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When Is a Mess Not a Mess?

Trio block constructionSunday evening, one week into my 19-unit semester. Four months of classes and assignments, abstracts and annotations, essays and reflections loomed ahead. I wanted to get in bed on time … so I wanted the kids to get in bed on time. I approached the boys’ room to pray with them for the night.

I stopped in the doorway, temporarily blinded by the state of their room.

Books, papers, and writing instruments covered the desk. Trio block creations scattered the floor and Lego creations stood on top of the dresser and every other horizontal surface. During the weeks leading up to the kids’ school and my classes starting again, I had spent more than a couple of hours organizing, cleaning up, and cleaning out that room with the boys … then telling them in no uncertain terms that their room needed to stay clean because the weeks ahead would be too busy to spend much time deep cleaning.

“Boys, this room is a mess,” I stated. They looked at me as though I was speaking another language. “How much time did we spend cleaning this room?” They were silent. “You’re not watching any videos until the room is clean.”

As I tried to go to sleep that night, I thought back on my motherly feathers being so ruffled by the state of their room. And I thought about that. The Trio buildings. The art work and projects. The Lego towers. I realized it was all creative play. Building. Drawing. Even reading. All good things. Creative expressions.

No wonder I felt like I was speaking a different language. In a way, that’s just what I was doing. I said “mess” because I saw a mess. They drew blanks because they saw their creations and ongoing projects. We looked at the same room and came up with very different conclusions because of our very different perspectives.

And then I thought about later. Five years from now. Or ten. I thought about their room, and how I might wish to see my kids’ latest drawing or project or poem or construction. But my kids will no longer be kids. They will have moved on to bigger and grander things.

Their room might be clean then. But the loss would be mine.

How many times do I, as a parent, look in from the outside, or from above, and fail to see the world from my children’s perspective? Through their eyes? Whether it be their room or their homework, an argument between siblings, or an emotional situation they’ re going through.

The next morning, before I even got up, the boys had cleaned their room. (And I thought my words had gone selectively unheard.) I missed the chance to get on their level and ask them what they were working on. Or join them in their creative play. Again, the loss was mine, even though the room was tidy.

No, it’s not my job to clean up after my children. And yes, they do need to develop a sense of responsibility. But perspective makes such a difference. Perspective on messes. On time. On teaching and learning.  As a parent, I am slowly coming to learn that I have more to learn than I ever did. And even that is a matter of perspective. Seeing the learning as a joy, as something to be gained from every person and every situation.

Even from a “messy” room.

Lego creation & stack of books

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Lego Skeletons and All

Three SiblingsWe just moved from an apartment to a house. The past month has been consumed with packing, boxing, cleaning, unpacking, and cleaning some more. Less than three years ago, when we moved to California from India, we had two suitcases per person, and a couple backpacks. Our earthly possessions fit in ten suitcases. I was shocked to find that 45 boxes and three trips by the U-Haul van still didn’t manage to transport everything we had gathered in the past three years from the apartment to the house. God is good and has definitely blessed us with a lot (and maybe we’ve kept a bit too much of it).

When my mom came to see the house for the first time, we all gathered in the kitchen to pray for our new home. My mom looked around at the kids and commented, “Imagine, you guys are going to be teenagers here.”

I laughed at the thought. It seemed so far away. But afterwards, I began to think about it. Teenagers? Our oldest is eight; the youngest is four. A couple years ago, he was still in diapers. Teenagers?

I pictured my sons, pushing six feet tall, consuming half of the items in the fridge in one sitting, drinking milk straight from the jug, asking to borrow the car keys, inviting their first date home. I pictured my daughter getting her first after-school job, starting to wear makeup, preparing for graduation and future plans. My mind went into temporary overdrive and rapidly proceeded toward a meltdown. I’m not ready for them to grow up yet. Whoever said they’re allowed to become teens anyway?

My youngest son came racing towards me, breaking my runaway train of thought that had been racing full-speed toward the future. “I just flushed the skeleton Lego down the toilet.”

I looked at him, trying to process what he said. “You what?”

“I flushed the skeleton Lego down the toilet because I didn’t like it,” he explained in more detail.

I wasn’t aware that they had a Lego man-skeleton and didn’t think I would have been very fond of it anyway. Still, visions of exorbitant plumbing bills dance in my head. “Please don’t flush anything else down the toilet unless you ask first,” I told him.

“Okay Mommy.” He raced off, probably happy that my reaction wasn’t more severe. I watched him run off, oblivious to all the concerns I had been projecting about their futures. They’re just kids, and I have a long ways to go before they enter those higher digits. Days of adventure and experiencing the world through their eyes.

I reminded my mind not to get ahead of itself. And my heart to just enjoy the moment. Every moment before it goes by and becomes yet another structure on memory lane. They’re just kids, and the world lies ahead of them, waiting to be discovered.

Returning to my unpacking, I resolved to be more mindful, more present in the passing moments, Lego skeletons and all.