I walk through the kitchen and step on a stray Cheerio. Into the dining room and my stockinged feet crunch up a half-eaten cracker. I strip my socks off and toss them in the general direction of the laundry room only to walk in the living room to step directly on – most nightmarish of all – a LEGO.
I really need to look down more.
You’d think I’d have learned this by now, almost five years into being a stay-at-home parent. Most of my life these past five years has happened below me. My two-year-old has even been demanding it of me lately. “Mommy! Look a-me!” he says. Which means he wants me to squat down at his level, to look him in the eyes. Sometimes I sigh because it means I have to abandon the task at hand. Slicing an apple, stirring the pot of macaroni, wiping down the kitchen table. All things that I could continue to do while also listening to him talk. Things that also all take place below my eye level.
There is a spot in my lower back, just to the right of my spine, that pinches in pain anytime I remained bent over too long. I know exactly where it is, can pinpoint its precise location, though it only acts up if I spend too long sitting on the floor to do puzzles or fold laundry without back support. (So…for a decent portion of my day.) It could be one of the ravages of aging, sure. I attribute it to parenting. All that work I do in the space 42 inches from the ground on down.
I’ll feel the twinge in the middle of the night when my body, which was previously dozing comfortably beneath a pile of blankets, is woken by a call of, “Mommy I need you!” I blindly fumble my way down the hall to readjust someone else’s blankets, and as I bend over there it is, that shot of pain. Or when my son tells me to “look a-me”, and I bend over too fast, a motion my body apparently wasn’t ready for. I grab my back with my hand, a 30-something who maybe looks wizened before her time.
I often have a couple of hours to myself at home on a weekend morning. In theory, it’s to catch up on writing and emails. In practice, I use a good chunk of that time to re-set our home to a more livable state. It’s kind of like beauty base zero in the Hunger Games, but for my house, and with far less pampering. I get the toys up and off the floor, toss away broken crayons, and tackle (*ahem* recycle) the small mountain of artwork that somehow accumulates on a near-daily basis.
I should track my steps when I do this. I must make at least half a dozen trips up and down the stairs to return toys that have migrated over the past week: stuffed animals to the appropriate child’s bedroom, game pieces and MagnaTiles to their assigned boxes. I remember when my kids first became mobile, how I would bemoan the mess they made as they crawled over to a basket and dumped its contents out on the floor. Now I look back on those days fondly, when the mess was contained to the area directly next to the container it belonged in. A missing toy today could be in any conceivable location, from the bathtub to a cup holder in the car.
Amidst my stair stepping, I stop to shake out blankets, fluff pillows, and remake beds. Often that pinch in my lower back shows up, just to remind me it’s there, as I bend over three toddler beds to freshen them up.
What I’m trying to say is that, during those weekend hours, even in a house without children, there’s still a lot going on at ground level.
Pick up the toys underneath my feet.
Put them away in the bin on the floor.
Sweep up cracker crumbs into the dustpan.
Pull laundry out of the dryer.
Sit to fold the clothes in the middle of the floor.
Set the now-folded clothes in the bottom drawer.
Kneel down to smooth blankets on three cribs-turned-toddler beds.
Sometimes when I lay back down after being summoned to bend over one of those beds in the middle of the night, my mind races from being jolted awake. (Though most of the time I crash again immediately, because #threekidsunderfive.) At these times, my brain seems to think 2:30 am is the appropriate time to run through my to-do list: clear out toys and compile donation bags, organize our mangled drawer of art supplies, wash a load of towels and the kitchen floor because for both it’s been far too long. Sometimes my brain gets clogged with the things I could be doing if I wasn’t doing those things: writing more, reading more, keeping up with that friend who I stink at keeping in contact with. If I could just get on top of the things underneath my feet that threaten to take over my life on a daily basis, maybe I could focus my attention on some of those other, important things.
As I once again stepped on a LEGO and felt that pinch in my back as I bent down to retrieve it, it dawned on me the other day how all of this life that’s happening right now, quite literally underfoot, it is below me. But it’s not below them.
Every time I bend over, whether to pick up those toys, put away a dozen pairs of matching socks (and three that don’t match at all), or to look a preschooler in the eyes, I bring myself down to their level.
That once a week(ish) time I fluff and make their beds, and my daughter comes home to say, “I like when my bed is pretty, Mommy.”
When I put away freshly-washed laundry and my oldest son exclaims, “My favorite pajamas are clean!”
When I stoop to look my youngest in the eyes, because he asked me to, and that is more than reason enough to put whatever I’m doing on hold.
I really do need to look down more. The things happening below me are really the most important of all.