There’s a sort of beauty that comes with seeing things in hindsight, right? We notice tiny little things of importance and goodness and often tend to gloss over the not-so-great stuff. Recently, I’ve started approaching my role as a parent with such a perspective. I’m still very much in the thick of raising two toddlers under the age of four, but I’m already seeing how quickly time passes and if it makes any sense at all, I already miss these days, even while I’m living them.

I had such a realization this evening when I was picking up the house before the kids started their baths. I entered my bedroom and was immediately greeted by the tiny chair that my daughter had propped up against the door. She had been trying to reach the top of my dresser earlier, where I keep my necklaces. Then, I saw my son’s toy trucks strewn all over the floral carpet.

I thought the mess looked pretty manageable, all things considered, and then I noticed the baby food pouch that someone had stepped on. Pureed mangoes, peaches and (this is the fun part) beets were splashed all over the place, with one particularly purple stream hitting my stark white dust ruffle just so.

For a second, I just stood there and took it all in. Yes, it was a mess, and yes, I was more than a little irritated that they’d just left it and assumed I’d pick it all up like I always do. Still, it was golden hour, and the sun was pouring through the plantation shutters, and in that particularly beautiful light, I didn’t really even see the mess. I saw hours of play, joy and laughter.

I pictured my four-year-old daughter lugging that chair in from her tiny table in the kitchen, then stepping up on it to get a clandestine look at mama’s jewelry box. I pictured my son, sitting comfortably on the floor, playing quietly with his favorite toys. Then, I pictured my bedroom put back exactly the way it had been five years ago before babies were even a word on our breath.

I closed my eyes and saw my unruffled comforter, pulled tightly at the corners without a single wrinkle. My dresser always stayed dusted and wiped clean on the top and my necklaces were never tangled. I had my diffuser on the nightstand and every night I’d drip in some lavender essential oils and my husband and I would drift off into dreamland, not waking up in the middle of the night for anything, but actually indulging in eight hours of uninterrupted slumber. Yes, it was a sweet time back then, but right now is even sweeter.

Give me the messes and the memories. Give me the toy boxes crammed all the way to the top like a game of Tetris, with tops that won’t close and are about to fall off the hinges. Give me the sticky cupboard drawers with misplaced and mismatched kitchen tools  Give me baseboards with the paint nicked off from a plastic bike that really should be outdoors but is more fun inside.

Give me the chaos and the craziness, because these are hands-down the best years of my life and if I’m going to spend them in a tornado of toys, so be it.

It’s not in my nature to tolerate a mess. The younger version of me wouldn’t let the sunset on a sink full of dirty dishes, but here it is close to midnight and their cartoon plates and half-full milk cups are sitting waiting to be washed. I’ll get to them soon and one day this little house that we worked so hard to restore and decorate will look like a showroom again.

For now? It looks like a family actually lives here. And judging from the ten pictures of Crayon hearts that decorate and clutter up my refrigerator, it looks like we love here, too.

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