Oh, the messes we make

There is a pile of cut yarn outside my bedroom door, and five stuffed animals hang from the bannister having “flying lessons.” Every box from Christmas I put in the garage to break down, is back in the house in various stages of transformation, surrounded by tape, scissors and markers.

The dining room table is home to a puzzle on week three of progress, and a half-completed robot model. Stacks of books fill every flattish surface, teeny-tiny scraps of paper are cut up and have been thrown confetti-style down the halls, and two tiny plants appear to be in the process of being repotted by someone in the bathroom sink.

The state of my house is not good, folks. It is a cluttered mess of intentions and creation. We are a family who likes to do things, make things, get lost in the “thing,” and what we seem to hate the most is admitting the thing is over.

If the puzzle is put away, it means we didn’t finish it.

If the books are on a shelf, they may not get read.

If we clean up the boxes, the fort will never be completed.

We are a family of potential.

I have been fighting this for a long time.

I would walk around the house picking up all the messes, bitching as I do, and feeling the overwhelming sense of futility as I turn around to see several new “projects” erupting behind me.

It was driving me crazy. Ask my kids. I had become the Cleaning Dictator often yelling “take this shit to your room” and “what the hell is this mess?” and “are you kidding me?”

I’d march around in full martyr-mode, always feeling a sense of being overwhelmed or buried by ALL THE STUFF. I’d throw projects away because I’d get tired of seeing them or throw everything into a closet and slam the door to have ONE EMPTY SPACE.

Part of this battle was because my insides were in turmoil and I needed my space to not be. I needed everything organized, because I couldn’t categorize all the messy, dirty feelings which weighed me down and made it impossible for me to move.

Another part was embarrassment, of imaging what people would think if they stumbled into our “in progress” home on a day I didn’t frantically shove things into closets or drawers. They might think I am lazy or I don’t give a shit about my family.

I was losing my mind over it.

I was on the verge of completely squashing my kid’s creativity, because I could not contain it.

I could not stand it.

Then I started writing again.

My writing is a mess; the characters are unformed, stumbling along trying to become real and struggling with the half-story I’ve placed them in. I’m having to slowly uncover the pieces and letting it be a jumble for now, while I figure out how it all fits together.

It almost stopped me completely.

Twice.

I’m still writing.

I’m accepting this mess is part of the creative process, and I’m trying to explore it with patience and curiosity. It’s hard to ignore the unease it brings, but it is necessary. I am not going to just sit down and write a novel. It is a chaotic, disorganized and jumbled process which requires both ignoring my fears and embracing them.

It’s fucking hard guys.

But doing this, being in the trenches, has made me look at the mess of my house, and even my kids, in a different way.

I’ve always been supportive of open play and creativity, actively fighting to provide them the space and time for it; we drive 25 minutes so they can attend a Waldorf school which is in line with these ideals. But at the same time, I’ve been a nagging bitch about the messes which come along with it.

Contradictions are apparently my thing.

There is a big part of me which would love my house to look like Restoration Hardware; seriously, everything in that store is gleaming and beautiful and fucking rad.

But it never will.

People don’t live there.

Duh, right?

I can’t remove the mess, because WE are the mess. I’d be replacing all the little stories they create with their stuffed animals, all the pictures they draw, all the badges and houses and forts…for some idealistic version of a home I’d probably hate.

I want my kids being loud and crazy and wild.

I want them making shit out of everything.

I want my kids to know their ideas are worth exploring fully.

The dishes and laundry are done. There isn’t anything rotting or smelling bad in the house. It is just projects, crafts and imagination exploding out in all directions.

It is the chaos of a creative life.

There is an important lesson for us all to learn about finishing things, cleaning up after ourselves and respecting the space of others. I’m not throwing up my hands in defeat. There is plenty of work to do still, and I’m sure we can get there.

For now, though, I want to stop yelling and allow more space and time for the messy creativity to happen. I want to stop struggling so hard against it, and learn to give things the time they need.

Maybe I can even learn to love the mess as much as I love the kids who create it.

Probably not.

But I can stop how I react and realize how temporary this all is.

So, bring on the Styrofoam sinks:img_8435The random piles of coins:img_8437Whatever this is:img_8439Bring it on.

Because we live here and this is what we do.

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My phone makes me lonely

phoneHe sits a few feet away on the couch. I’m in my comfy chair. Lonely, I reach for my phone.

The next hour goes by. He is lost in the world of the History Channel and me into my little box.

I really want connection.

He probably does too.

But we are tired.

Always so tired.

So instead of asking for the hug I really need, I like photos on Facebook.

Instead of telling him how angry I am about the way a friend treated me, I read the news and feel the hopelessness of it all.

I used to think my cellphone was my friend, helping me stay connected with the people I love.

Now I’m not so sure.

The more hours I stare at its little white screen, the more acutely alone and isolated I feel.

I read a friends post and I know they are sad. I want to put my arms around them and let them cry big tears into my neck. I want to hold them tight, feel the warmth of their skin and let them know they are not alone.

Instead I write, “I’m sorry you’re going through a hard time.” I might add, “<<hugs>>” or “I’ll pray for you.”

Lame.

These are not the ways humans find comfort and connection. Our words are powerful, but eye contact and touch are infinitely more.

There is never time though. We are all so busy.

It seems nobody wants real comfort anyway. Not really. That’s a version of intimacy very few, myself included, even know how to handle.

Better to text a friend a sad emoticon with, “I love you. I’m sorry. Things will get better.”

Maybe share a quote of inspiration or a funny picture.

Typing the words is easy. Saying them and following through are completely different and require much more.

How many times have I saw a post of a friend whose pet or family member has died and I’ve typed, “sorry for your loss, let me know if there is anything I can do”?

Far too many times to even recount.

How many have taken me up on my vague offer of help?

None.

They aren’t going to do that. To ask for help in our culture is to admit you are weak. Americans are supposed to be strong. Pull yourself up. Push past it. Get over it.

We assume if they don’t turn to us, they have someone. I’m sure their spouse or close family is offering all the support they need. I’m sure they are fine.

We tell ourselves they would ask if they really needed something.

We stay hidden behind our devices, safe from really being there for them.

I’ve been told to keep things in perspective, be grateful for what I have and to just choose happiness.

I’m trying.

This week my body is telling me to stop it. I can’t just push it away. I can’t will myself to just be fine. There is no way to reframe the pain I feel in my heart.

Pain is pain.

It’s not competitive. It’s not subjective. It’s not a choice.

What I feel does not have to be explained away or pushed away. I can’t take a pill to make it disappear. I can’t bury it with food or drown it with alcohol. I can’t distract myself away from it with movies, TV or my cellphone.

I’ve tried all of that.

The pain keeps returning and it demands to be felt.

So I’m going to allow myself to slow down again, even though the voices in my head call me “weak,” “pathetic” and “crazy.”

I’m going to be gentle with myself. I’m going to try and be open. I’m going to ask for help.

Walking with baby Logan

His chubby little hands clench up into fists and he begins to rub his eyes.

“You getting sleepy,” I say to him.

He responds with a tiny whine. His body curls up and his head, suddenly way to heavy for his body, drops on my shoulder.

I grab my well-worn baby carrier and strap him in. I can feel the tension release immediately. He knows what is coming.

Stepping into my shoes we head outside. It’s fairly crisp and the air smells like logs burning. I cradle his head with one hand and we begin to walk.

We stop under my neighbor’s tree and both look up. A bird is chirping loudly, but I can’t find him in the tangle of yellow and brown leaves. After a moment, my sweet little baby nephew begins to whimper. He looks away from the tree and rubs his face against my chest.

Time to walk on.

I used to know every tree, bush, flower and house in my neighborhood. It was as familiar to me as my own backyard.

The enormous plum-tree that exploded pink flowers all over the sidewalk in the spring followed by loads of squishy plums that my kids loved to collect.

The tiny stone turtle that could only be seen under the rose bushes in the winter after the neighbors cut them back.

The crazy, barking dog that would run at the fence if you didn’t remember to cross to the other side of the street.

The grove of twisty trees that dropped plenty of sticks and little red balls just right for children’s hands and imaginations.

The giant black bees that favored the climbing morning-glory that grew along the fence of the house with the giant trampoline in the backyard.

The house with an abundance of pomegranates growing so far over the fence that you’d be able to pick some in the fall without them noticing.

The brick house that grows giant sunflowers in the summer that we just had to stop and measure ourselves against every time.

The house with several towering pine trees that always provided us with pinecones for our nature table.

As I walk around my neighborhood now, with my nephew sleeping soundly on my chest, I suddenly feel lost.

It all looks so foreign and bizarre.

It’s all so different.

Where did that grove of palm trees come from?

When did that retaining wall go in?

Where are all my memories?

It seems that my neighborhood has continued to grow, just like my kids. While I stay tucked inside, living with sadness and longing for the past, time just keeps moving forward.

It’s all so different.

My babies are giant kids who no longer enjoy walks in the neighborhood with their mother, certainly not strapped to my chest. They are smart, creative, intelligent children who love to play board games, read books, create art and make things out of string. They spend hours away at school each day and hardly seem to need me when I pick them up.

It’s all so different.

photoAs I walk home, I am suddenly struck by everything.

The beauty of the clouds and the vastness of the sky above.

A mass of deep, dark purple flowers growing next to a small ceramic snail.

An arch covered in a rich green tangle of ivy.

A lawn of dark, thick grass that is dotted with five baby pine trees in a star pattern.

A square garden box made of redwood that is growing pumpkins, squash and kale.

I feel like a small child out on my walk in the big, wide world.

I’m amazed at everything.

I pick up a golden leaf that I can’t bare to leave behind; stuck by how soft and cool it feels as I trace the vein pattern with my finger.

I stop and watch a group of blue jays fight in a bird bath and laugh at them.

I see sparks in my neighbor’s garage as he solders something together and I’m excited by what it might be.

When I get home I lay my nephew down to finish his nap and I pick up my Bible. I’m finding my way back to God and I can feel him speaking to me.

“So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:34

I pray for peace and for God to open my eyes to the beauty around me every day. I pray for forgiveness and strength.

Before I know it, little baby Logan awakes. He stirs sweetly and I quickly go to him. He smiles up at me with his entire body.

I return the smile with mine.