Finding Your Spirit in the Kitchen Sink

It felt like my nerves were scraping against one another.

It had been one of those rare nights in which everyone had gone to bed at a decent hour and woke up at just the right time. But I felt jangled and all tossed up inside.

My eyelids felt like sandpaper and all I wanted to do was crawl into a corner, draw my knees to my chest, and crack open a thick, meaty book, not emerging again until I had turned the very last page.

But it was Wednesday and my little girls had other plans - as they always do.

"Mommy, Callie is getting bigger." Cassidy said.

"Yes, she is honey."

"Mommy, I said 'Callie is getting bigger.'"

"She sure is, honey."

"Callie, Callie, Wallie. You are getting bigger," she sang to the tune of "I'm a Little Teapot."

Normal conversation sounded like shouting, and Cassidy's everyday make-it-up-as-she-goes-along songs seemed way too loud.

I had exhausted everything in my arsenal. For a living, I write articles to help parents celebrate everyday life with young children, to renew our spirits, to revere the process of parenting. But all those little things I write about that never fail to revitalize my spirit had all, well, failed.

One of these techniques - and one that had always worked in the past - is to wheel the kids through the rural Rocky Mountain valley that surrounds my home. A summer stroll straight uphill always gets my heart pumping, my legs burning, and my mind re-centered on joyful mothering. But not today. My everyday panacea was cut short
by a nasty, from-out-of-nowhere hail storm.

After a mad dash over the river and through the woods back to our little cabin, I tried another favorite method of returning my mind to the place it should be.

I tried to sink into the presence of my girls. To be grateful for their spirit and their presence by simply focusing on being present with them. There's something about my five-month old that always does it. Callie has reached that magical age at which the only thing she needs on this green and blue rock - beyond the occasional dose of milk - is to look up at you and see a smile.

When she does, her arms and legs start to pinwheel and her face sends forth beams of energy that can only be defined as pure joy. This is no garden-variety grin. What she offers is not so much a smile as it is an "explosion of face." I challenge anyone to stay in a blue funk after looking at that for 15 minutes. It always works. But not today.

Today it is Cassidy who is eliciting such an expression from her sister. Callie is in her swing while I find some dry clothes. Cassidy has decided the mechanical swing isn't doing it. She helps to push.

"That's pushing too hard, honey." I try to keep the sharpness out of my voice.

The swing bumps the wall behind. "Cassidy, she doesn't like that!" I say, just as her sister erupts in giggles.

My credibility is shot. So are my nerves.

"Into the car." I say. "We're going on an adventure." This may sound exciting - and it's meant to - but it's just code for "We're leaving the house." And I hadn't yet decided where we'd end up.

We pull into the parking lot of Mommy's "Special Place." A place they've never been before, though they've seen me enter it enough times as they continue on to the park with their dad. This is the place reserved for my occasional weekend retreats into those thick, meaty books.

It is one of those rare coffee shops with a man behind the counter who is friendly enough to know your name and tuned in enough to know when you don't want to chit-chat.

When we get there, he gives Cassidy a huge cup of cherry vanilla Ben and Jerry's, which melts before she eats it. The spoon leaves a sticky pink trail as it travels from the cup to the table, up to the window, and into her lap, somehow not making it anywhere near her mouth.

I mop the drips with a Kleenex while bouncing Callie, who is a little bored after her sticky-fingered sister finds diversion in a four-year-old who has taken to bouncing up and down the back stairs.

Now I know why I haven't taken them here before. This is my place (a place I hope I'm still welcome). So we climb back in the car. I start to drive slowly. Maybe they'll nap. Nope.

I unload them into the house. What now? My husband and relief pitcher won't be home for hours. That's when I spot my sink, and I think about the Flylady. At http://www.flylady.net, the Flylady offers a helpful system for getting your home organized and orderly, thus stamping out domestic CHAOS, which is Flylady-speak for "Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome."

The first chore in Flylady Land is to clean your kitchen sink. The theory is that a shiny sink will give you a sense of accomplishment, even amid your clutter. The Flylady says, "When you get up the next morning, your sink will greet you and a smile will come across your lovely face."

That's a pretty tall promise, but what have I got to lose? Out comes the Comet, scouring pad, toothbrush, and rubber gloves.

"I want to help," Cassidy says, climbing on the counter and grabbing for the sponge. I mutter something about this being a Mommy Job and march her over to watch a self-made tape of her new hero: Dora the Explorer. Callie goes down for some "tummy time."

Then I scrub that sink until it shines. After 15 minutes, it's as though the silly thing comes alive and winks at me. And a smile does come across my face.

Maybe it was the 15-minute break afforded by Dora the Explorer. Maybe it was the ability to put both my babies down and focus on a project long enough to see it through to its completion. Maybe it was this part of the world, however small, that I could control with a scouring pad and some hot water. But it had some kind of spillover effect to the rest of my day.

In retrospect, I'm really not sure what possessed me. My sink wasn't all that dirty and the last thing I wanted to do on a day like this was clean. But, of all things, cleaning my kitchen sink cleared the air in my little cabin that day.

I've said many times that finding delight in your role as a mother is dependent on your ability to take care of yourself. It's about easing yourself down from the curtains you've been climbing because no one can do it for you. It's about pushing yourself to be mindful amid tasks that so easily lend themselves to mindlessness.

And I never thought I'd say it, but there are days when time spent scrubbing your kitchen sink is time spent honoring yourself.

You know you've found such a task when you can once again feel yourself settling into that core of joy. The place from which you radiate grace and love and light straight from your soul into the soul of your children, the way mothering was meant to be.

This is a reminder that practicing self-care isn't about booking a cruise or a day at the spa. It's about finding the re-centering tool that resonates with you at this very moment, and staying attentive for the cues that point you toward the right one.

The right tool for today will be different than that of yesterday. It's up to you to hunt for it, and to delight in the search.