“We need to get to bed early. All of us!” Sean said in a weary voice.

I nodded, my heart racing, that familiar sensation of feeling relieved and slightly attacked at once. I was genuinely excited because the reentry from spring break has not been easy. Emotions have been running high, allergies are raging, school and extracurricular pursuits are bleeding heavily into free time, and the dog is peeing everywhere. I felt like I had somehow failed. I tend to interpret, “We need to ______” as being, “You haven’t ________, so we need to_______.”

I tried to override my defensiveness and said, “I’ll get dinner done early, ignore the folding, and make sure the girls are mellow and read a bedtime story.”

He immediately said, “I’ll help” and I smiled.

Sean’s criticism tends to be about how hard I am on myself. You invent worries, is something he says a lot. I won’t deny that it’s hard to say this, but he’s right (reading this post helped me see that). It might not be that I invent worries, but I most definitely create urgency that is not really there.

After having dinner together we jumped on the trampoline for a while and then came inside for a story. Sean was playing piano as Finley clambered downstairs with the 5-book set from Inside Out.

“Ok, so guys, I’ll read all of these and then if we have time Mom will read Library Lion,” she looked at us with great self-satisfaction. We all chuckled and agreed. I stretched out, my legs in Avery’s lap and my head in Briar’s lap. As Finley read, Ave rubbed my legs absentmindedly and I stroked Briar’s face. Once Fin was done she looked at me, “Can I get in on the cuddle?”

Before long Finley was stretched along my torso and I was holding the book out so that we could all see it. Briar began playing with my hair and rubbing my face as I read. Sean played piano softly and the cats and dog cuddled at our feet. I can’t remember the last time I felt that relaxed.

“Mom, can I read?” Avery asked, followed quickly by Fin, “Me too?” I handed the book over and leaned back to look up at Briar.

We smiled at each other, her fingers still playing on my skin, one of her hands in mine. Her eyes scanned my face and she kept touching the space between my eyebrows.

“As we get older we get lines on our faces.” I said it almost as an apology.

Her face softened and she traced the lines on the edges of my eyes and then on my forehead. “I love them, they remind me of the the ocean and the way it presses into the sand and leaves a trail. It’s the memory of motion. It’s beautiful. You are beautiful.”

I lifted my face closer to hers, “You are too.” We giggled and said I love you at the same time. Her sisters piled on us too.

Guilt had tried to lure me in, but it never deserves to be in on the cuddle.