The truth of the matter is this: when we’re blessed with having little kids to spend our days with, we’re going to be cleaning up messes. It’s just the way it is. Depending on the personality of the parents, and also the natural predisposition of a particular child, my guess is that this can either be a recipe for delight, disaster, or something in between.
When Jake was in his twos, he was one of those kids who would sit with a stack of puzzles in front of him, and then puzzle by puzzle, he’d dump the pieces out, and then place them all back in. He’d do this quickly, neatly, systematically going through his stack of puzzles. His little messes were just that: little. And interestingly too, just like his Dad, even when Jake is playing and being ‘crazy’, he’s orderly and has little systems employed. Justin is like this too. I’ll watch him clean up after a meal, and rather than tackling the mess straight up, he organizes the mess first and then cleans it up. (Don’t get me wrong… I’m most certainly not criticizing his methods. I’m thankful for a husband who also functions as a dish washer.) But it’s interesting how people are wired so differently, and how kids can inherit certain predispositions from their parents the way Jake has from his Dad. But I’m getting off track… I used to think that Jake played in a focused, logical and somewhat methodical way because of the way I engaged him. His messes must be little and orderly because I’m such an awesome parent, or something. Hahaha. Nope. One of the paramount blessings of second children is how incredibly humbling they can be in our lives. Joshua: WAY more physical, WAY more active, equally wonderful but entirely different from his older brother. This has helped me realize that so much of who my kids are, the good and the challenging alike, is because of who they were created to be, and not because of particular successes or failures in my parenting skills.
But back to messes.
Neither Justin or I function well in a mess. We’re both just wired that way. I struggle to sit down and read a book with the kids, or do some sort of activity with them if our place is trashed, or, as I put it earlier this morning, when my home looks like it’s been ‘burglarized and ransacked’ at the hands of a toddler. So especially with Josh and with his level of activity, I’ve had to figure some things out. One option, of course, was just to be fine with only cleaning up after the kids went to bed each night. This didn’t work for me. But a couple other things have helped. In case you’re like me, I’ll share:
1. Don’t have toys that exceed the space in toy baskets.
There is nothing radical here, but it’s so easy for toys to accumulate and for a home with kids to wind up having more toys that can be held by toy bins. Limiting the amount of toys to match the amount of ‘basket space’ actually makes clean up surprisingly quick. In our living room (we don’t have a toy room) we have two big wicker baskets with toys, plus a basket with Thomas Trains and a wood crate with Building Blocks. In my head, when I’m about to tackle the mess, I refer to this kind of clean up as a “whirlwind clean up” and I actually often glance at the time before I begin, just so that I can be pleasantly surprised afterwards with how quickly everything has been tidied up. I realize that sharing such a detail as that might make me look like a bit of a moron… but racing against the clock just kinda makes it more fun or something.
2. “Learning Materials” kept in closet.
All the toys with tons of small parts, such as Tinker Toys, Lego or puzzles are kept in the hutch or the closet. And there are child-proof locks. This not only adds to the appeal (because it’s just a tad bit more special to ‘get something out’ than to dump out an accessible basket) but it means that it’s much easier to implement the ‘one-activity-at-a-time’ method of playing.
I think that some Moms who operate pleasantly in a bit more of a mess at times feel the pressure to change, the pressure to have everything more orderly. And I think that in the same way, those of us who do not function or parent that well when there is ‘toy chaos’ at times feel the pressure to just be content and happy in a mess. Here’s what I think: we’re all really different, and whether we tidy things up five times a day or once a week is simply not going to affect our kids one way or another. It seems to me that there has been a trend recently for us Moms to encourage each other to just be ‘who we are’ when it comes to all of these totally secondary and peripheral elements of daily life. That’s totally how it should be, don’t you think? There are so many areas of life, and even parenting life, where we rightly should be passionate and fixed in our opinions. But there are a host of other areas where we can respectfully do things differently.
Social media gives us the opportunity to not only see the trends in social opinion, but even to be a part of the trend. It’s a fun and empowering change from passive reception of news articles to instead become involved and interactive. I’m sure most mothers out there saw the cover of Time magazine from a couple weeks back; the photo of a mother breastfeeding her older-than-toddler son. Overwhelmingly what I saw among most of my friends was a response of “let people do what they want!” or “let’s care about things that matter!”. So I can’t help but think that this is a really cool time to be a Mom of young children. Although we’re navigating the balance of how to share fun stuff about our children without being proud or braggy, and although we’re figuring out how to be honest about our failures and shortcoming with out expressing indifference to them, I feel like I’ve been blessed to be going through these years with little ones at a time in social culture when most of us embrace two very important realities:
First reality: we don’t have to be the same! The vast majority of the decisions that we make as parents involve areas of life where it’s totally fine to do things differently. I may choose to clean up after my kids five times a day… this isn’t going to ruin them. Another may choose to allow the toys to accumulate for a week… this isn’t going to ruin them. I may choose to stop breastfeeding at a year. Another may choose to use formula from day one. Still another may choose to breastfeed until the age of the ‘controversial’ Time cover. There is freedom to be different! The areas of life that actually matter, things like loving our kids, reading to out kids, enjoying our kids… all these things can be accomplished with the details (to clean or not to clean, to breastfeed or not to breastfeed) looking totally different from home to home.
Second reality: life is a combination of joy and of difficulty. Clearly there is nothing remotely revolutionary in that thought, but I think that many of us are very much desire to ‘be real’ in all areas of our lives, and this includes in social media. I don’t think I need to feel bad, or guilty, or fake when I post a picture of my awesome little Jake in his corduroy jacket and red chucks. That is him. He is handsome and wonderful. That’s real. I don’t need to feel guilty or burdened or like I’m trying to present a false image of perfection when I share a status update of something beautiful and encouraging that one of the kids has said. Those moments of beauty and delight, they’re real. But at the same time, life is not glossy perfect. For every single one of us, there is more to our story than those pictures and those captions. There are difficult days and challenging or even dark moments for sure. And I think with many of us, we want to share that too. We want to share about the mess.
Everything that I just wrote emerged from a silly little status that I just posted on facebook earlier this morning. Here it is: “Sometimes I wonder how it's even possible for my home to go from being clean and tidy when we wake up to looking like it's been burglarized and ransacked in a mere couple of hours. It's almost impressive when you consider that it's the handiwork of only two little people... actually, come to think of it, it's really the work of just one little person named Josh.”
A few friends shared their thoughts:
~“We have that same problem but multiply it by 4! It’s ridiculous!”
~“Trying to clean when you have small children is like shoveling the walk while it’s still snowing. – Phyllis Diller”
~“Mom mom used to say ‘Our house is messy enough to be happy and clean enough to be healthy.’ A good goal!”
~”Ha. That’s funny. Yesterday I said to Vicky: ‘Our house looks like it’s been burglarized.”
And there you have it. With all the time wasting we can at times do on facebook or other sites, we can also share in each other’s messes and be a source of lighthearted encouragement to each other even in the little things. Somehow it heartens me to share about the mess and hear that other people’s homes look like they’ve been burglarized from time to time too.