Entering the mess

It’s pretty common knowledge that having children is messy - they are noisy, often dirty, and care little for rules of decorum.  However, what I failed to realize before I had my daughter is how messy kids make our lives, emotionally.

Before my child arrived on the scene, I believed myself to be an extraordinarily patient, self-aware guide for others who were emotionally messy.  Ha. Boy has my ego taken a big hit over the last 15 months.

But you know what good support (through friends and professional help) has helped me to (begin to) realize?  I’m not a fallen angel - broken, failed, shamed.

I’m simply a person.

The brilliant and inspiring poet Mary Oliver passed away not long ago.  Everywhere I look I see her phrase, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”  I love this question. This idea. But what I didn’t really internalize until this very moment that I sat down to write about messiness is that she said “WILD and precious”.  Not “orderly and precious”. Not “uncomplicated and precious”. She said WILD. Do you know I have never considered that part of her question before? I’ve thought about the fact that my life is precious, that I get only one....but that it is wild??  Ick. That sounds very messy. No thank you.

Until I became a parent, I was pretty able to keep that wild part under wraps.  If you read my previous post about crossing my desert, you know I am simply no longer able to hide behind my well composed facade of planning and order and the sweet relief of thoughts thoughts thoughts.  Feelings were something I only expressed after I’d thought about them loooong and hard - so that then they could be presented in a logical and controlled fashion, thus satisfying the need to be heard without ever having to lose control.  Genius! Effective! Then, this small person I invited into my life, nay, insisted on with much trying and laboring, totally upended me.

In shorthand, we have entered the toddler years.  Let me paint a picture for you. I, in all my patient wisdom and calm connection, ask my lovely toddler to “please not touch the water in the toilet bowl”.  And she responds with “oh yes mommy, I’ll just go play outside instead, thank you for reminding me not to play in the toilet.” And scene.

Or, if you live in the real world you know what really happens is my daughter knows I don’t like her touching the toilet water, so she walks backwards toward the toilet like I can’t tell that she is still in fact heading toward the toilet despite her very subtle backwards walk, all the while giggling and waiting to see what I do.  What I do is (in all my patient wisdom and calm connection) say “please don’t touch the toilet, my love, it is dirty and not good for you”. And then she laughs in my face and runs gleefully to the toilet to splash. And then I repeat myself but louder while also moving closer and she laughs and so I say “honey, no” while moving closer and she laughs and splashes harder and I stand near her and firmly say “no” and she practically climbs into the toilet bowl to splash and then I lose my ever loving mind and turn into the 3 headed monster who doubles in size and breathes fire.

Excellent.  That went well.

When that happens what I want to do is go back to my books, my training, and think.  And I do. But the trouble is I want to stay. Can I please stay in the black and white certainty of science-backed parenting books and training certifications and all the lovely things I KNOW???  But I can’t stay there, no matter how cozy and comforting it is. Because my daughter isn’t in those books. She’s out here being messy too, and asking me to come to her. To help her.

So, into the mess I must go - because heaven knows I won’t leave her alone with her mess simply so I don’t have to deal with mine.  Stepping into her mess ignites all the messiness within me. I could avoid it, I could let it run the show, or I can come to terms with it.  Those are my options. I choose coming to terms with it.

Hello my name is Kate and I.  Am. Messy.

But, don’t let me fool you.  I will vacillate between all three options, regularly.  I’m messy, remember?

My work as I see it is to step into the wild, the mess, both mine and hers - not in an effort to tame it (i.e. control it) but in an effort to learn from it. To learn to ride the waves with some grace, together.  Because here is the scary truth of it all...accepting myself and all the mess that comes with me is how she learns to do the same, for herself. I cannot stand on the sidelines and teach her how to embrace her one wild and precious life, her fully human life - she will learn most from what I do, not from what I say.

So, into the mess I go.