Em­brac­ing life’s messi­ness

Maryland Independent - - Classified - Twit­ter: @right­meg

One of my ear­li­est mem­o­ries is of the beach.

They’re just snap­shots of that trip, back when I was 2 or 3: watch­ing hulk­ing storm clouds gather out­side our ho­tel room; Dad win­ning me a pair of toy clowns from a claw crane. I re­mem­ber strolling the board­walk with him early in the morn­ing while Mom got ready, and scrap­ing my knee af­ter a fall.

And the dirt, of course. Al­ways the dirt.

As a child, ev­ery­thing was “dirty” — es­pe­cially sand. I could not stand to muss my clothes or feel grit be­tween my fin­gers. A mem­ory of a young cousin once hap­pily slosh­ing in mud with his sludgy trucks still fills me with dis­gust.

But now, of course, I have a child my­self. A 1-year-old who is al­ready ca­pa­ble of all sorts of chaos — es­pe­cially in the kitchen.

Cab­i­nets are locked and se­cured. Any­thing within reach of Oliver’s cu­ri­ous hands has been moved to higher ground. I rou­tinely sit on the floor and strain to see what he sees, know­ing the re­spon­si­bil­ity of keep­ing him safe rests squarely with Spencer and me. If there’s a speck of lint on our toy-strewn car­pet, his baby radar will find it im­me­di­ately.

Be­fore be­com­ing a par­ent, I guess I knew that messi­ness — gross, aw­ful, sticky messi­ness — is just part of the gig . . . but to fully ap­pre­ci­ate that, it’s best ex­pe­ri­enced first­hand. At all hours of the night. Usu­ally with a mop and bucket.

Don’t worry, friends: this is a fam­ily col­umn, and we don’t need to dis­cuss par­tic­u­lars. Ill­ness, di­a­pers, end­less laun­dry — I know you’re all ca­pa­ble of fill­ing in the blanks.

Most messes are cur­rently con­tained to meal­time, thank­fully. Jailed in his high chair, there’s only so much may­hem a tod­dler can cause.

Though the bound­aries are al­ways shift­ing. Oliver is no longer con­tent to be spoon-fed, for ex­am­ple. I know our goal here is to help him be­come in­de­pen­dent, but hand­ing Oliver a spoon? Will­ingly giv­ing him ac­cess to pro­jec­tiles? Stand back. Sweet pota­toes on the floor. Mashed corn in his hair. Juice on your jeans. A layer of Puffs ce­real dust coat­ing his hands, your hands, the high chair, the kitchen ta­ble . . . and snacks chucked into cor­ners I never fath­omed he could reach. Oh, are the Na­tion­als call­ing? Kid has an arm.

Be­cause he has been a lit­tle be­hind on mile­stones, we have an awe­some team of in­struc­tors help­ing us get him up to speed. The longer we work with th­ese folks, the more I’m con­vinced they’re present as much for us as Oliver. They have given me so much con­fi­dence as a par­ent, and I find their ad­vice in­valu­able.

Like du­ti­ful stu­dents, Spencer and I have fol­lowed their rec­om­men­da­tions for cheer­ing Oliver on with his eat­ing, crawl­ing, talk­ing. He is such a funny, cu­ri­ous kid — and he’s chang­ing all the time. I lis­ten to what the pro­fes­sion­als sug­gest, and we’ve had no trou­ble fol­low­ing the pro­gram. Un­til re­cently. Ad­dress­ing the fact that Ol­lie — like his mother — does not like to get any­thing on his hands, his in­struc­tor chal­lenged us to re­sist the urge to clean ev­ery­thing up im­me­di­ately. “Let him make a mess!” she said, spoon­ing puree onto the tray of his high chair. “Let him have fun!” I watched with barely-masked hor­ror as Oliver stuck a fin­ger in the veg­eta­bles. He was un­sure, look­ing for my re­ac­tion — so I smiled un­easily. Like so many times in the last year, I had to re­mind my­self that it’s not about do­ing what’s eas­i­est for Spencer and me (not de­stroy­ing the kitchen, say). I don’t want to pass my idio­syn­cra­sies to him so quickly. It’s about what’s best for Oliver.

And what’s best is, ap­par­ently, let­ting him mash food in his hair.

Ol­lie is get­ting into it. And Spencer and I are ad­just­ing to th­ese sen­sory food ex­pe­ri­ences, too. Now that our son reaches for the spoon and “feeds” him­self (and us), I’ve had to re­lax about messes. The kid is go­ing to wreck the place; our liv­ing room is al­ready proof of that. I can ag­o­nize over it or ac­cept that all will be fixed af­ter bed­time.

Or, you know, when he turns 18.

We’re buy­ing stock in an­tibac­te­rial wipes. They’re on the kitchen ta­ble, in my purse, on side ta­bles around the house. When the sit­u­a­tion re­ally de­te­ri­o­rates, we whisk Oliver straight to the bath­tub . . . where he mer­rily splashes Spencer un­til he’s forced to change his shirt. It’s a sweet and messy life. But hands can be washed. Stains can be soaked. Though it goes against ev­ery “but it’s dirty!” bone in my body, I try to sit still. I don’t want my child to re­mem­ber me pulling away.

So yes, Ol­lie, I’ll take that soggy Puff from you. Some­day I’ll welcome sticky hugs, too.

What won’t we clean up for our kids?

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