This morning as I nursed my twin boys, changed their diapers, slid bowls of cold cereal onto the table for my three girls, then put the boys in high chairs (for the first time) while making multiple trips to the potty between spoonfuls of prunes because my twin girls decided two weeks ago to abandon their diapers for toilet-training, I thought, “This. Is. CRAZY!”

My life is crazy.

And if I think too much about how crazy it is I might actually go crazy.

But I don’t. (Think about how crazy and hard it is.) Most of the time.

I just do. And do some more.

By 8 am the day is on and we’re in high gear. I move quickly from one necessity to the next. Mostly it’s the basics. Food, clothing, clean-up, laundry. I mediate inevitable conflicts, nurse “owies,” braid a pony’s mane and rescue teething toys from the toilet. (True story.) If there’s a lull in the chaos, we pile onto the couch for a story, or dance to a favorite tune. Not much time for reflection, reading, writing, the things of the soul. Things I crave.

But I also craved children. After years of infertility, my husband and I experienced what we like to call our “family explosion.” Five children in four years, including two sets of twins. Fraternal girls followed by identical boys. Our boys were born one week after our oldest daughter turned four.

It has been exciting, exhausting, intensely joyous, out of control, but absolutely precious.

The boys are now 9 months old and we’re slowly coming out of survival mode. As the pace slows a bit, I’m harnessing more happy moments, noticing more episodes of contentment. Finally finding my groove as a mother of five. (Wow. That still sounds weird.)

So last week I saw Our Town – the great American play by Thornton Wilder. My aunt and her daughter watched all five kids so Doug and I could have a night out. (Yes, it took both of them.) Having read Wilder’s play but never seen it on stage, I anticipated the evening for weeks.

The play began. From spotlight to curtain call I was completely absorbed. All barriers between audience and actors faded away. We were right there in Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire. The actors were so comfortable with their roles, with each other and the audience – there wasn’t a bit of uneasiness. The play was left to work its subtle magic.Our Town is a love story about George and Emily. Childhood sweethearts who grow up next door to each other. They marry right after high school and begin their family. But during the birth of their second child, Emily dies.

The entire third act is about her transition into death – what she experiences on the other side. She watches her own funeral procession and burial. She sees the faces of those she loves.

“Live people don’t understand, do they?” she asks. “I never realized how troubled and how…in the dark live persons are…From morning till night, that’s all they are – troubled” (96-97). [1]

Then, despite cautioning from those who have already died, she chooses to go back and relive one day of her life. Her twelfth birthday.

“Don’t do it Emily… It isn’t wise… It’s not what you think it’d be” (98) the dead admonish her. Still, she goes.

She steps into her mother’s kitchen, circles the stove and table, watches her mother prepare breakfast. She sees the birthday gift George left on her doorstep early that morning. A post-card album she had forgotten about.

“I can’t bear it. They’re so young and beautiful. Why did they ever have to get old? Mama, I’m here. I’m grown up. I love you all, everything. — I can’t look at everything hard enough…Oh Mama, just look at me one minute as though you really see me…Mama, just for a moment we’re happy. Let’s look at one another” (107).

Finally, she breaks into sobs.  Overcome with the grief and beauty of it all – the wonder of her ordinary life.

“I can’t go on. It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another…Take me back – up the hill – to my grave” (108).

Before leaving, however, she wants one more look. Longingly, she says good-bye to clocks ticking, her Mama’s sunflowers, new-ironed dresses, hot baths, sleeping and waking. Then suddenly she throws her arms out wide and laments,

“Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you! Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it – ever, every minute?”

“No.” the stage manager (who acts as narrator) replies. “The saints and poets, maybe – they do some” (108).

“No.” That was his answer. And he was right. We don’t realize how wonderful life is every minute of every day. We’re too busy, too hurried, too distracted.

After Doug and I returned home to our five little ones – all asleep – I cracked their doors open and stroked each cheek with Emily’s voice echoing in my head. “Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you!”

There, in the whisper of the night, I embraced my motherhood and every bit of tenuous longing I had for this gift.

The next day I moved through the house with different eyes. I saw the busy hum of what we were about with fleeting but tangible beauty. It won’t last – can’t last – and will be gone before I know it. So I began to make note of things I saw, felt, and cherished. A scrap of paper here, a note on my calendar there, and some plinking away on the keyboard at day’s end. It took some time. But how could I not? Writing it down makes it last.

While washing Sami’s hands, I noticed her dented knuckles, the pudgy softness. The way she lets me slap her paws together – blowing suds onto our faces and shirts. I wondered how long her hands will keep that three-year old look, how long she’ll let me hold them under warm water, my body bent over hers, before she wants to do it herself.

I noticed how Ali flutters instead of walks. Sailing from room to room, with a song spilling from her lips, she stretches her fingertips out to catch the wind. Teetering, gliding, dancing on tiptoe. My graceful girl, with wild brown curls – floating through our house.

I smelled Eliza’s hair at bedtime. The scent of gritty playground. Wind and dirt all tangled up in fraying ringlets. I felt the heat rise from her body as I tucked my arms around her and sang. She snuggled into her favorite blanket and quickly fell asleep. I kissed her cheek, wishing she could know how much I loved her in that instant. My oldest. My first.

I admired my boys as they took milk from me in the morning. Their eyes closed, softly caressing my arms and neck. The tender sight of their hands clasped together. This won’t last more than a month or two. It’s the closeness I love, the time alone with them, the giggles and tickling after. A quiet dependent circle, all three of us, needing each other.

And then I saw it. Today. The flash of silver in my husband’s hair – glinting in the light as he tossed Gordon into the air, the two of them laughing deeply. It’s a rite of passage, those flecks of gray. They tell of living – a sign that we are aging. Together. My heart flew to him. Grateful for his arms around my waist when the house is finally quiet.

Writing about these small things seems to freeze frame the joy, slow it down. So I can return to it, handle it, remember.

I’m no saint, but I’m trying to realize you, Life.

One day at a time.

On this earth that I love.

[1] Thornton Wilder, Our Town – A Play in Three  Acts   (New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers, 1938) p. 96 – 108

QUESTION: What are some of the things you cherish the most as a mother, the things you don’t want to forget?

CHALLENGE: Take time this week to “realize life” by writing down or taking a picture of some of those things.

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