In the last four weeks, I've settled back into a familiar role that I have been called upon to play every couple of years for almost the last decade—replacing Dinka while a new child takes over her life and forces her into bed with exhaustion and debilitating nausea. It is always a difficult time but we do what we have to do to make it through. The kids eat more peanut butter and jelly sandwiches than they should. I sleep less than I normally do, which is already too little. Anything that doesn't pertain to the needs of the immediate future is generally put on hold, for better or worse.
I try to make the most of the extra time that I have with the kids and to enjoy all of the extra ways that I get to care for them, which sometimes helps us make it through and sometimes makes it worse. If we all have the energy and are of the appropriate disposition to enjoy our time together, it can be very nice. If one of those things fails, which it inevitably does, usually toward the end of the night and the end of the week, I have two layers of disappointed expectations to work through after the kids are in bed.
The nights have been very quiet around here lately, mostly because everyone but me is in bed by 8:30 p.m. When the last child is tucked in and the lights are all turned out, I walk down the hallway to see what awaits me in the kitchen. If there's one very specific and visceral memory that I associate with pregnancy, it's of cleaning up the kitchen and washing dishes late into the night. The kitchen is a minefield for Dinka in the first trimester and mostly needs to be avoided, which means that I have a variety of additional responsibilities, from the ordinary (loading the dishwasher, clearing the table) to the extraordinary (clearing the kitchen and refrigerator of potentially offensive smells, watching the expiration date on perishables likely to be problematic). So when I walk into the kitchen for the first time after putting everyone to bed, it sometimes looks as if it was abandoned in great haste due to some emergency. (Some nights it's easier to appreciate the humor in this than others.) My job, which I mostly do passably but not well, is to restore some semblance of order so that when Dinka walks in for breakfast in the morning, there is nothing that will unnecessarily trigger an immediate departure.
The combination of physical and emotional exhaustion from having more to do to take care of the house and kids and the solitude of spending my nights alone produce a unique wistfulness in me, which can be especially potent when combined with Christmas, as I remember from 2002. The other night I walked by the Christmas tree, which was about to be taken down, and it was almost too much to bear. All of our family's history, hopes and dreams seemed to be represented there. On one branch hung a baseball player, which Ivan picked out because that's what he wants to be when he grows up. On another hung a picture of Veronika from her first Christmas at four months old. On a low branch Nikola had hung his train ornament, the object of his obsession for the last year and a half, with care. Then above all, the elaborate glass ornament with the nativity scene, one of Veronika's favorites and the reason for everything being there in the first place. As I started musing on how the three theological virtues were on display in the tree, I recognized that I was getting carried away but I also knew that my exhaustion had opened me up to appreciate something that I might have otherwise overlooked, to take a moment to be grateful in the midst of everything.
So it is in the context of this stew of emotions and exhaustion that I present the following video of the most comforting sound in the world to me right now—our loaded and running dishwasher, quietly working away in a dark and sleeping house. It means that my work for the evening is done and that I can sleep well, knowing that it will be clean in the morning.