It was late when I got home, and I sank onto the couch, kicking off my shoes.
As I glanced around the living room and into the adjoining playroom, I realized that I was in the atmosphere I had often dreamed of as I mothered two small children – a quiet space, a home that was clean and had been clean for days.
But I wanted the noise and the mess back, desperately.
It was days into Brenna’s hospitalization last summer, and we had fallen into something that resembled a ritual. Connor was spending most of the time with family and friends while Evan and I were at the hospital all day, every day. At night, Evan sacrificed his own sleep and comfort and all but forced me to go home to sleep in our bed. So I would rub Brenna’s back and hold her hand until she drifted off into a restless sleep, rush home to bed – to my own restless sleep, full of worry – and wake up to head to the hospital and do it all over again.
My home was quiet and organized each evening, because it was unused and untouched by the people I love most. Untouched because they weren’t there.
And suddenly, I loved my messy home. Suddenly, I loved the toys left out, the snack plates on the kitchen table crusted with leftover food, the seemingly millions of little shoes that I trip over in the doorways.
That was the day I came to realize how exquisitely beautiful the mess is.
The mess means that our home is full, that we are making memories, that we are loving and spending time with each other within our home. A messy kitchen means that family is gathering, that friends feel welcome, that people are being nourished. A living room cluttered with game pieces and books means that we are enjoying moments spent as a family, learning and growing and talking together. Clothes strewn about the bedroom are evidence of full and fulfilling lives, of children who are active, thriving and well.
What I realized is that even as I need moments of solitude and quiet, that even as an organized home can help to make my mind feel more organized too, a house that stays quiet and stays organized for longer than a few hours equates to a home that is untouched and empty of the people I love best in this world.
I never want a home so pristine that we never enjoy it. I don’t want my kids to say, years from now, “well Mom never let us get out the paint or play-doh because it made such a big mess.” The messes are what make memories. The messes are what help us to connect as a family. And the messes even afford us the opportunity to teach responsibility and respect for what we have, as we all work together to pick up and put away… only to start all over again the next day.
My life feels abundantly more beautiful when I notice the streaks of Aquaphor along the hallway wall two feet off the ground, or the dinosaur figures standing up on the breakfast bar in the kitchen, or the pair of jeans strewn on the floor instead of folded and put in the closet. All of the things that whisper “we were here… we have been laughing and crying, loving wholly, enjoying these days, living beautifully in big and small ways.”
We had friends over last week for a play date that turned into an impromptu dinner, pizzas ordered and kids playing past their bedtimes. Everyone pitched in for a quick pick-up before goodbyes were said, but there are still several piles of toys left over unattended from that evening. And instead of feeling guilty about the remaining mess, I find myself passing by those toys, thankful instead for an especially fun afternoon that lingered on into the evening and how special it was to have a home full of people we love.