An Embarrassment of Rituals

 I secretly love all the Tupperware.  This is the case even though it spills out of the sliding drawer every time I yank it out.  I typically use more force than is necessary for this action (How is this material so strong, yet so light?), causing futuristic sippy cups and tiny, pastel modules for storing halved grapes to bounce about the kitchen floor.  Occasionally, I curse when this happens, which might explain why my 21-month-old has taken to using the phrase, “FUCKING DAMNIT!” at random intervals.  We don’t have the heart to tell her that doesn’t really make any sense.  This Tupperware is instrumental to a meditative daily routine that keeps this little family whirring.

Each afternoon, I empty her lunch box of all the precious plastic.  There are containers for milk and water, pouches for crackers or carrot sticks and various vessels for the main event – pasta, a rice dish, maybe an almond butter sandwich.  Her daycare sends these containers back, frozen in time.  If she ate only ¾ of the pasta, they leave me the remainder so I can gauge her current preferences and habits.  They also include a daily report of her consumption, with a Likert Scale - “She ate some, most or all of her afternoon snack.”  I pore over this information, like it’s the Rosetta Stone.  I take pleasure imagining her cramming dry Gorilla Munch into her mouth, while laughing at some silly antics performed by a friend.  

I’m always a little wistful reading about her day, like maybe something epic will go down that she will only do while I’m at work.  I fully expect to read, “Isadora recited passages from ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ today.”  As I unpack, clean and organize her things, I decide that whatever show-stopping milestone I might have missed must have resulted from the way we talk to her, adore her and prepare bite-sized foods for her enjoyment.  Maybe some days, the simple work of sliding her into fresh PJs and cutting up fruit for her breakfast is what makes us her parents.

The barely controlled chaos of each day is bookended by a few consistent elements.  The specific undertakings change every few months as our responsibilities shift and our daughter’s development marches on, but the template remains in place.  Each morning and each evening we spend time as a family engaging in the small rituals of life: walking the dog, arranging and packaging meals, layering or peeling off clothes.  I have come to understand that this is way most families (whatever their configuration) fortify their relationships.  These are mostly chores, yes, but they are also opportunities to deepen our bond.  

I always had these fantasies that as a mother and a wife, I might put my unique stamp on these iconic roles.  I pictured being somehow extraordinary in the way I communicated with my husband or demonstrated affection to my child.  Generally, I have forged a path almost exactly like so many of the women around me.  I do the very best I can at all times, while keeping hunger, exhaustion and work stress at bay.  Sometimes this looks like me pulling off a 17-hour day looking fucking fantastic (“FUCKING DAMNIT!”), courting fame with my spectacular designs and business acumen and achieving historic levels of intimacy with the people I love.  Many days, this looks like me running around the city with food on my shirt, hoping I don’t yell at someone on the phone, miss another Facebook birthday or forget to pick up milk on the way home (as well as possibly crying briefly in the car or a public bathroom).  But I always have the chance to tie a bow on the day with a good scrubbing of toddler dishes or a koala hug from my kid while I bend to scoop poop from the sidewalk.

There is comfort and clarity in the unpretentious duties of sustaining a family.  I once thought these routines might be the drudgery of adulthood.  At this moment, they are adhesive and they are therapeutic.  As we expect another baby in a matter of weeks, I am reminded to be grateful that I already have tiny plates to wash, more work than I can handle and a solid partner with whom to reflect on the day.  Every morning I am afforded a fresh start, where I might cut strawberries like it’s never been done before or pour enough love into 2 hours that it lasts for the next 9.