It was just the two of us last weekend. While “Daddy” was seven hours away, camping and climbing in the mountains, my two-year-old daughter and I stayed home with the mountains of laundry in the living room. On Saturday night, we were having a rather lame evening and were both feeling a little restless and bored and irritated with one another, when suddenly: I had an idea. (It was what I like to call a “Fun Mommy” idea. You know, one of those ideas that matches the impulsiveness of a 13-year-old boy.) The moment I thought of it, I blurted it right out, “Hey! I know! Let’s set up the tent, and have a camp-out in your bedroom!”
“Yay!! Yay!!! Yay!!” My daughter Selah cheered and jumped up and down. And then…I immediately regretted that decision.
I suddenly envisioned the huge mess it was going to make. The pain of setting it up, and tearing it down. Not to mention the stiff back I’d have in the morning.
“Wait,” I kept asking her, trying to undo what I’d just done, “Are you SURE you want to sleep in the tent tonight?” (I don’t know why I thought she might change her mind, because the more I asked her if she was “sure,” the more excited she got, and the higher she jumped up and down.)
We were definitely setting up the tent.
After I set it up, (and almost took out her eye with one of the tent poles, and nearly smashed the light on her ceiling while dodging her eye), I spread a few blankets and pillows in the tent and went to the kitchen to finish the dishes. And when I came back…every single stuffed animal and toy my daughter owns was in the tent. I mean we were at “FULL OCCUPANCY.” Her toy box was totally bare.
“Come in Mama! Come in Mama!” she screamed. My jaw dropped. My eyebrows raised. “Wow,” I kept repeating, “Wow.” I didn’t know how to react. But then I saw her face…smiling with such intensity over what she had done. Convinced I would join in her pleasure.
And something just came over me. Maybe I do have the impulsiveness of a teenage boy, but I jumped in like it was the ball-pit at Chuck E. Cheese’s. And as I lay there, looking quite like Gulliver surrounded by the little village people, she squealed with delight. And then I did something I don’t often do: I actually played with her. I gave her stuffed animals names and characters and voices. I don’t often take the time to think up dialogue between a Cabbage Patch doll and a plush fox—but that night I did. And I think if she smiled any wider, her face would have cracked open.
And that’s when I realized: she loves this.
She would not rather be doing anything in the world right now, than playing with me. Than burying me in toys. Than listening to me make stuffed animals talk. Because this is her world.
And she wants me to enter it.
She wants me on her level. To see the world the way she does. With excitement, and wonder, and possibility. But I’m 28 and she’s 2. And we don’t enjoy the same things. We don’t see the world the same way.
And she can’t understand why I like to sit still and read a book. Or type on the computer. Or clean the house. We enjoy totally different things. It’s like, my language is different than hers right now. And she can’t learn mine. I have to learn hers. I have to know how to speak to her. Because that’s the only way she will hear me.
And right now, as much as I want to believe it, she doesn’t actually feel loved by a clean house. (I do.) She doesn’t feel happier when I’m tossing all her toys in the correct bins. (I do.) She wants the dogpile. And she wants the mess—if it means that I come with it.
I’m sure there are plenty of mom’s out there that can manage it differently, but for me and my house, I cannot show my daughter love right now unless a huge mess is involved.
When My Biggest Messes Become Her Best Memories
My daughter loves tea-parties, and painting, and “helping” me cook. (Yikes!) She likes giant forts, and tents in her room, and going to the beach so that she’s covered from head to toe in sand by the time we leave. (Including every crack and crevice.) But these are moments we will look back and remember.
So, sometimes, what will mean a big mess for me to clean up, will mean a big memory for her someday.
When I was growing up, I’m sure my mother did a great job with our house…but quite frankly, I don’t remember. And when I think back to my happiest memories with my mom, or during my childhood, none of them involve anything “clean” or “tidy.” In fact, quite the opposite.
So maybe I need to stop. I need to stop trying to make it look a two-year old DOESN’T live in my house. Because she most certainly DOES. And so do all her toys.
And I need to stop avoiding fun activities, just because they are going to be messy. I need to embrace the messy activities, because those are the ones she’s going to remember and enjoy.
I’m not saying we don’t ever need to clean our houses…because we do. But, I know for me, it just somehow takes over. The desire for cleanliness, and order. I only have one child, but sometimes I feel like I have two. And my house is like this spoiled “firstborn.” I spoil her and fuss over her, and drop everything to make sure she’s “happy” (or organized.)
Meanwhile, my daughter begs for my attention. And I keep sending her away, because I feel I need to tend to my “firstborn.” I say, “Go play with your toys.” “Go to your room.” “Go read your books.”
Meanwhile, she waits.
And sometimes I forget that: I didn’t quit my job so I could stay home and take care of my precious house.
I quit my job so I could stay home and take care of my precious child.
She matters. What I do with her here every day–it matters. What I whisper in her ears as she falls asleep, the songs I sing to soothe her cries, all my made up lullabies. They matter. What she remembers about me, the way I made her feel—all matter so very much. Because my house could be bulldozed next week. But my daughter, will live for eternity. And the imprints I leave on her soul matter forever.
There are moments no one sees when I’m alone with her—but God sees them. And she sees them, and feels them all. And they all shape her and who she is becoming. I want to be a good “steward” of my house, but I want to be a better “steward” of this little girl. Who will grow up to be a woman, who will have her own thoughts and questions about God, who will have to choose between wanting a treasure that can be seen and praised by men, or hidden away in heaven with God. Who will have to choose someday between her house and her child. She will live in a world who cares only about outward appearances, and cares nothing for inward ones.
My daughter needs me. She needs to me to look her in the face, she needs my arms around her, and sometimes she just needs me to lay with her and be totally enefficent. And sometimes, she needs me to make a big mess with her—just to feel my love.
That night I slept in the tent on her bedroom floor, we did make a huge mess. And my back was sore the next day. But as we lay in the dark with the glow of Pillow Pets and flashlights and giggled and kissed and held each other close–a memory was made.
Someday she won’t be two anymore. She will be seventeen. And I will need to learn her language all over again. And when that day comes, she will need to know: I’m not afraid of her messes. And showing her my love might look different then. I doubt she’ll want a camp-out on her bedroom floor. I might even have to sleep outside her bedroom door, until she’s willing to open it. I might have to lay on her bed and listen to her music, long enough to learn all the lyrics. I might need to sit with her in her messy room, and listen to her cry. I might need to pull her close and tell her I made a lot of messes growing up, too.
But she was never one of them.
And I don’t see her just as this “mess-maker.” But as this beautiful “memory.” I will need to show her, whether she’s two or a teenager, that Love makes messes. And Love stays to clean up messes.
Some will spend their whole lives trying to avoid messes. But as for me and my house…we’re choosing to make messes. To love making messes. Messes so big, you can’t help but remember them.