As I wrote my unplanned blog on “The Perfect Environment,” I skimmed through my mom’s books looking for quotes, examples, or musings that might fit this theme. In her book, A Time to Play, I came across an entire chapter that fits the bill. Am I my mother’s daughter or what? Or, have we both tapped into something universal to all moms? I’ll let you be the judge.
Here’s my mom’s story, written thirty years ago, that feels like it could have been written by me (or any of us?) today. I’m including the whole chapter, because it’s just that good (and because it’s short!):
Throughout the house can be heard the stampede of approaching children. Jonathan and Kimberly halt at the kitchen doorway, take a sharp corner, then race too the “art” drawer. Together they rummage through its contents, pulling out glue, scissors, and tape, flinging them on the counter. Several items drop to the floor.
“What on earth are you doing?” I demand.
“We’re making a new mask for Jonathan. The string keeps breaking; we’re going to tape this one on.”
“Hey, someone help me move these chairs!” David shouts from the living room. “If we can get this furniture out of the way, we can use Kimberly’s room for pasture.”
I step into the doorway and view the living room. It has been totally transformed for the production of The Three Billy Goats Gruff. Furniture is backed against the walls; the piano bench has been dragged from the dining room and has been placed center stage for a bridge. Off to the side the table and record player with an orchestrated narration of the script form the orchestra pit. The very thought of extending the action into Kimberly’s room puts a hard knot in the pit of my stomach.
“David, I hope you don’t think I’m going to let you mess up Kimberly’s room, too! I’ve spent all morning cleaning the house, and I’m simply not going to let you tear the bedroom apart for pasture!”
“Mo-o-m,” David wheedles. “We’re not going to mess anything. We just need a little more room to crawl.”
Jonathan and Kimberly are now at my side ready to plead David’s case.
“As for you two,” I continue, my voice rising with increasing tension, “you have been in and out of the kitchen leaving a trail of debris everywhere you go. Look! Look at the kitchen floor.” I point to bits of paper and ends of string.
“We’re going to clean it up when we’re finished,” Kimberly begins.
“You’re going to clean it up before you do one more thing. And David, you confine the play to the living room. Kimberly’s room is out. Do you hear?” I assert.
Three faces that were animated only moments before look absolutely crestfallen. David turns to his brother and sister, “Aw, let’s just forget the play. Let’s go outside and ride bikes.”
“Yeah,” Jonathan and Kimberly respond in one accord.
Kimberly cleans up the counter while Jonathan and David replace furniture. I continue my cleaning and consider the action preceding my blow up. What began as a simple enactment of a record, gradually evolved into a full-scale production complete with stage props and costumes. Each new development has brought with it a new mess. It is as if the children follow behind me, deliberately foiling all my efforts at cleaning the house. Surely it is not asking too much to insist they keep the house tidy as they play – is it?
At last I have a quiet home. I can clean and polish to my heart’s content. But is this what I really want? I claim home should be an environment where all family members can pursue and develop their talents and interests. Is it possible without a certain amount of mess?
What about my creative endeavors? When I bake, I pull pots and pans from cupboards, spread ingredients over counter tops, pile dirty utensils in the sink to wash – later. When I make greeting cars, the scene is the same. From all over the house I gather bits of ribbon, pretty paper, scraps of fabric. Do scraps ever fall to the floor when I work? Writing is no different. When the muses sing, I surround myself with paper, freshly sharpened pencils, notes, and books relevant to my topic. Completed sheets of writing are stacked on the bed; rejected sheets are recklessly thrown over my shoulder. When inspiration strikes, clutter invariably follows in the wake of action! Along with freedom of expression must be the freedom (for parents and children) to make a mess.
Which is more important: a spotless house or a place where people can work and play? There are times when a clean house might take priority, but today should not have been one of those times. Absorbed in the immediacy of my labors, I permitted a perfectly ordered home to become all important. Anything or anyone that stood between me and that goal became an insufferable interference. How quickly values can be turned upside down! How ironic was my attempt to create a clean house while I polluted the atmosphere with my spirit!
Immaculate rooms are lovely to view. They can be seen at museums, behind velvet ropes and printed warnings: “Please do not touch.” A home fit for a child may not be a showplace, but it is a place where one can enter and touch and make a mess!
What is honored in the home/Will be cultivated there. ~ Plato (paraphrased by Abram Chasins)