‘We are allowed to do that, are we not…invent our own endings and choose joy over sorrow?’ – The Snow Child
I’m learning to embrace dirt. To love a messy, muddy and sometimes chaotic life…
My hallway is lined with hiking boots drying out next to the radiator. Rucksacks and kit bags hang from door handles and pegs. There are muddy footprints from the front door to the shower room, and even a tiny muddy handprint on the wall. I sit on the stairs and survey the scene. It’s blowing a gale out, the sky has turned that moody shade of golden-yellow that indicates an impending downpour and makes you feel glad you are indoors. It’s been a freezing cold day and I have pulled on my dressing gown and made myself a cup of tea.
There was a time when the dirt and disorder would have irritated me, when I would never have sat on the stairs amid the mess and relaxed and enjoyed my cuppa with no sense of pressure to get up and clean it up and put everything back in its place. I would have sorted it all out, then wearily collapsed on the sofa, the bid for a joyful life then a hop, skip, dream and an eternity away. What’s changed I ask myself as I sit there sipping my hot tea? This is the life we have created together I ponder. My husband Trevor, me and our 3 boys. We’ve built this life for ourselves and we choose this mess. Today, when I look at the muddy hiking boots stuffed with newspaper to absorb some of the damp I have a flashback to stomping in puddles in the forest last weekend. The rucksack is airing too from having been rained on and I recall hot chocolate and giggles beneath the trees. The muddy footprints were trailed through the house this afternoon and the handprint on the wall, well truthfully I’ve no idea how long it’s been there! A week, a month, who knows? All I do know, is that in a month or a year, the little hand that made that print will be bigger, and so part of me is reluctant to wipe it away (maybe I’m just too comfy on the stairs). But, I’m enjoying looking at it, savouring the childhood that it represents.
Last week in work, I received a post-rugby training picture from my husband. The once white top that my boys’ team wear was completely plastered in mud. I laughed at the image and replied to my husband ‘good luck with the washing’ and was relieved to not have to be dealing with it! Not that it bothered me, it didn’t at all, I was simply certain it was going to require a great deal of elbow grease to get it looking halfway decent once more. My oldest boy is training with his team 4 days a week currently so my washing machine is on pretty much permanently. My shower base seems to always have a layer of muddy dust in the bottom of it, no matter how often I clean it, and there is always a distinct smell of feet about the house when their rugby boots are drying. It’s a pure olfactory delight in my house, especially in the Winter months when it’s wet out and kits are inevitably soaked and caked in grass and mud!
A few nights ago, I was in my room when the sound of laughter in the hallway caught my attention. I wasn’t long home from work and 2 of the boys were getting ready to go out to training. The youngest boy was turning the bathroom into a wet room as he splashed about in the bath. The noise drew me out of my room for a nosy. My middle boy, who I might add is great at accents, was telling my oldest son an apparently hilarious story putting to use his various voices and impressions. The time was 7.05pm and training starts a 7pm. There didn’t seem to be any hurry about their preparations. In fact, there was a real air of calm in the house despite the volume being cranked all the way up to 11. They chatted and laughed as they tied-up their laces and hunted for gum shields. I sat on the stairs and listened, amused by their interaction and the accents. It was really funny and although they were running late I didn’t hurry them along. They were having fun and I was enjoying watching the bonding between them. When they were finally ready to go they called their goodbyes and when they left I remained on the stairs, calmness having washed over me and wondering to myself how often I had missed moments like this because I have been too busy cleaning up and putting things in order and trying to get them out the door on time. It was only a small moment in time, easy to blink and miss it, but there was something glorious about it that drew me in and spoke to me about what life is truly all about. You know that quiet whisper you sometimes hear right in your soul? When the planets align and you know you are in exactly the spot you are meant to be in? When the still voice soothingly says: ‘This is it. This is what truly matters. These small, spontaneous moments of joy. They’re IT’. My youngest called to me from the bath, wakening me from my reverie, and wanting me to come and see his impression of a dolphin. I laughed, took a deep breath and braced myself for a soaking.
As I mentioned, I’m learning to embrace this messy life we lead. It is indeed perfect imperfection and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Admittedly, there are times when I would love to have a home like those gleaming pictures you see on Instagram. I mean how do people really live like that? I’d settle for a mopped floor and all the dishes and laundry done if I’m perfectly honest! But, that’s not my reality. We choose to be an active, outdoors family, it being the one thing that brings us all together and enables us to enjoy true quality time together. We love nothing more than getting out to explore and be wild, and with that comes dirty clothes to be washed and mucky boots to be scrubbed. My kids love their rugby, and with that comes more mud and laundry! They play football and hockey after school and so more of the same! I had to make a decision somewhere along to line to develop a sense of humour about it all and not allow the constant trail of dirt coming through my front door to steal my joy. How easy it is to become that Mum that yells ‘shoes off!’ before her child even comes through the door. I now choose ‘hey, how was your match?’ before reminding them where the shower is. It’s so easy to become weighed down by the mundane chores that accompany family life that we begin to lose perspective.
Some day, my boys will be all grown up, off living their own independent lives and hopefully continuing to pursue adventure. My washing machine will be silent. My floors will sparkle. My windows will be handprint free. But, for now, those things are my life and I’m glad of the visual reminders that it’s a good life we have. And so, instead of moaning about it, or running around trying to keep on top of it all, all the time, sometimes I have to just let it go.
I have to choose to be present, to be really alive in the here and now. This is the only moment I have. The past has gone. The future is unknown. But I have now. So, I choose gratitude. I choose to be grateful for the mess and mayhem that accompanies my days. For these days are not forever, time is hurtling by, and I know someday I will look back and miss these days oh so much. Yes, at times it’s all a bit overwhelming and I have to grit my teeth and try not to pull my hair out as I feel grit underfoot despite having mopped just this morning. And when I feel my temper rise, or annoyance flare-up, I remind myself that the muddy handprints and footprints dotted around our home are symbols of our life together, of our hobbies and adventures. That puts everything back into focus and I remember what I am living for. It’s at times a total mess and I don’t even know where to begin, but it’s our mess and it speaks to my heart of our fleeting time together and all is well once more.
Last week one evening, I told the 3 boys I was tired and that there was flour, eggs, milk and butter in the kitchen if they fancied making pancakes for tea. They jumped at the opportunity, searched online for a recipe and excitedly traipsed off to the kitchen. They broke the eggs, stirred in the flour and made their batter without a hint of an argument. That in itself was miraculous to me sitting in the other room, trying not to intervene. The oldest boy lit the flame on the gas hob and they took turns to cook each other a pancake. Nice! When I went in for a quick nosey, my oldest boy was getting ready to flip his pancake. He looked at me, ‘Go for it,’ I said. He flipped the pancake successfully and gave it to his brother once cooked through. Naturally, following his achievement he wanted to do it again, so in went the pancake mix and a minute later he tried to flip it. This time, not so lucky, it hadn’t set enough and ended up all over the hob, the floor and my trousers. He was a little embarrassed, but had learned that it’s important to make sure the pancake is not still liquid when you flip it! We ate the pancakes and chatted and then cleaned up. It took an age to scrape the pancake off the cooker and to wash up. It had been so worth it though. Left to their own devices, they had become a team of chefs working together and their pancakes turned out pretty tasty I have to say. Better than the ones you buy in the shop according to the 7-year old! A little bit of mess is not the end of the world it seems!
The quote at the beginning of this blog post really jumped out at me recently while reading the stunning book, ‘The Snow Child’ by Eowyn Ivey. How true those words are. How lucky, to be in a position to be able to choose my story, to pick the life I want with intention. I consider that a huge privilege. To wake each day and be able to choose joy over sorrow. To choose not to sweat the small stuff. To overlook the dirt and the overflowing laundry basket. So many people around the world don’t have that same choice and I for one do not want to take it for granted that I have the opportunity to choose joy today. That no matter what happens to cause me stress or no matter how trashed my house is right now, I can still choose joy in the midst of it all. For that reason, I am proud to say I live in ‘la maison du mud’ – I’ve no idea why it has a French title when I live in Northern Ireland, I guess it’s all part of finding the humour in the madness that is family life. As I say, I am proud to live in the ‘house of mud’, to have a hall full of hiking boots, flasks on the benches and an endless assortment of filthy garments to wash. You know why? Because, for me and my family, it is evidence that we are living a life doing the things we love. We are embracing life, gripping it in our hands and squeezing every drop right out of it, on our adventures and in our pursuits. We are writing our story and choosing our joy with intention, it just so happens that it gets a little bit messy along the way!