How to make peace with your kids’ mess

kids scissors mess

I was tidying up the main floor of the house the other day and noticed that it wasn’t that bad!

Sure, there were toys left out, stray socks shoved behind couch cushions and assorted piles of books, papers and ball caps strewn about, but it was a relatively painless tidy. I made a quick sweep of the space and tucked everything away into it’s proper place in under half an hour.

Then I felt a deep and powerful sense of calm come over me. It was like I had reached the end of a long, spiritual journey usually reserved for monks and gurus. I don’t know what nirvana is like, but I couldn’t imagine it was better than this.

For eleven years I’ve been taking care of babies, toddler, preschoolers and kindie kids while working from home. That’s eleven years of toy bins emptied out, snacks spilled onto the floor, board game pieces scattered across three floors, elaborate games and crafts, and countless other messes before we even get into bodily fluids.

Most recently, my five-year-old has been on a years-long avid scissors kick, cutting out snippets of paper, pictures from colouring books, magazines, flyers, and drawing her own creations just so she could cut them out. On the one hand I encouraged this because it kept her productively occupied for hours on end. On the other, it made for a constant and chronic epic mess of snippets, papers, wrappers and all imaginable art supplies.

But then she stopped.

*blink*

I realized she seemed to be over it. She was doing other things now: drawing, building, playing with toys and watching her brother play video games (at least it’s tidy!). It had been days (maybe weeks) since I’d swept up paper snippets. And the older kids didn’t make the same messes that they used to either. (Or they made them in their own rooms at least.) I could suddenly keep up with the daily disorder! There was still clutter (c’mon) but it was manageable.

So I may have gotten carried away. I may have started imagining how I would be able to tackle the drawers and corners of the main floor. I would go on a prolonged and intensive purge—an hour a day!—and reclaim the playroom and the basement storage/junk room as well. I’d reorganize my office! And repaint the kids rooms! And build a new addition … okay, maybe not that.

I was so caught up in my new sense of impending order that I didn’t see the signs at first.

“Mommy, it’s baby turtle’s birfday and there’s going to be a big party. You’re invited!”

“That’s nice, sweetie,” I said as I started to prep for dinner.

I didn’t notice, then, how quiet she’d become. I stepped over lines upon lines of stuffed animals without barely noticing them. It didn’t register when her big sister brought out the paper supplies.

The turtle’s party was all set to happen just as dinner was ready. So I made the kids eat first and that’s when I realized her plan. We were all to hide from the little plastic turtle and then jump out all at the same time. We’d all yell, “Surprise!” and then my five-year-old would …

… She would throw up all the confetti she’d been painstakingly cutting out for the past several hours.

Confetti.

The grand climax to her hours-in-the-making party planning.

So I clenched my fist and willed myself a small taste of that zen-like serenity I’d known just earlier that day.

I hid behind a doorway and then 1, 2, 3! SURPRISE! And she threw the confetti up in the air, running back and forth, covering floors and furniture alike. Then we all sat down to eat the slices of birthday cake she’d cut out of construction paper. I pretended to eat mine, breaking out my best mouth-smacking, fake eating sounds.

“No, Mommy. This is how you eat it.”

She picked up a pair of scissors and proceeded to snip the cake slice up into a million little pieces while she ate. Then she handed me the scissors and I did the same. Because now I know that there is an end in sight, and maybe we don’t have to rush toward it quite so fast.