Waking up in the wee hours of the morning, I heard the coughing first. Then the dreaded cough-gag. I fumbled my way to the kids’ room and reached in the crib to retrieve the crying, vomit-soaked baby.
Unfortunately, I have this down to a somewhat methodical system. It’s happened so many times before. Since infancy, Little Bear (otherwise healthy) has had a sensitive gag reflex. Over-eating. Jostled after eating. Cough after eating. Sneezing. Choking on spit or snot….it always resulted in my Little Bear throwing up his meal. All over himself. All over me. Usually on carpet. One time in my hair. I never realized how messy and gross parenthood could get before this beautiful boy arrived.
These early years are probably going to be the messiest years of our parenting lives. Pretty much every bodily fluid from my children ends up on me and the surrounding porous surfaces of the house. Messes of spilled juice or paint or flour as Plum wants to help cook and carry and mix and “clean”. Baby food flung and sneezed out and squished all over. Explosive diapers. Potty training. Flu season. Do I have to elaborate? If you haven’t lived it, I’ll spare you (from some details, anyway).
It is the daily lesson of self-sacrifice and humility. It is the daily choice between compassionate love and selfish irritation. It is not easy. It is inconvenient. And it is very messy. But it is so valuable.
In this particular season of life, instead of grumbling about the mess of it, I want to celebrate it. Celebrate what it can show to my children through my actions. Celebrate that these noses and hands are still mine to care for. Celebrate the beauty and tenderness that can come out of a mess. This is the phase of life for Intentional Mess.
Teaching an Attitude
It reminds me of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. The High King stooping to the lowliest position. Serving. Loving. Teaching. I’m trying to look through the situation with an eternal perspective instead of the earthly burden it seems to be. And a mess is only a mess. A momentary burden that is so small in comparison to other struggles or suffering.
So, cleaning vomit out of the carpet or snot off the couch or paint from the wall, it’s all a lesson. The opportunity to serve, to be content in all things, to show thankfulness, to gain a little perspective. The opportunity to show unconditional love.
It is in these moments that reactions turn to habits, and habits to attitudes, and attitudes form our character (and our children’s characters). It is more than the mess, and more than the act of cleaning. It is the formation of attitudes. It is the action of showing what (or who) is most important.
I have reacted to moments of mess with a heat of anger and harsh words. I have tasted my guilt as the child sobs quietly afterwards. I have literally cried because of spilled milk on carpet (after a culmination of other small irritations that day). I have felt the drop in my stomach when I’ve realized my reaction was about meeting my need (to not clean or be inconvenienced) instead of meeting my child’s need (grace, mercy, comfort, love). I daily need God’s forgiveness, and I daily need His strength and patience.
Don’t Let A Mess Stop You, but Preparation is a Good Thing
I have adopted the attitude to not let the potential mess outcome overshadow the activity. For awhile I backed off from sensory bins with Plum because of the mess factor. Now I’m bringing them back out again. Bean bins. Rice bins. Shredded paper bin for Bear. Messy art. The experience and fun far surpasses the clean-up work!
Plum and I are getting in the habit of baking together each week. I have to consciously take my hands off of the measuring cups and spoons and allow her to scoop and pour independently. Flour gets flung as it is stirred by her practicing hands. Batter is dribbled on the countertops and our clothes. Baking with a three-year-old is joyful and a good way to practice skills (Patience is a skill that needs practiced, too)!
One Step at a Time. Start by Breathing.
When I scooped Little Bear up from his crib that night, he was soaked and sobbing. He had a head cold, congested and coughing. Trying to clean his face off (in the dark) only resulted in further coughing. And then he threw up again. On himself. On me. On the floor. I stood frozen for a minute. Where’s the easy button for this scenario?
First things first, breathe. Turning on the table nightlight, I started cleaning the baby.
It was a night of multiple incidents. After changing Little Bear’s clothes three times, cleaning the carpet once, waking the husband once, stripping the bed sheets twice (and using one of sister’s pink sheets to replace, being the only clean ones left), and changing myself once, I snuggled up with my baby and rocked him.
He nestled his head in my neck. His hair was a little crusty. We were both exhausted. We both smelled a bit. This. This is motherhood.
It has thoughts of the lingered chores (and baths) that await us in the morning. It has laundry baskets stacked three high in the living room. It has midnight cries, and it smells a bit like vomit. It has little hearts and minds and souls that are held in our hands, being shaped in these messy moments.
Even though we were far from perfect, in that moment I adored this gift of motherhood. I adored him. We nestled and snuggled until he was asleep.
Thanks for joining me on my Intentional series! This was the last post in the series! Join me next week for more thoughts on motherhood, and some fun springtime activities!
Books/Mags I am reading this week:
Books Plum is reading this week: