Making peace with messy moments
I’m trying to make peace with kid messes. And not the toys-everywhere, house-is-destroyed kind — though we have plenty of that, too. I’m talking dirty hands. Grimy pants. Crusty faces. Oliver and Hadley are kids, and kids are not inherently clean. Mine aren’t, anyway.
Messes requiring attention on any given day could include:
• Totally missed mouth while eating spaghetti.
• Hunting for rocks, but decided to wade in the creek instead.
• Puddle-jumping — mud optional, but encouraged.
And this is to say nothing of any sickness-related issues. I’ll just leave that there.
Gender stereotypes have no hold in our house. Nearly 2-yearold Hadley loves getting saucy, dirty and sticky with no regard for her attire or surroundings. Her older brother, by contrast, wipes his face after every bite of food and takes washing his hands very seriously.
My husband was always one to play with reckless abandon, apparently. Hadley is following in his dusty footsteps. My mother-in-law shares many stories of a young Spencer happily plopping down in a pile of leaves or destroying the kitchen while “cooking” at age five.
By contrast, Oliver had an absolute meltdown on Saturday when I had to administer liquid medicine (surprise! More sickness) and got a few drops on his T-shirt. This required an outfit change, of course.
In my defense, he was whipping his head around like a puppy with a shoe. The ibuprofen was bubblegum flavored and absolutely not gross, unlike the adult versions of stuff we must take, but Ollie still refused to sip it.
A struggle ensued. When he realized a small pink stain dotted his John Deere shirt, Oliver gave me a look of disappointment bordering on contempt.
“Mommy!” he moaned. “My shirt. You made a mess!”
And I had, I guess. In Ollie’s world, for sure.
“Made a mess” is a common refrain heard ’round these parts. It’s spoken as Hadley smacks all the magnets from the refrigerator door, or throws popcorn from her tray, or dis- perses plastic food around the living room. We can barely take a step without crushing plastic waffles or asparagus underfoot. (Especially exciting at 2 a.m.)
Oliver still needs encouragement to clean up, but we’ve noticed a huge change in his “helper” attitude recently. School has certainly helped with that. His daycare teachers are all about following directions and helping one another, and I think that shows in his changing habits at home.
Hadley, on the other hand, has entered the destructor phase. If Ollie takes pains to piece together a puzzle, his sister comes along and wrecks it. This sends him into a fury, of course. So much of our home life involves cleaning up the same things repeatedly. Soothing angry kiddos, too, but definitely cleaning.
Part of it is a phase, I know. Oliver was certainly all about destruction until pretty recently. Hadley will be two in March, and her opinions and personality are really showing.
Spencer delights in her interest in building with LEGO blocks and arranging magnets in patterns from her slight height by the fridge. She loves to manipulate objects and plays much more independently than her brother ever has — focused and happy when she’s presented with a challenge.
It’s wonderful to watch. Hadley is sassy and sweet and louder by the day.
Some of that is, I fear, to pull some attention to her. Our children are so close in age, and I’ve been consumed by Oliver’s changing needs from the moment she was born. Ollie wasn’t even walking when I learned I was pregnant, and had just a few words in his vocabulary when we welcomed her into our family.
Our son has been in a “Mommy only” phase for more than a year now, insisting I cut his pancakes and run his bath. Spence and I have challenged that, of course, but we have to pick our battles. So often I’m running behind our son while my husband hustles after our daughter, and that is the Johnson dynamic in a nutshell.
I’ve been trying harder to be the one swooping in to help Hadley even when Ollie protests, and to push down my natural uneasiness with mess in order to tend to her needs more. And not just that: to be the parent plunking down to read her favorite storybooks and cuddling during “Sesame Street,” too.
More than anything, I want to make sure my children feel seen, heard and appreciated in equal measure.
Her delight at crushing pretzels into oblivion isn’t one I share, but who knows? Maybe I’ll love it! Getting out stress and all that.
It’s worth a try.