Happy Messiness

It happened right after dinner.

As usual, the Bear was working her way through what was left on her plate while MJ and I had finished eating 20 minutes earlier. I was keeping the Bear company and playing the role of the ‘one-more-bite-please’ coach.

MJ was running a bath for the girls. He had Banana on the couch – naked and ready for the tub – making her squeal as he did zerberts on her pudgy tummy.

The Bear, anxious to join in the fun, stuffed her last bite of salad into her mouth and ran over to her Dad. With a deep breath, she dove at Banana’s tummy. With a satisfying ppppuuuuurrrrrbbbbbb, she gave a world-class zerbert on her little sister’s round stomach. As she lifted her head, we all realized that she had launched into play a little too soon. Banana’s belly gleamed with a disgusting mix of lettuce, cucumbers, tomato, ranch dressing and saliva.

Banana was oblivious to the mess dripping into her belly button and gave one of her high-pitched screams of delight. The Bear looked up at us in horror, waiting for our reaction. And MJ and I? Well, we had to laugh. Good thing it was bath time.

One of my favourite Idle Parenting rules is: happy mess is better than miserable tidiness. MJ and I may not be the best housekeepers, but we do like to keep things organized and neat. Having children inevitably loosens anyone’s standards. But it is sometimes so difficult to tolerate the constant mess.

MJ gets particularly frustrated. He has spent many an evening coaxing the Bear into putting her crayons back in the box, getting the books back on the shelf and the dress-up clothes back in the chest. He murmurs, ‘everything in its place, and a place for everything’ under his breath. And I, too, have my limits when I think I’ve straightened up a room only to turn around and have it look like I have done nothing to it.

But, together, we’re trying to recite the ‘happy mess’ rule as a bit of a mantra. I’ve stopped wrestling the Bear off the bed as I try to make it – giving in to a creased duvet with obvious indentations where a four-year-old has been jumping. MJ has stopped attempting to tidy the Bear’s room as much. And the Bear is remembering to put her clothes back into her dresser while we force ourselves to ignore the fact that the items are ‘folded’ ball-style.

I try to remember that when we’re up-tight about tidiness, it sends the message that the house is not really for playing. It’s striking that balance between our desire for a tidy home and a home where play is encouraged. But ultimately, it’s letting go of the little things. I am getting better at shrugging and thinking to myself, “does it really matter?”

Which is exactly what MJ and I thought when we saw the semi-masticated gunk sliding down Banana’s pink belly. What can you do but laugh?

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3 Responses to “Happy Messiness”


  1. 1 Mama Tortoise April 19, 2010 at 3:38 am

    Thanks for the comments, Pam! Oh, I agree with you about this lifestyle – you don’t have to have kids to try and live lightly. Also, the guy that wrote Idle Parenting has other books too – you might be interested in ‘How to be Idle’!

  2. 2 Pamella April 12, 2010 at 11:34 am

    OMG! Fantastic article! That Claire I tell ya! You know when I read your stories and lessons about parenting I too learn a lot about how to live my days one day at a time WITHOUT children. Although Sameh and I don’t have children I think the idea of idle parenting can still apply. I often find myself telling Sameh to relax, breathe, and look at the big picture, and he tells me the same. So whether we have children or not, I think there is a lot to learn from this style of parenting. How about idle living ;)Sure we all have things that we need to tend to like bills, mortgages, future decisions, etc., but sometimes we let those things BECOME our life rather than realizing that they are just a small part of living.

    Peace out

    P 😉


  1. 1 Miserable Tidiness Vs. Happy Messiness « Tortoise on the Loose Trackback on May 10, 2011 at 11:29 am

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