She finishes her doughnut and the evidence of what she just did is all over her face and fingers. The sticky icing, the sugary dough, and those rainbow sprinkles are scattered on her skin. I wipe with a dry napkin to no avail. This will require something wet and cold. She grabs her milk and gives it an inadvertent squeeze a second too soon. Before the straw can make it to her mouth, a few drops of liquid splatter on her shirt and the edge of the table. A small pool forms from the drops and she puts one finger in the puddle, splashing and sending milk flying.
I'm sure that later tonight she'll spill some yogurt. She may knock her cup of water off the table, squeeze out too much toothpaste, or drop her tiny container of crackers. And each time, I'll stoop low, find a towel or napkin, and clean. I'll scrub and wipe and dab until the spill is gone, her world is reset, and we can all carry on as planned.
As a parent, sometimes it can feel like all you're doing is cleaning up spills.
Scratch that - as an adult, all we're all doing is cleaning up spills.
We make a glorious mess of things sometimes, don't we? We quickly long for the days when our biggest mistake was losing our ice cream and not destroying a friendship. As grownups, we can lose clients, burn bridges, and waste a reputation with a few keystrokes or misplaced words. And there we are - left with a very big mess, needing more than a paper towel to make things right.
Kids make messes every day. If we do right by them, we show them how they can be cleaned up, how dropping pretzels isn't the end of the world, and how life can continue once we've done the dirty work of working with the dirt. In that small lesson, hopefully, we can show them that taking time to clean up is a chief duty of us humans. Leaving food, toys, or clothes in disarray is no way to live. Neither is leaving a heaping mess of hearts, dreams, and legacies.
None of us admit that we're as messy as we are. Beneath very put together facades, we all have some dirt, some grime, some spillage, and some clutter. If we could just press pause on our busy lives, perhaps we'd be able to focus on stooping low and putting back together that which we've broken or spilled.
The first step is to recognize what a royal mess we've made. When we've wrecked someone (including ourselves), we need to understand the damage done and assemble what we need to make it right. The most overlooked tool in this endeavor is time, which is teaching us a brand new lesson all by itself. The spills we make as adults are rarely cleaned and tidy in the time it takes to refill a plate of granola.
It can seem like we're hopping from one spill to the next - those of us with kids and those of us without. But in this hopping we see something of our role on this planet. By making so many messes due to our day-to-day lives, taking the time to clean is as much a part of who we are as what we do when our lives are so neatly organized and presented.
My daughter looks super cute first thing in the morning, when we come downstairs dressed and matching, clothes pristine and untainted. But that's not her. She's really the girl I see at around 5 PM, after a full day of playing and painting, eating and drinking. The stains and messes she makes during the day give her the stories that will turn into memories.
Let us go on, then, and make messes. We can't live without doing so. But let us also be wise enough to clean them up each time so that we can all keep playing together.