“Well, that was the last of the Christmas money,” I said to my husband, as I stooped over to sweep up the pile of plastic bits and pieces. Leftovers from toy packages.
“That’s good,” he replied, while tying up a trash bag of discarded cardboard.
Our house had looked like the morning after a frat party when we got out of bed, and we set to tidying quickly so we could relax and enjoy the day ahead. As parents of three daughters, all of the age that still played with dolls and such, we were used to picking up our fair share of strewn toys. But nothing could turn a house upside down like the aftermath of the holidays. Considering we had two birthdays in December, the situation was doubled. Add in the fact that long-distant relatives sent gifts too, and the mess never seemed to end.
That was life with little kids, though, right?! I mean, it wasn’t just me that consistently stepped on tiny, plastic shoes, or tripped over a misplaced Barbie car, right?! If my kids were breathing they were making messes. It didn’t matter the rules set, boundaries placed, or chores assigned. Their trash and treasures proliferated throughout our home. Most days began (after coffee, of course) with me corralling their belongings back into their bedrooms.
“The mess won’t keep.”
These are the words my aunt spoke to me over the phone recently after I had finished another round of “return thirty, three-inch, laughing little dolls to their case.”
I knew this. I knew all the truths that little ones didn’t stay little. I had personally watched a decade fly by since I had my first child. But it was her mood this particular morning that caused me to pause and count my blessings rather than count how many times I had picked up their clothes from the bathroom floor.
I ended up spending some time with my aunt this particular day. She was feeling down, and we went shopping and lunching together to lighten her emotional load. You want to know the weird thing about grief? It has no expiration date. My cousin had passed away thirty years prior, but that didn’t lessen the sadness that had erupted within her unexpectedly that morning over the loss of her son.
“I’ll never get him back,” she had told me.
Even though she was eternally minded and took solace in seeing loved ones again one day, like anyone, the loss of the here and now was many times much too hard to bear.
We had a good day, and though I know I left her back at her home still working through her grief in her own way, she had reminded me once again not to take a thing for granted. Not the work. Not my daughters. And certainly not the mess. After all, the mess wouldn’t keep. The old adage was true. We weren’t promised tomorrow, and cherishing my children was about more than how quickly time passed. It was true that time was fleeting, but time also was abrupt. The time we had with someone could be cut short at any moment. That was the real truth of it.
That evening I hugged my babies a little tighter, and I allowed the kiss on my husband’s lips to linger a little longer. I promised myself to keep in mind the truth of life’s fragility. This world was a mess. My house was a mess. Many times my life is a mess! But I’m reminded to count it all as joy. A beautiful mess, if you will. My job was to embrace the mess. After all, the mess wouldn’t keep.