coming from. We don't buy her stickers. They just appear, as if by magic, as if every toddler in America can conjure a paper full of flower stickers out of thin air.
Audra's zen place may be covering my newest book in tiny cat faces.
I take my zen in putting together our weekly menu and grocery list, in dreaming about everything I could do with the money we currently spend on formula.
(The answer is not all that much, but still. It's the principle of the thing! I could buy a lot of coffee with formula money.)
There's something determinedly peaceful about the way each list begins. Eggs, milk, sausage, corn tortillas, bananas, baby food. Then we hit the sales from there. My shoulders and back relax and for a few minutes, I'm just thinkin' about the next time we'll have tacos and what I should put in them.
I'll take my peace where I find it and just remind myself that sooner or later I'll probably just be made of stickers, too.
Or band-aids, which Audra also believes are stickers.
Basically, everything is stickers now.