Mak­ing peace with messy mo­ments

The Enterprise - - Classified - Twit­ter: @right­meg

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.

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