Finding joy in the mess

Life gets messy. Well, life is usually messy.

I am uncomfortable with messes both of the literal and figurative variety. I like things in order. I am a ENFJ and have Arranger in my top 5. My Outlook calendar is color coordinated. A cluttered desk gives me anxiety. Leaving an issue unaddressed causes me to toss and turn throughout the night.

None of this compares to being the dad of a growing, running, get-into-everything, toddler. If you think life is messy, wait until you have a kid.

Last night after a particularly challenging messy few days at work I was home feeding my daughter her dinner. On the menu: pasta. I know what you’re thinking. Yes, it was messy. Dinner usually is. Sippy cups being hurled across the room, vegetables being dropped on the dog, and thoughts of “how the hell did sauce get all the way over here?” set the scene. I stand ready, armed with paper towels, eager to wipe away the first glimpse of sauce. This is our usual routine.

Thinking my 17 month old can and will understand her dad’s appreciation of order in this chaos, I grab her spoon. I attempt to feed her the pasta, so to make less of a mess. If there is one thing toddlers like more than flinging food around, it is a sense of independence. My wanting to feed her was no match for her desire to now play with the spoon. The spoon transformed into a comb, something to poke dad with, and a paint brush (to add color to her clothes). Then, like a child genius experimenting with physics, she learned how to use the spoon to launch her food in a new and fun way. Once in a while, she would attempt to use the spoon as intended, but that was short-lived. She would go right back to using this simple utensil in other fun ways. I suppose there is a lesson in that, too.

Through my obvious and visual frustration, there came a moment; a special and important one which I will never forget. As I am wiping up the floor, moving everything out of the way so it does not get covered in sauce, I look up in defeat and anguish at my daughter. Seemingly out of nowhere, she laughs. This wasn’t a giggle or a chuckle, but a full on toddler belly laugh. You probably know the kind. The kind that could put a smile on the face of anyone. After a few seconds, I join her. Eventually, the two of us sit there laughing, playing with her food, and enjoying the mess.

While this may never be something she remembers, it is one of those parenting moments I will cherish forever. This night taught me something important; to find joy in the mess. Like trying to feed a toddler, life’s messes are impossible to avoid. They happen. We don’t get to choose our messes or when and why they happen to us. What we do get to choose is how we respond to them. We can feverishly try to clean them up, frustratingly so when it doesn’t happen as quickly as we would like. Or, we could pause, take a breath, laugh, and enjoy the mess with those around us.

At the end of the day, the furniture was still its original color, the immediate sauce splash zone cleaned, and the toddler restored back to her normal skin color from the orange-red tone the sauce gave her. The mess was eventually cleaned. Unlike other messes, however, this one provided a memory because we found the joy.


Photo taken during last night’s mess. 


2 thoughts on “Finding joy in the mess

  1. Its so hard to live in the gift of each day. I wish i wouldnt have been so frustrated when my girls were little. They r 4 and 6 now and a whole host of other frustrations have taken seat. Trying to live in the now is still a daily struggle. Even tho the Nows dont end, then Thens kinda haunt me…but not in a creepy ghost way.

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