Before bedtime there is a rush to get washed up, each of the girls clambering for a spot at the counter. The stampede to the door is a blur of elbows and feet; neon peace signs, threadbare satin with tattered princess decals, big girl pajamas and nightgowns that have met their last hand-me-down. They wrestle for the tooth paste and vie for the tiny foot stool that is no longer needed. As they brush their teeth they make faces in the mirror, “Look, look, I have a beard” and “Do you see me, I’m a fancy wady with bwue wipstick?”
The smack of bare feet on linoleum and boisterous calls of, “Here’s your tooth brush, baby” fill the upstairs. Sometimes I stand just outside so that they don’t behave, so that they keep going a bit longer. I lean against the wall, my hands pressing on the cool surface. I look to their bedroom doors and see worn Disney stickers, “Do not come in” signs and clusters of stuffed animals and books piled in corners. Peals of laughter spill from the bathroom. They are gasping for breath as the laughter builds. It is that inimitable sound of joy that comes only from someone you dearly love, lasting longer then a regular laugh and reaching every part of you. I imagine that they are doubled over, dark hair grazing the floor and then sweeping up again and getting caught in tooth paste. More laughter.
When I peek in the doorway, I smile as toothpaste runs down a chin and waters sprays every which way. They are chastened and yet still they romp, sliding on a towel across the bathroom floor, playing peek-a-boo from behind the shower curtain. I brandish a tooth brush and say, “Arr, I’ll scrub the giggles out of ya, I will!” We laugh and they slowly walk my way, their hands running absentmindedly up and down my arm and along my side in a way that has always signaled that they are sleepy. After I pat their faces clean with a hot washcloth they march out, each to her own room, to find a book to read. I call out that I’ll be there in a minute or two.
The counter is a disaster. Three tubes of toothpaste lay scattered about, they are as different as the girls—one puffy and bright, festooned with a cartoon character lays on top of a dense, crinkled tube of Tom’s of Maine, and another still is the navy and silver, ready-for-grown-up toothpaste. As I gather them and stuff them in a makeshift tooth basket, I linger over the mess. Specks of toothpaste dot every surface from sink to mirror to counter, I imagine we’ll soon need just one tube of regular toothpaste. I scan the counter with its pink streaks, pale grey smears and the bright blue spots. They are the hardest to clean, I take the washcloth and wipe down the paste. As my hand makes passes on the counter I find Squinkies and sequins artfully hidden behind the faucet. The room is filled with the chaos of parenting—Barbies drying in the shower, ponytails littering the floor, the smell of mint against the floral scent of face wash, a freshly laundered hand towel already crumpled on the floor—my socks are wet and I have toothpaste on the sleeve of my shirt.
Once it is all cleaned up I look around. The shower curtain is closed, the Barbies are out of site. The hand towel is back on the letter A hook, and the counters are once again gleaming. I look up at the medicine cabinet, the top shelf is reserved for thermometers and medicine bottles. Already we’ve moved away from the panicky era of checking temperatures and of endless runny noses. The lower two shelves are for Sean and me. They are relatively tidy and I admit that I like the order that is sectioned off there, but it’s the cacophony of bedtime and the seeping into every aspect of life mess of this age that I adore. I love finding costume jewelry in my make up bag and dinosaurs in the shower. I treasure the ability to go from shouts to murmurs and from singing to whispering.
When bedtime is done and I am padding past their dimly lit rooms, toys hurriedly stowed in bins and stuffed animals they meant to sleep with tumbled down beneath their beds, I listen to the sounds coming from each girl’s room.
I walk to my own room and find myself hoping that it isn’t done. I hope for one more thing, one more slip of something that defines this time in my life as being their mom. Sometimes I slip into to sneak another kiss or to whisper, “Remember forever and ever that I love you. You are amazing.” Eventually though, I must go to bed and simply let things be. There are nights when it is sweet to feel that I am done, but on those nights when they do a whispering of their own in my ear I feel certain that for each of us a part of this time will live forever.