This lesson from last year came back to me in a fresh, profound, unexpected way. Maybe I’ll get to share more details later, but for now, this: …

I stood tall at the door, arms folded, that familiar wave of overwhelm sweeping my mind into hopeless thoughts. Sure, it was just a bedroom. Kids have messy rooms, I get it. But this. This particular kid’s quirkiness translates into chaos on another level altogether.

The intense emotional attachment to objects translates into keeping everything–wrappers, scraps of paper, tags off clothes. The passion for creating inventions out of boxes translates into cardboard contraptions cluttering every corner, wires attached, duct-tape holding them together. A fascination with science translates to a half-dozen bottles, various experiments, growing salt crystals and green things and jars teetering on the edge of the table. The voracious appetite for reading translates to towers of encyclopedias, right at arm’s reach beside the bed, covers torn with frequent use, dog-eared pages. The love of Legos translates to countless “creations” that cannot be stowed in bins, must be left out on every available surface. The typewriter, his new love where clicks out stories, means strewn papers with half-written plots. The fascination with flags and signs (?!) translates to another dozen or so papers taped to sticks, papers taped on the wall, door, papers taped everywhere.

Every time I address it, I can feel my blood pressure rising, anticipating the battle: he gets defensive, upset, I get harder, firmer, harsher.

Hence, the overwhelm. Maybe, you’d say, it doesn’t matter. Who cares if he has a messy room? But our responsibility as parents is to prepare our children for life. This doesn’t just fix itself. With all my heart I want to give him the tools to thrive, and that includes an orderly space. The ability to tidy. Not perfect. Not spotless. I don’t mind boxes or Legos or weird taped papers on the wall. But this was out of control.

So I stand at the door. Point. Bark. I bend to move a box, but fail to recognize its function, breaking off some antennae-ish thing and bringing him to tears.


Those weird irrational thoughts begin formulating in my mind, those ones we moms have in desperate moments. I could take everything away and make him earn it all back one item at a time. I could make him sleep in the hallway, on the floor. He could lose access to his room. Would that be severe enough?

It’s dinnertime and we all need a break, so we head downstairs. Earlier, he had said this was the best day ever. We’d been outside all day in the cold sunshine, we’d adventured and explored and played baseball with our housemates. It was one of those glorious childhood days.

But now he hung his head, discouraged, eyes red with tears. I picked him up into my arms,

“Ok, babe, we had the best day until 4:30. Then we had a struggle. Let’s return to joy, ok? We’ll figure out your room. Don’t worry. I love you.”

He managed a smile and nestled his face into my neck.

We ate dinner and cleaned up.

“What should we do for family night?” I asked.

Dutch, as if suddenly remembering something, lit up:

“Oh mommy! I haven’t gotten to show you Hobbes’s room! Can you come see?!”

Hobbes (and Max) are his best friends, two well-worn stuffed animals who never leave his side.  I can’t turn down that light in his eyes, so I let him take my hand and lead me up the creaky stairs.

We come to his room and before the birds-eye view can overwhelm me, I lower down, with him onto the floor. I look past the scraps of paper, to where he’s curled up next to an upside down detergent box. It’s white with A-L-L spelled out bright, a low, wide opening in the front.

“Oh, neat, hon!” I smile.

“No mommy, look inside.”

I have to lie down all the way to be low enough to see.

But I do.

I peer inside. Oh!

Oh, he’s right! There is unbelievable detail, a place for Hobbes and Max to hang their stockings (!), a large piece of artwork on the wall, (“It’s a real Van Gogh, Mommy!”), a picturesque window, even a cut-out piece of flannel on the floor (“It’s carpet!”). It was a stuffed animals’ dream-home, to be sure.

He had poured his heart, his time, into creating a special room for his favorite friends.

We were both lying there on the ground, his face was right next to mind, peering inside. I turned and kissed his cool cheek, looking into his lit-up eyes.

Of course. Why hadn’t I seen it before?

I have to get low enough to see inside.

From the top, it’s trash. All I can see is cardboard-box chaos. I see garbage, mess.

I look down and see a lack of care.

Could it be that when he looks up at me he sees the same?

Not saying that solves everything, but getting on the floor is empathy-in-action and at least it’s good place to begin.

When we look inside cardboard boxes we see inside hearts.

{Praying we get low enough to see inside. Thank you for reading. }

  • Ashley

    I love this! My son is the exact same way. I look at this room and I see trash… I see things I’d hoped to never see again constantly plucked out of the recycling bin… but when I actually pause to ask him about his creations, the care and detail he puts into them and his enthusiasm about them brings me back to what is really important. Thank you.

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