It was late last night.
After we’d all be for a run around the block.
After I’d made dinner.
After we’d helped everyone through their homework.
After the boys had showered and Jackson had done his reading next to me.
It was when both boys were already tucked into bed and I was about 20 minutes from one of my favorite times of day – alone time. Down time. Movie and a snack time.
I was headed toward the kitchen for one last wipe down, clean up, rinse the dishes, stack the dishwasher when I heard her calling. And I sighed. I admit it, I did.
I sighed and walked back down the hall for that last kiss goodnight and there she wasn’t. She wasn’t in her bed. Her voice was chirping down the hall from my bed.
And when I looked in she was snuggled up against the pillows that I look forward to sinking into every night to watch a show or read a book. She was in my spot and her wet, blonde curls spilled over the edge of the covers where only her nose and bright, blue eyes were watching me.
“I wanna sweep by you mama,” she asks shyly. Stubbornly.
And I kiss the tip of her cute nose and rub my cheek against hers and laugh but she’s insistent. Tonight, she tells me, tonight she wants to be here with me.
“Let’s snuggle, mama.” She says.
And I try to put her off, but she’s insistent. Four-year-olds know their own minds on matters like this and I figured it would be less hassle to let her stay put while I finished up in the kitchen.
So I bent down and told her she could stay while I cleaned.
And then I walked away.
I walked into the messy kitchen where the dishwasher door was still open, the fried chicken still sitting out on the counter, and the trash can desperately needing to be emptied. I walked toward it all with the deep, driving urgency of needing to check this last task off the day’s list.
But as I got to the corner of the kitchen counter with all its crumbs and half eaten apples I walked into the brick wall certainty that I was going to miss out on a gift someone was trying to give me if I chose to stack that dishwasher rather than snuggle my daughter.
It’s funny how easy it is to miss those moments, isn’t it?
Because on paper, they’re not huge. On paper they look like annoyance or rush or one more to-do.
But I turned myself around and walked straight back to the bedroom where blonde curls popped up off the pillow and a little voice asked in surprised delight, “Whatcha doin’ mama?”
And I climbed in next to her scooped her up in my arms and squished her right into my face and told her, nose to nose, “I’m coming to snuggle you!”
I can still here her laughing gleefully in response and feel her wrapping tiny arms tight around my neck. Feel her breath in my face – how it smells sweet and musty at the same time.
Thinking how close I came to missing it scares me this morning.
Thinking how close I came to choosing dishes over a sacred half hour spent with my daughter as she whispered me her secrets and her sacred dreams. Your day can be full of to-dos well done but it can end empty if you miss out on the wonder of slowing down alongside the tiny humans who want to pour so much generous love into you.
Turns out we only have to make the time to let them.
So I left the dishes and the leftovers and I lay alongside my tiny daughter as she petted my hair and crawled up so close that the tips of our noses were touching and whispered into my eyes, “Mama, even if no one ever loves you, I WILL LOVE YOU.”
I believed her the way we believe children who give us this gift of the truth like so many diamonds and rubies spilling out of their generous, chubby hands.
And typing this today at the old dining room table that’s covered in her colored marker tracks, my chest tightens and I still can’t believe I’m allowed to be loved by that child. Loved that fiercely. Loved that loyally.
So we snuggled and I scratched her back and she stroked my hair until she said she was ready to go to her own bed. And I walked her in and tucked her deep into her princess blanket and leaned in for one last kiss. She was so serious. She placed one hand on each cheek and looked at me steadily and told me the words that surely must be what grace looks like:
Mommy even if you smell bad – I still love you.
Even if you yell at me I still love you.
Even if you make me tidy all my toys by myself I still love you.
Even if I get big, I still love you.
And that kind of living love has powerful roots. It taps into your heart and grows you into the kind of grown up that four year old girls can be proud of. Because it makes you want to be worthy of that kind of love. The kind that would love you the same even if you chose the dishes instead of the snuggles.
The kind you can only come nose to nose with if you remember that some nights are not the best time to clean the kitchen.
And those are the best nights.