general parenting

A Beautiful Mess

The first major conflict between Kevin and I happened about a week before our wedding. For months, we had been collecting furniture and decor and packing up our belongings, and the time had finally come to bring it all together in our tiny new apartment. I had anticipated the day with giddiness. Long had I envisioned where every chair, picture frame, and lamp would go to make the 300 square foot space a home. I longed, too, for the romantic harmony of almost-lovers making their first home together.

Here’s what happened: My vision didn’t come together. Furniture was larger than I had prepared for, walls to small, outlets in inconvenient places. I could feel whimsy being replaced by surprise, then anxiety, then despair. At one point, Kevin informed with typical male objectivity, “That chair won’t fit there. Let’s try it against this wall.” As he bent down to push it to the opposite side of the room, I replied, with Gollum-like insanity, “No.”

Kevin stood up. “What do you mean, ‘No’?”

I shook my head. “No. It doesn’t feel right.”

“Well, what if we tried it…”


I could see his jaw tighten, his angular face began to sharpen. Never before had I offered my opinion in such an uncompromising (he would later call it irrational) way. “Then what do you suggest I do?” he said, his voice sharpening, too.

And that, my friends, was the basis for our first ugly fight. What started as an eagerly awaited relational milestone ended in a milestone of a different kind.

A few months later, my ninth grade students were taking a values assessment in class. The point was to determine what motivated them in life: money, family, success, a moral compass, education, relationships, religion, care for the environment, etc. I thought, what the heck, I’ll take it, too. Do you know what came up number one for me?

Beauty. Not family or morality, not relationships or religion. Beauty. I never felt so shallow in my entire life. The description said something to the effect of: “You need to be in a place that is aesthetically pleasing to feel at peace” and went onto say that I would  would value the arts more than others and prioritizing making a space beautiful.

When I discussed the results with Kevin over dinner, he said with a small grin, “I guess that’s why we fought so badly when first moved into this apartment.”

Before I was a mom, I spent a lot of time beautifying our space. I would tidy up a pile of books, vacuum streaks into the carpet several days a week. I couldn’t stand the sight of piles of dishes on the counter, nor a pile of clothes on the floor. I would change decor seasonally. I would cut fresh flowers and put them around the house, light candles, dim lights, put on quiet music when company came. It wasn’t completely because I was trying to impress; it was because I liked it that way.

And then came kids.

Every pile of books I’ve tidied has been pulled onto the floor. The vacuum chokes down crumbs and bits of paper maybe once a week. For three years straight, I’ve had a breakdown on Christmas-decorating day. We pick fresh flowers together, but I somehow always forget to notice when their vibrant petals turn to spindly black stalks. Now, when company comes, my children greet them with big grins in dirty clothes, and I yell from my kitchen, complete with stacks of unclean dishes, “Sorry, my house is a wreck!”

I had to choose, as well all have to: do I prioritize house-keeping or parenting?

I remember trying to lay Levi down as a newborn. I expected him to sleep peacefully in his woodland-themed room, the room I had put together with great care. But moments after I would start washing dishes, I’d hear him cry. I’d run upstairs and pick him up, sooth him to sleep, and lay him back down, only to have it happen again. I felt anxious: what about the dishes? What about the 100 other things on my to-do list? I looked down at that little face, and I saw the most beautiful thing I’d yet to encounter. My values system didn’t entirely shift, but my perception did.

This morning, as I sit in the warm morning glow, my baby girl is asleep on my chest. I can see the sunlight dancing across the floor, illuminating the dust and crumbs. From my vantage point, I see little lopsided piles of laundry on my dining room table that is still doubling as a fort for my toddler. And beyond the dining room is the kitchen, and in that kitchen is a sink filled with unclean dishes. The dishes will always be there.

But my baby, with rose-petal lips and a perfect fan of lashes, with skin as flawless as a cloudless sky, she won’t be this small ever again.

My house is a mess, but it’s a beautiful mess. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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