The other day I found my 1-year-old son with a spiderweb wrapped across his little cookie-crusted face.
Ugh — I know, I know. But hold on, it gets worse.
He didn’t get it all over him from playing outside, but from crawling around our living room. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, my immediate thought was:
“Oh my Lord, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE tell me little Charlie did not just get bit by a black widow. I don’t have time for that crap now! I’ve been awake since 5 AM and I’m just about to eat this microwave burrito! Now is NOT the time for emergency rooms! I am STAR-VING!”
A little selfish? Eh. Perhaps. But hey, you moms and dads know what I’m talking about.
Thankfully my son Charlie was fine, so next thoughts turned to the other elephant staring at me from across the room. You know … AHEM … the whole spiderweb in the house thing.
At first, I felt kind of guilty about that one.
I mean, right off the bat I’ve got to defend myself here, tell you that I’m kind of a neat freak dad. I’m divorced and have my three kids (ages 6, 4, and 1) three or four nights a week, and I’ll confess I’ve spent a good chunk of time following them around, fake-smiling/pretending everything is cool, simply so I could make sure that when they’re passing my bookshelves on their way in to decimate the playroom, they don’t stick their grubby mitts out to grab one of my old paperbacks just for the hell of it. (YES, they do this. NO, I don’t understand the thrill.)
But lately, I’ve had a change of heart. Over the past few months, I’ve come to see that trying to maintain a pristine house where children live is not only a fool’s dream, but it’s also kind of lame. You see, I’m starting to come around to the most wonderful little parenting secret there is:
A messy house is actually a thing of beauty.
Piles of unfolded laundry, dirty dishes in the sink, and LEGO® bricks all over the floor are enough to make us crazy if we let them. I have spent huge chunks of my life over the past seven years trying to straighten/scrub/mop/sweep/and scour up the evidence of the free-range youth in my midst.
But now I’m thinking, “What’s the damn point?!”
Look, I love a neat house as much as the next person. It makes me feel in control of something in a world where I can’t seem to control much at all, and that’s a welcome feeling no matter how you cut it. Yet when it comes to raising kids, I have to believe that Popsicle stains on my couch and dirty paw prints on the stairwell walls are all signs that life is going down all around us.
A loving home requires a lived-in house.
And a lived-in house is a Museum of Mess!
Go ahead, call me crazy. Tell me I’m convincing myself that by not reaching for the broom every time some new crumb village appears on my kitchen floor, I’m being a lazy dude. I understand that line of thinking, because I was that person once.
But it took up practically all of my time. And it made me insane. I don’t want to be that guy anymore. I don’t want to be that borderline neurotic daddy with a faux smile plastered across his face as he performs the Dance of the Never-ending Swiffer 24/7.
To heck with that noise. I want to enjoy my time with my kids as much as possible. And let me tell you, there is SWEET RELIEF in letting go of the chronic self-imposed pressure of maintaining a spic-n-span house and instead looking at the mess from a new perspective.
There’s sweet poetry in all of those Crayon drawings I keep stashing all over the house like some kind of sentimental packrat. Sure, I should get rid of some of them, and one of these days I probably will. But for now, they remain, tiny pockets of wonderful imagination I lovingly shove into every damn nook and cranny of this old rented house we call home.
Nowadays, when I walk into my bathroom and there’s a sink full of neon green toddler toothpaste spit staring up at me, I don’t get ticked off. What’s the use? I just smile at the art of it all. Hey, at least the little bugger’s brushing his teeth, right? Then I wipe it up and move on to the next masterpiece …
Plastic dinosaurs all over the rug?
Somebody stashed Cinnamon Toast Crunch in my Vans? (Whaa?!)
Dirty sneaker tracks on the tiles?
A half-eaten banana on a doorknob?!
Little cobwebs under the sink?
When was the last time I vacuumed under the beds?
Why are there puzzle pieces in my pillowcase?!
And is that a friggin’ booger wiped on the side of the fridge?!?! Are you even serious?!
Ugh, what am I gonna do? I’ll get it all eventually. (Okay I might get the booger right away.)
I’ll attack it all in one fell swoop during my next Coffee-Fueled Cleaning Day, when I’ve finally had enough and simply have to spend the next nine hours making things right with my own inner neat freak again.
But until then, I get by now by seeing this beautiful mess of a home for what it really is: a place of joy, a place where I know I’m doing the best I can as a dad, even when I’m not standing there washing the thumbprints off the front window.
You know, soon enough all of this mess will be the thing we miss the most. Isn’t that crazy? Isn’t that enough to make you sigh as you stare at those three baskets of laundry you’ve been saying you’ll put away for the last two weeks?
Relax. You’re doing it right. We all are.
Let’s just enjoy it while we can.