Thursday, June 21, 2012

Making Peace with Mess

Each year on my birthday I pick a virtue to cultivate in the coming year. I take this pretty seriously. I start thinking about it about two months before the actual day and I give it some serious consideration in prayer. I start with a list and narrow it down little by little until I've found the one that feels right. For several years the virtue of Patience has made the top two and finally, this year it rose to the top of the list. The conversation I had with God in my head went something like this.

God: "I think it's time to work on Patience."
Stephanie: "That does not sound like fun."
God: "Right. But I still think you should choose it."
Stephanie (whining just a little): "Yeah, but, no offense, asking you to intentionally try my patience sounds like madness."
God: "Oh, because being impatient is working so well for you?"
Stephanie: "Touche."

I continued to pray about it and eventually came to the decision that this year would be the Year of Peace and Patience. Just before my birthday I discovered I was pregnant with baby #5. God has a sense of humour.

One of my major struggles as a mom is with mess. I am a chronic reorganizer. What can I say, my Grandma and IKEA share the same heritage. I am fascinated by the usage of space. I have a picture of a perfectly organized upright freezer I clipped from Better Homes and Gardens hanging on my kitchen bulletin board and I don't even own an upright freezer. It just calms me to look at it. The reality of my day to day life, though, is not quite as calm and organized.

It's been kind of a battle, dealing with my own feelings about cleaning and housework. There is a part of me that really wants to hold onto that idea that someday, in spite of my 5 small children, husband, father, cat and the plethora of friends who visit from day to day, my house will look like something from my House board on Pinterest. Everything perfectly placed and tidy with only strategically placed mess, a coffee cup perched on the coffee table (which I don't even currently have) and the throw draped over the arm of the chair. Like my mom's house or my grandma's house, both of which are lovely and immaculate pretty much all of the time. Don't get me wrong. We clean. We clean a lot. Daily tidies, daily chores, daily laundry. It's manageable, but it's far from perfect.

Lately the house has been a little to the left of lived-in. We're still in newborn territory with Miss Charlotte.

Gratuitous photo of my stunningly beautiful C-Monkey

We've had a college graduation, a remodel, a new job and an extra kid coming for the summer. I haven't totally figured out which way is up. As much as I know that is temporary, it's been bugging me lately and making me a little bit crazier than normal.

Yesterday morning I woke up in a bit of a mood. I was planning to keep things as simple as possible for myself. I woke up early hoping to get some time to pull myself together, only to have the Charlotte and Cheyenne wake up before I had my first cup of coffee. Deep breath. I greeted them both with a smile and a silent prayer for patience. As I've mentioned before, I am not a greet-the-day-head-on kind of girl. Soon after Isabella, James and Travis woke up and soon after that Gabe arrived for the day.

Gabe hadn't eaten yet, so he asked if he could make himself an omelet. Cheyenne and Isabella's ears perked up. They wanted to make omelets too. They'd make omelets for everyone and wouldn't it be great! We'd have a nice breakfast and they would do the work. I was reluctant. Kids cooking means mess and a messy kitchen was the last thing I wanted at that moment.

Another deep breath. I have been teaching them to cook for a reason. I want them to feel confident and capable. No. I want them to be confident and capable, and the way you become confident and capable is by getting in there and making a mess. It's not just the way you learn to cook. It's the way you learn to write. It's the way you learn to paint or draw or program a computer. It's the way you learn to ride a bike and it's certainly the way you learn to be a parent.

I asked myself if my goal was to have an easy day or to raise good kids. 20 years from now would I even remember today? Probably not. Would they? Well, maybe. I remember my earliest efforts at cooking, from my disaterous olive oil brownies to the first time I successfully made butterscotch. I remember the time I accidentally dyed my dog blue when an entire batch of icing spilled on him while I was making petit fors and I remember the look of respect on my home ec teacher's face when I told her I had made petit fors for extra credit. 20 years later I don't bat an eyelash at a complicated recipe precicely because my mom wasn't afraid to let me get messy. The same mom who now has an immaculately clean house. I guess there is a season for everything. I relented.

Half an hour later my kitchen was a shambles, but three kids had a great big W in their personal win column. It took me most of the day, between the fussy baby, the curious toddlers, the laundry and my own much-needed shower and nap, to get around to cleaning it up, but it was worth it. Long-term worth it.

Apparently patience, as I was deathly afraid it would, is going to require me to give up some control of the now for the good of tomorrow. It's going to mean the occasional batch of extra dishes on a day I really don't want them. It's probably going to mean taking a step back, sucking it up and recognizing that if this is the kind of thing I'm worried about, I am a lucky girl.  I could always offer it up for the suffering of someone with a real problem.

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