2. A Mess is Not Allowed

I almost always have good intentions when I try to speak boldly or persuasively. Other than the occasional moments when I give into the temptation to argue a point for the sake of arguing, I tend to speak my mind [what do you call that online–screen my mind? Nope that would imply a filter…]

Getting back on track.

I tend to speak my mind because I think it will do some good for someone. I learned from my mother the courage to advocate for another and the desire to prevent a tough experience I had due to misinformation or lack of understanding from causing another to experience trial and tribulation unnecessarily. Let them have a new brand of trial and tribulation that I can’t really feel responsible to help with (uh…I don’t know…go ask your dad…).

And I realized while cleaning out the kids’ toy box yesterday that my approach to speaking up follows approximately the same attack pattern as cleaning up a mess. I come upon a topic, at times it is a surprise and at other times I have allowed it to brew and really manifest its ugliness until I can’t ignore it, and I declare, “What is this awful mess?! Who did this?! How am I going to clean all of this up?!” And usually the empty room silently confirms my suspicions that it is indeed a mess that cannot (or can no longer) wait for my attention.

If I want to have an eternal headache, I invite the kids to come clean it up. Sometimes the headache grants me a reprieve when the children do magically appear and attend to the mess, giving me hope that someday I will not be left with the bulk of all clean-up duty. When that day comes, I will simply say, “Mother’s tired, she needs a rest,” and the kids will take care of the rest and the mess.

But usually I just wait until the “organizing bug” bites me, or in other words, I wait until my conscience suggests that my inaction is leading to a greater mess because silence can sound a lot like consent.

And then I attack. I tell the mess what I see and how I expect it to look by the time I’m done with it. I begin separating the various ingredients of the toy soup into piles, I begin softening any crusted-on formerly squishy elements, and I take a crack at tossing out anything that is beyond hope (which is hard for me to do–I cling to hope like some soiled toddler undies being swished in the potty cling to…missed opportunities, that’s what I’ll call it). You should have seen me the time my daughter peed on a bag of tortillas (don’t ask) since I contemplated keeping them. If it hadn’t been for a non-parent witness, that story could have ended with a delicious dinner.

As I dissect the mess, sometimes I discover that the root of the mess is either far worse than I can actually handle, or I find that my strategies are indeed rapidly minimizing the mess and restoring order to my little universe. Sometimes I take what looked overwhelming, scary, embarrassing (who wants to explain why there is human excrement on the lawn mower?), or just plain like good old-fashioned work to my children, and I make it look approachable.

So when I tackle a topic in a Facebook post, let’s say, I usually have good intentions. I envision somehow cleaning up a bit of the mess, at least in my own little universe of let’s see…400 friends [what an even number! If I were a quilter, I’d make a 20×20 quilt of faces and then declare my friendshipping days over, wrapped in the comfort of simplicity and right angles].

Anyway, I try to sort out truth from fiction, discard useless attitudes, and invite others to help sort out the mess, take on responsibility, or at least acknowledge that they may have contributed to the mess at hand. I might try some humor or an appeal to common humanity to soften a once-squishy crusted-on layer of anger, resentment, fear or what-not.

[Skip this part if you’re squeamish about animals dying.] But sometimes the mess is more than I can handle. I have found varying degrees of dead and decomposing baby rabbits in my window wells, victims to slotted window well covers. One was only bits of fur after the winter snow subsided. One was still huddled up against the cold, and when I removed the window screen and reached for the still form, I nearly wept because we were probably only a few hours late.

[See former warning.] But the latest baby bunny is in a state of breakdown that I just can’t get close to. Right now it smells like dead fish by that window well, but in a few weeks, dust will return to dust, and no more smell. In other words, some messes I see in the world just need to work themselves out. Trying to change anyone’s tilt on that particular mess at this point means opening up a window to my home and letting in the fragrant aroma of decay. And why would I do that in a place I consider a refuge for my family? Yes, a mess is brewing out there, but I am learning when to let dead bunnies lie, or something like that.

[It is now safe to read again]. When I find that in my small universe something I say is helpful to another, I am pleased and try the same process with other messes (yesterday I let the organizing bug have full sway over me, and I organized/de-cluttered three drawers, one closet, one under-the-bed space and one under-the dresser space, which is where I finally found the last of my lost marbles, but that is a story for another time). Sometimes the process works, and sometimes I should have left it alone, and some stink gets in my house in the form of Mom has sad feelings or confusion and forgets to pay close attention to the people closest to her.

Working through a mess helps me understand how the mess happened. Like when I find the deathly smell of milk-soaked towels waiting for me in the supposedly empty washing machine. And then I remember the spilled milk I cried over and the child who must have attempted cleaning it up herself or himself before I could find out that 75% of the milk they poured on their own cereal did not ever touch the cereal. In any case, my views of a situation sometimes change as I work away at the layers and consider others’ perspectives. I could never run for office because I seem to change my stance on a topic quite frequently. I just call that standing firm while being willing to use all the tools available to me.

And finally there are the times that I just make the mess worse. Like rubbing mud all over the carpet instead of letting it dry so you can vacuum it and have less mess to work with. I tend to think that if I can sort my answers a certain way, it will also work for everyone else in my universe. But when I let my kids organize their things, they do it all wrong! They put things in places that work for them! And that is the challenge I just keep learning from, that no matter how unmessy I might have made something in my own mind, it is as clear as mud to someone else. My job is to just not smear their mud while they work through it themselves.

One thought on “2. A Mess is Not Allowed

  1. Whew! I wrote that post just in time! The very next morning, a new friend had accepted my request, and I was at 401 Facebook friends. I’m not going to do any calculations, but I’m guessing that’s a prime number, meaning that a quilt made of 401 squares would be very long and narrow, perhaps more like Quilted Northern than anything else. I am now off the hook for making a friendship quilt, at least, but maybe not toilet paper. That will make a great post: “Thank you Facebook friends for inspiring me to use less paper!” And when everyone asked what that long roll of quilted squares is that I’m holding up, I’d lose a lot of friend with the answer.

    I want to add that when I encounter a mess, I often go through a phase of making sweeping generalizations, and I rely heavily on the assumption that I know who made the mess and why. Sometimes I have to back up and apologize when I realize I was wrong. We are allowed the space to make mistakes in my home, and I appreciate when we give each other that space online as well. And then there are the disagreements about what constitutes a mess and what never should have been touched because “it took a lot of work to create this masterpiece, so back off Mom!” That’s when I smile sweetly, take a photo for all of posterity to enjoy and then clean up the masterpiece with or without the help of my little artist/chef/architect/civil engineer.


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