Our Messy Lives

I took this photo last Sunday because I intended to follow up on my recent post about Stump, about how he is a bobcat, a wild child. I just wanted you to know that I wasn’t exaggerating.

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This was at the end of an outing to the park where he walked from mole hole to mole hole to dig in the dirt. At first I thought, well that’s okay, and then as he became increasingly exuberant, throwing the dirt so that it landed in his hair, I thought, whoa this is getting a little crazy, so I carried him over to the rock formations as a distraction.

The rock formations feature a kind of bowl that collects rainwater to which kids like to add leaves and pinecones and stir the concoction with sticks. On this particular day, someone had also added dirt, so it was filled with mud. Stump wasted no time finding this mud. Within moments, it was on his hands and up his sleeves and down his collar. It created a nice foundation for yet more dirt to get stuck to. When I pulled him away, he scrambled up the rocks, bobcat-style, leaving mud tracks behind him on his way to find more mole holes.

No, I didn’t have a change of clothes.

Moments later, a woman cut through the park with her corgi and Stump looked up from his digging. He clapped his hands and cried “dog!” over and over. As he began to walk towards the woman and her dog, she shot me a glare that said, You will NOT let your grubby child touch my dog.

On the way home, I thought about my parenting, and how sometimes I’m torn between letting my kids make a mess, and worrying about how I look to other parents or bystanders in that particular moment. And it’s true that my choice to let Stump play in dirt is as much a symptom of my laziness, my exhaustion, my I-don’t-want-to-fight-it attitude as it is a conscious parenting philosophy. But I stand by it.

That was Sunday I thought this was our mess of the week.

But then on Monday morning we discovered that Stump had thrush, an infection of the mouth, and our doctor prescribed gentian violet as a topical medicine. When Kellie brought it home, we discovered that it’s a bright purple liquid. We’ve been using it for nearly a week now, and once applied, it looks like Stump has been sucking on a purple sharpie. As a bonus, there are drips of it everywhere—on my arms, my shirt, the sink, on my favorite sheets, and on the dishtowels.

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All of this has me thinking about the other ways in which mess has taken over my life. My office at work, once neat, is now embarrassing. It features piles of papers from this quarter, papers from several years ago, boxes of books I will never unpack, and cups of tea that have sat around unwashed for weeks.

And then there is my brain, which is even more cluttered than my desk. If I ask you a question, I’m unlikely to retain, or even hear the answer. I will likely ask you the same question again forty minutes later. Sometimes, for no particular reason, I might suddenly remember a work-related email sent weeks before that I read once and didn’t respond to. Other times, I try to remember where I first heard about a particular article or movie, a task I could once readily perform, but now my memory is a blur of social media, blogging, NPR, and actual conversations.

Sometimes I feel like our world is designed to entrap me in meaningless chaos. My inbox is full of thousands of emails that I will never read, reminders to pay my bills or view my monthly statement, to buy new shoes for 20% off or activate my Quarterly Rewards Bonus. The institution I work for withholds hundreds of dollars from my paycheck every month, money that I can spend tax-free on child care and doctors visits, but I must fill out forms and submit paperwork if I ever want to see it in my bank account. This week I tore apart my house looking for an invoice I had paid off weeks ago. Three days later, when I picked up a notebook in my office, it fluttered to the floor.

I don’t know how other people cope. How is it that people pay their bills on time and stay within a budget and drive a new car and feed their kids dinner at 5:30 every night? How do they arrive at work on time, with neat hair, and not wearing mustard from the sandwich they scarfed while driving? How do they shave their legs and keep up with the shaving? How do they get the laundry done AND fold it? How do they manage to appear normal to their neighbors? How do they get their kids out of pajamas every day or leave the house with snacks and water and a change of clothes? How do they keep their kids from digging in the mole holes or climbing on the kitchen table and throwing cereal?

What?
What?

I know these questions may sound rhetorical, but sometimes I do worry that I’m missing some essential yet obvious life skill. Please explain your answers in the space below.