Messy and proud of it

Being able to accept life's clutter and going with the flow has allowed me and my children to enjoy the here and now

I was, as a child, "astoundingly messy" - a description my parents used for me.

Messiness was not my way of rebelling. Untidiness barely registers in my mind. When it does, it is usually because someone has pointed it out.

Needless to say, this trait has led to a few confrontations, mostly with my parents, who spent a large part of my childhood vacillating between bewilderment and exasperation.

I remember my father gesturing to a pair of jeans I had shed on my bedroom floor. He remarked, in disbelief, that it looked like I had just walked out of them. I nodded, puzzled. I had, of course.

Arguments to have me make my bed proved unconvincing. I just couldn't see the logic of it. Why make a bed in the morning when it was going to get messed up again at night?

Occasionally, they threw their hands up: "When you have your own kids, then you will understand."

If I had to have things spotless, it would mean not letting my kids in the garden or that I would have to wipe them down each time they entered the house. Oh, the stress of it all, and the missed opportunities for them.

Indeed, this trait of mine has resurfaced in my own parenting journey.

When I was pregnant with my first child, a friend chided me - as I rummaged through my bag looking for my mobile phone, eventually emptying its contents, including biscuit crumbs and a leaky pen, onto the table.

"You are so messy, how are you going to be a mother like that?" he blurted out.

I brushed off the comment with a laugh, but the statement stuck in my mind.

At home, I mulled it over. Did I really have what it takes to look after a tiny, helpless human being?

If I couldn't even clean out my bag, could I shoulder the responsibilities and rigours of parenting - the night-time diaper changes, the daily baths and the countless transitions, from eating solids to potty training to the first day of school? Or had I mistaken being orderly with being responsible?

When motherhood arrived, I felt overwhelmed, like many new mothers do. But my messiness was not one of the issues.

In fact, surprisingly, the trait has been more a boon than a bane in my mothering journey.

Like me, parenting is downright disorderly.

My two children, aged 18 months and three years, prefer to eat by themselves, which my husband and I encourage. This means that meal times are chaotic affairs.

Strands of noodles get into their hair, sauce dribbles down their chins and necks, and food morsels form a ring on the floor outlining where they're seated - much like a circle of debris after an explosion.

My younger child sometimes picks off food from the detritus and shoves it into his mouth with abandon.

We call my older child "the bird nest" because she refuses to brush her hair, a decision we let her make. Her Lego brick creations are scattered around the house - on the dining table, inside the wardrobe and atop our bedside table. We've been asked not to move them as they have been placed, logically, out of reach of No. 2.

My younger child likes to play in the flower bed, grabbing fistfuls of soil, then toddling into the house to hand them to us as "presents". I figure that his generosity is more important than his orderliness.

We also have a dog, so our home is pretty much a disaster zone.

But you know what? None of this bothers me, not one bit. I am so thankful for that.

Don't get me wrong. My children and I eat in the garden most days so that the clean-up isn't such a chore and I sometimes wonder what people think of my unkempt daughter.

Other than my one rule of no drinking on the bed, everything else - that is safe and doesn't hurt anyone - is pretty much above board.

The messiness of parenting extends beyond the physical.

Parenthood muddles up everything, from one's daily schedule to iron-clad belief systems.

You attempt to figure out why your child breastfeeds every hour. Is it tongue-tie, cluster feeding, a growth spurt, low supply, suckling for comfort? You do a cause-and-effect analysis in an attempt to find out what's wrong. But really, you can't, not with absolute certainty.

I found that being able to accept clutter also meant that I dealt with uncertainty as well.

I feel that I have the mental flexibility to go with the flow, to accept that some things just happen and cannot be understood.

And the truth of the matter is: If I had to have things spotless, it would mean not letting my kids in the garden or that I would have to wipe them down each time they entered the house. Oh, the stress of it all, and the missed opportunities for them.

Upturned schedules would also lead to mental anguish and a flaring of tempers when things inevitably go awry.

More importantly, not fretting about the little things means that I am able to enjoy the here and now.

I am grateful that my mind does not linger on my daughter's ruined dress as she sinks her hands into a pot of paint and spreads it over her arms like suntan lotion. I am grateful that, instead, she makes me her face-painting guinea pig and we laugh about it.

Yes, I am messy and proud of it.

After all, life is messy. And messy can be a great deal of fun.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 13, 2017, with the headline 'Messy and proud of it'. Print Edition | Subscribe