“Find something to look at,” she instructs from her little square on the zoom call. We are practicing presence and we’ve primed ourselves with quiet to pay attention. So I scan my bedroom – the big, cozy bed on which my carefully chosen pillows and comforter lay neatly fluffed and smoothed as a gentle invitation to rest, the decorations on the wall I chose with intention to remind me that the life we want is here and present and always a choice we can make together, the curtains that keep the harsh light out in the morning, but frame the view from the front of our house like a painting that changes with the seasons.
But my gaze doesn’t land on any of the things I’ve curated into this room. It lands on the bag of wipes on the nightstand. Crumpled up, obviously tossed there without much thought.
I have come to understand that in my household, I am the most interested in the aesthetic and not just the colors or textures. I need order, cleanliness. My family appreciates it when it’s uncluttered and vacuumed of course, but I get overwhelmed and snappy when it’s not.
What Belongs and What Doesn’t
There is a sense in me of what belongs and – maybe more sharply – what doesn’t. This is true of my bedroom and my kitchen and my yard, and it’s also true in me. It is a strong sense. When I detect what doesn’t belong – a thought, a feeling, a sensation – I have a difficult time letting it go. We don’t need to talk about the hoops I’ve jumped through to feel better about these things. I’ll just say that I’ve visited the ER at least twice and came home once with a prescription for Ativan.
So of course my eyes find a carelessly tossed bag of wipes during this exercise. Because what is often present for me is a sense of what doesn’t belong. But our facilitator has done a good job setting us up to be calm and curious. So I notice that while the bag has caught my eye because it is an aberration, it holds my attention because it brings me joy.
A few things…
This bag – or one like it – is something I reach for in care of my babies. The four little scamps I get the pleasure of being around every day as they create and converse and discover, but who will always, in some sense, be the chubby, funny babies who need us for everything and give us ourselves.
I have made it fairly close to the finish line of butt-wiping, but we still have one in diapers. While I am not going to be sad to be done with this stage, I am reminded that these years go quick. Many friends of mine don’t have wipes around at all anymore because they don’t need them. Someday I’ll walk past that aisle in Target and not take a mental inventory to see if I need to grab a box.
The brand I buy is not fancy, organic, prettily packaged, or scented with rainbows, but these wipes have faithfully collected dirt and so much peanut butter and chocolate and what-the-hell-is-this and, of course, poop for years. If a mother has a tool belt like Batman’s, a trusted bag of wipes is on it.
It had obviously been tossed. Probably because the gentle colors and soft textures of our bedroom sometimes transform into a coliseum in which to wage ruthless tickle fights and games of chase where the kids are fast, but the parents are faster. Whatever is in the way we fling aside. The bag’s random shape on the nightstand reminds me of the fun we have together between my anxious worrying and complaining about the clutter. How much more fun we could have if I were more present and less distracted by what I think does not belong?
It sits on the nightstand on my husband’s side of the bed. Because if I’m Batman he’s Robin (not loving that image, but we’ll go with it) and he was probably the last to change a diaper because he does about half of them which I don’t take for granted. Children preference Mom when they’re little as a biological imperative. Mom grows them, births them, feeds them. Mom is existence itself for the first several years. So my children have yet to fully unwrap the gift that is their Dad. They will.
He is a true friend and ally and he loves them more than they can imagine. He’ll be a safe place to go to when they’re scared and a source of courage, too, because he believes in their strength and can hold onto the best version of them even when they don’t believe it. Ask me how I know.
We end the exercise and I am tearful in gratitude for what doesn’t belong, only now I’ve decided: it does.