The other day, I woke up to what looked like a post-apocalyptic home.
Between dealing with the stomach flu and a teething toddler over the weekend, my house-keeping skills had been at an all-time low. (Not to mention, my dishwasher was not working).
My throat tightened as I surveyed the damage: the dirty cups, the toys strewn over the living room and the sticky cold and flu medicine bottles on the countertop. My thoughts quickly turned to the ten house guests I was supposed to be hosting that evening. How could I possibly get everything cleaned, folded, washed and disinfected in time?
“I just need to start somewhere,” I reassured myself, as I grabbed a basket of clean linens and began to fold.
My daughter, however, had a very different agenda for the morning. Not thirty seconds into folding, she called out “fork!” (fort), grabbed the clean sheet from my hands and spread it on the filthy ground. To make matters worse, she decided she needed my help to build it. After taking a deep breath, I released my death grip on the laundry basket and reluctantly agreed to assist.
We carefully crafted it– draping the bed sheet over the ottoman and then over the coffee table. We then took every throw pillow in the room and stacked them in the corners to hoist the roof. It was one of our best.
As we crawled inside together, I still struggled not to stress over the unwashed dishes or cringe over the dirty floor; I hated that I couldn’t shut that off.
It took a great deal of effort, but in that moment, I had to remember three vital things.
First, I had to remind myself that my fort-building days with my daughter are numbered.
I hate it when people say things like: “You blink and your kid’s childhood is over.” I hate how cliché it is. I hate how painfully true it is. However, they are right. My daughter will not always want to build a fort with me. This makes fort-building a time-sensitive project.
Next, I remembered that building forts feeds my playful side.
The longer I live as an adult, the harder I find it to play. I get so tightly wound with schedules and self-imposed deadlines, I forget that I have a deep, intrinsic need for play. When I finally allowed myself to sink into the moment in the fort, my shoulder’s loosened and frown lines softened as my daughter and I began to laugh.
We pretended to hide from each other, while being inches from each other’s faces.
We talked about books and toys.
We rehearsed our colors.
We discussed our day ahead.
In the fort, it’s almost like we became just two kids playing side-by- side– for just a few minutes.
Then, I reminded myself that taking time to see things through my daughter’s eyes makes me a better mom.
Sometimes as a mom, I get frustrated that my daughter can’t understand my need for structure or won’t leave me alone when I have work to do. In these moments, I have to remember there is a vast difference between a two-year old’s brain and my own.
Forts break down this barrier– between my daughter’s sight line and my own. By getting down on the ground and intentionally capping my view of the world, I’m able to see the world as she does– for a moment anyway.
When I emerged from our fortress after our play time, my house was still a disaster. I had to work a little faster and harder to prepare for our company, but when my guests arrived, my house looked just fine.
I can’t help but think about that silly moment in the fort that I could have so easily missed, had I just kept folding the laundry.
It’s so easy to forget in these moments that our housework will never truly be done.
When our children are young, we must stop and ask ourselves regularly: Do I really want to miss this “essential moment” for something that is fleeting and unattainable?
Do yourself a favor. Next time your kid asks, stop what you are doing and go build a fort.