Making room for messiness

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For the past two weeks we’ve been in the middle of our semi-annual domestic meltdown. Meltdown features include:

  • emergency school visits necessitating precipitous departures from work
  • implementation of new household rules precipitating epically draining tantrums
  • academic and medical appointments requiring multiple (often sudden) scheduling changes.

As messy, exhausting and difficult as these periods are, what really strikes me is how much kindness and generosity comes along with them. I often think we live in a world where there’s not a lot of room for both work and family, or where family (and personal life generally) can only be accommodated if it fits within the tightly bounded box labeled “personal”. In our effort to keep our personal lives from spilling over the edges of that box, we downplay our personal challenges or try to keep them private.

But when the shit hits the fan — when it’s really not possible to keep the mess inside the space it’s not allocated — we have an opportunity to see how much mess the world is prepared to accommodate. I’ve been humbled to discover that it’s more than I ever would have expected: friends and colleagues, schools and medical professionals have all shown up — or made room — with great generosity.

I’m lucky enough to have a job, a life and a level of social and economic privilege that accommodates a lot more messiness than I thought was allowed. Along with my gratitude for that privilege comes an awareness of all the parents and kids who don’t have it: the folks who’d lose their jobs if they left work for a school emergency, or who don’t have the resources to get that urgent assessment from a skilled clinician.


To everyone who’s accommodated our messiness in the past two weeks: thank you. And to everyone who tries to keep their messiness contained, because you’re afraid of how the world will respond — think carefully about whether letting a little of that mess hang out might help enlarge the space for us all to live our real, full, and sometimes messy lives.

2 Comments on this site

  1. Becky Castle Miller

    That’s really helpful. Thanks. My husband and I have both been concerned about letting too much family stuff affect our personal lives, so it’s a good reminder that people are probably more accepting and generous than we expect.

  2. DiegoN

    This inspired a deep reflection about gratitude. We tend to take some things for granted and we feel uncomfortable when the messiness of life hits the fan. But its also a great time (like for me now) to take a moment to think about it…. there’s so much and so many people to thank for behind that mess! So I say thank you! I am grateful I have so much love and support

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