~ awake in this moment, at home in the world ~

Creative Chaos

September 1, 2008
I regretted the offer the second the words left my lips.

“Maybe August should be 'Life is Messy, Let it Be' month,” I had said, and my four-year-old had instantly responded with a huge roar of affirmation. Quickly I tried to rescind the offer with a suggestion of 'Life is Messy, Clean it Up,' but my four-year old was relentless in his enthusiasm.

“We can leave our new paints out all month, and I won’t have to put my super highway away, or my fire trucks or my blocks. And maybe we can set up the Christmas train, too.”

We had just finished a season of "No Hurries, No Worries," relaxing into the peak of summer while singing “Slow down, you move too fast,” along with Simon and Garfunkel. During that time, my son's favorite chant had become, “It’s no hurries, no worries and we’ve got all the time in the world.” We so enjoyed the reminder to live slowly and to live well, it only seemed appropriate to theme-up August as well.

So here I sit, amid the chaos of a lively house. Indeed, the art supplies are spread throughout the kitchen. As predicted, we have trains in two different rooms. We have books spilling from shelves and little balls in odd corners throughout the house. And vehicles - oh the vehicles! - they seem to have multiplied like bunnies and have found parking spaces beneath steps, behind couches, under tables and even in the dark corners of the bathroom.

For the four-year old, this has been heaven. For the mother, this has not been particularly easy. I grew up in a house where the back porch was routinely vacuumed and where a half-filled glass of juice was whisked into the dishwasher before you could say, “Where’s my...?” These neat-freak tendencies die hard, and now I have trouble relaxing until the dirty clothes are in the laundry, the dishwasher is empty and the toys are off the floor.

And that means that with two young children, I spend a lot of time cleaning up. Some days I feel like I’m clinging very tightly to this ship of cleanliness. Some days I feel imprisoned by my desperate, white-knuckled attempt to hold everything together.

As challenging as it has been, I have learned quite a bit from our “Life is Messy, Let it Be” month. Our theme song has been “Let it Be” from my son’s new favorite band, which he swears is called the Buddhles. (You know, Ringo, John, Paul and, uh, the Buddha.) Life with a little dirt between its toes is wilder, juicier and a little more relaxed, once you surrender to it. There’s a difference between order and organization, I’ve learned. And a close kinship between chaos and creativity.

It turns out that toys and tools left out in plain sight are used more often. Our inner artists bloomed this month, as our huge crate of art supplies found a new home at the kitchen table. Art projects accompanied almost every meal, and we now have a stack of beautiful and intricate drawings of trains, fire trucks, circles, swirls and towers to show for it.

I also discovered that a yoga mat left out in the bedroom, in a spot so obvious you’ll trip over it to answer the phone, is an open invitation to slip a few more downward dogs and upward bows into the day.

Just a little messiness, we discovered, opens the door to remarkable creativity and ingenuity. Different species of toys (legos and fire trucks, stuffed animals and scotch tape) were cross-pollinated this month into all kinds of new creations. Everything and everyone seemed to breathe a sigh of relief to be let loose, to be freed from the bonds of undue order.

My older son took up drumming and transformed everything from salad bowls to garbage baskets into percussion instruments. Baby brother learned the joys of shredding toilet paper, not to mention accompanying his brother in the banging department. And I somehow managed to pick up my knitting needles for the first time in a year.

As with just about everything else in life, we also learned that the middle path is usually the right path. When we reached the point where we could no longer tiptoe from the door of my son’s room to his dresser, where we could no longer locate the train whistle or the tiger stamps or the sun glasses, I decided we had strayed beyond the bounds of healthy disorder into spirit-draining squalor. The mess that initially liberated our spirits began to weigh us down.

That’s when we started cleaning up, just a bit. The Buddhists like to counsel, “Not too tight, not too loose,” and toward the end of the month we managed to bob and wobble our way to some relaxed but manageable middle ground of contained messiness.

The laundry gets done, the dishes are put away, the bills get paid. But the playroom? I’ve surrendered to its chaos indefinitely. And that’s just fine with my boys.

August has ended but I have committed to injecting a little more creative chaos into our lives and to letting my little boys out of the cage of grown-up orderliness a little more often. I think our cheeks will be a little pinker for it.

I predict that our creative spirits will continue to soar in new and interesting ways. And maybe with all that time I’m not spending cleaning up, I’ll just sit down in the midst of our chaos and play.