Our home was built in the nineteenth century, and like most homes of its era, it has a fireplace. We have only used it once or twice. Currently it is so stuffed with spruce needles and cobwebs that we would burn the house down if we tried to light a fire in it. But fireplaces have hearths, a raised pad of bricks or stone that protects the floor from spitting sparks or rolling coals.
During toddlerhood, we kept our hearth covered with the cushion of a patio chair. Now that all the kids are big enough to walk without toppling, we pitched the cushion (seven years of stains, and it doesn't fit in the washer) and left it bare.
Though it rarely stays bare. If it isn't covered with toy boxes, the girls have cleaned it off to use it as a stage. For four small people, it is the perfect place to stand in your mother's gaze and pretend to be Cinderella or a brave knight or a fairy queen.
Once, the girls wanted to put on a Nativity play, and they brought me into the room to be the audience. "Lie down on the couch, Mama," they said, "So you look like a bigger audience."
I happily complied.
"Close your eyes, Mama, so you can imagine the scenery better."
Well. I didn't want to disappoint them.
Thirty minutes later they woke me up and said, "What did you think of our play, Mama?"
I thought it was the BEST PLAY EVER. I clapped SO hard.
Today my girls performed Sleeping Beauty. They collected every canister of pens and pencils in the house and lined them up in front of the stage to be the thorns that grew around the castle. There was a princess, a prince, a good fairy and a witch. There was a castle and a spinning wheel and a dragon. A pool noodle was a lance. I stayed awake this time, but clapped just as loud.
Motherhood rearranged my life. Things that I had always found useful suddenly seemed pointless. Priorities I'd always had slipped to the bottom of the list. It didn't happen all at once, and it didn't happen painlessly. But eight years into this adventure I realize that my essential self is still here - all the pieces of personality I think of as me are still present - but they have been put to new use. Some days it is painful, and some days exciting.
The architect who designed my house could not predict how it would be used in 100 years, but he built it to last. Sometimes I think of him, whoever he was, and wish I could thank him for my sturdy home. I wish I could tell him what a peaceful home it has been, standing strong through the changes of a century. I wish I could tell him to be proud of his design: the hearth is still in the center of this house, and it still keeps me warm.