When I was a kid, the rule in my house was to “clean up one mess before you make another”. It’s a good rule. My house was never a mess, my room was picked up, and my mom was never in a panic straightening up when unexpected company arrived. I learned the value of having a peaceful, organized living space.
I also learned the value of making a huge, gigantic mess when my parents and their friends got together at someone’s house and the kids got dragged along, too. These occasions were golden nights of unparalleled delight that did not happen nearly often enough. As a kid, this was like being dumped on Fantasy Island for a few hours with some kids you may or may not know. You were forced to get along and entertain each other until your parents dragged you home. Every kid knew the rule- your parents didn’t care what the heck you did as long as there was no screaming, crying, loud thuds, or broken glass. And we all knew the kiss of death would occur if we were being too quiet for long stretches of time and our parents noticed the silence. Obey those rules and you were guaranteed hours and hours of pure, adult-free joy. It was like we all had some secret, genetic code that made us all in on it together, that we collectively knew our mission for that night was to get away with as much forbidden stuff as humanly possible. We did things that were beyond creative- we did things that were pure genius.
I have a theory for this. When kids get together, the first thing they do is check out each other’s toys. Then, they slyly start investigating a little bit further, sniffing everything out. Finally, they go for the kill, dumping every box of every little tiny piece onto the floor. Kids start digging, things literally start flying, and lost, forgotten toys are rediscovered and played with in new inventive ways.
I’ve been thinking about these messes again as I am constantly asking my 5 year old to clean up one gigantic mess after another. Seriously. I find signs of her in every room of the house. And I have to breathe and smile and fight the urge to get annoyed at her creativity, to resist the temptation to take her messes personally. After all, how can a 5 year old really understand that her mother feels best in a peaceful, calm environment? Especially when she witnesses my own creative messes, when I’m in the process of writing or painting or practicing yoga? Yet, I know the importance of cleaning up, of starting fresh. As a compromise, my daughter makes her messes. She creates. She explores. Sometimes she needs the space of the entire house, other times she might just need a pencil and a piece of paper. But, at the end of the day, she cleans it all up so that in the morning, she starts fresh. She begins the digging process again. And I think this is what so many of us are missing as we enter our middle ages. We’ve stopped allowing ourselves to make messes and we’ve forgotten what we have because we’ve stopped digging.
The silence is becoming noticeable. Dig, friend. Dig. Find that thing that excites you again and go make a beautiful mess.