Tag Archives: perfectionism

Notes from the Messy Middle

Once a month, my Mama Friend takes my kids for the whole, long day. (I reciprocate a week later or earlier by taking hers. It’s this thing we do, and it’s awesome.)

From behind the steering wheel first thing in the morning, seven whole hours to myself seems like an eternity of possibility. I see the day stretching wide before me, and I am limitless in it. I can check off every last thing on that way-too-long-to-do list if only I just focus.

Usually I spend Addie Day holed up in Panera, writing and consuming a steady stream of coffee and bagels. But yesterday, I decided to tackle The Basement Room.

If you’ve been following this blog for any length, you might remember The Basement Room from the end of November (when I vowed to let it go and have an imperfect Christmas.)

The Basement Room has been through a lot in the five years we’ve lived in this house. It started off as Man Cave, full of movie posters and the swords we brought home from China.

Then, when Andrew started working from home, it transitioned to accommodate both his office and my sewing/craft miscellanea. (For a person who’s not all that crafty, I have a surprising amount of craft supplies, and anytime I do any sort of sewing project, my side of the room explodes with it.)

Now The Basement Room is in transition to becoming our guest room, and I’m trying to prune back the unnecessary craft supplies and just keep the essentials. And, just to make things a little extra wacky, I’m also cleaning out our storage space at the same time, which means there are half-full Rubbermaids everywhere.

Here’s a reminder in case you’ve forgotten just how bad it is:

super messy basement

At home on Addie Day, the house buzzes with a strange, kid-free silence. I sit on the floor in The Basement Room, surrounded by the debris of our life. My Diet Coke is somewhere nearby, and Season 2 of Veronica Mars is playing on my computer, and it’s long, slow work, this purging. It surprises me when I find my phone underneath a pile of scrapbook paper and see that it’s already 1:30 in the afternoon.

Watch enough sappy episodes of Extreme Home Makeover and you’ll begin to believe that a house can actually be ripped down and built back up in a week. Look at enough Before and Afters held side-by-side on Pinterest, and you’ll forget about this eternity of in-between. The tutorials promise ten easy steps to give your bedroom a facelift in a weekend, and it sounds entirely possible.

And it’s not just in the home improvement realm. Everywhere, we’re cutting out the middle. We cheer on contestants in one-hour increments as they drop pounds in drastic numbers week-to-week. We keep just enough of the hard work of weight loss to make a good story…and then we edit the rest out.

We tell the three-minute versions of our faith and cut out the messy uncertainties, the lingering doubts, the long, quiet Middles.

But I’m sitting in a pile of papers and books and photos and files, and here’s the unsexy truth of it: creating space takes time.

messy middle with quote

The mess gets worse. And then better. And then WAY WORSE. And then it circles around again. These questions, What should I keep? And What can I live without? These are big questions in some ways. They are questions that take time.

I am going through my kids’ art projects and my old writing notebooks. I am piling up fabric scraps, trying to figure out if I’ll ever use them again. I am folding up squares of tissue paper for future gifts and testing out loose pens to see if they still write.

For most of the day, all I’m really doing is moving piles around the room. All the time, the stacks are getting smaller and more manageable, but it sure doesn’t look like it.

At four o’clock when I grab the keys and head into the winter cold to get the kids, The Basement Room still looks so much like it did when I started this morning. You can only see the improvement if you look hard and deep, look all the way in.

And it’s a hard lesson for this overachiever, this perfectionist, this project-finisher: to let go of the golden myth of before and after. The middle stretches long and exhausting and tedious, and this is where you do the good, real work of life.

This is where you let go and hold close, and this is where you make space within yourself. And to stand here in this middle-mess and not give up: this is faith.

You close the door and leave for today. You’ll come back to it tomorrow. Move some piles around. Throw a few things away. Keep on working until it’s done.

Advent (1)

Advent: The season leading up to Christmas, beginning the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day.

The candles sit unlit on the kitchen table, even though it is already the second week of Advent. I had imagined that we’d light them, like last year, week-by-week at dinner, eat in the glow of all that tradition.

But dinner these days goes like this: the two-year-old is out of his mind, strung out on the excess of emotion; the baby is exhausted. Both are wanting to be held at the exact moment that the pasta is bubbling over and the spaghetti sauce is sputtering big red dollops all over the stovetop.

We can’t even remember which candle coincides with which week. Is the first week Hope? Or Peace? Which one is Joy? I mean to figure all this out and label the candles, but the dog is up on the table, the garlic bread down his throat before anyone can stop him.

I made a good start at the shopping before Thanksgiving even came around. I planned to have it done before the season even started. I planned Occupy Advent in my own soft way, out of the harsh fluorescent lights of the big box stores, next to the lit tree with my blankets and my books.

But the baby is screaming now: a tooth is coming, slowly, painfully. The early Christmas shopping is abandoned; the quiet moment retreats. My Twitter feed is buzzing with all this talk of contemplation and silence and Advent.

The laundry is half-done, half lying-at-the-bottom of the stairs. There are unanswered emails and uncleaned floors, and, besides all that, there is this irrational desire to make brownies that look like Santa hats and pancakes that look like snowmen and a homemade manger set for Dane.

He is 2 ½ now, and this is the year that he comes to a flickering awareness of Christmas. I am feeling the pressure to make it memorable, to start new traditions, to fill the snowglobe of our December with so much swirling magic.

I want him to have Rudolph and the Grinch and his first cup of cocoa from a mug. I want his reflection in the minivan window, mouth open in awe as he looks at the lights. I want the month to ring with the sound of jingle bells and carols, to smell like cinnamon, to taste like snow, fresh off his mitten.

But also, I want to give him Jesus, asleep in the straw. The songs of angels. The quiet moment that changed everything. I want him to know that at the deep soul of the season is the quiet, unremarkable night when Light broke into the world.

I sing to him, “Away in the Manger.” I sing “Silent Night.” He sings along politely, then says, “How bout Jingle Bells?”

But when we pray, he thanks Jesus for his best friend, Axel, and for his trains and for fruit snacks, and then he says, “Thank you for Baby God.” And it is hope and joy and peace, all the candles lit at once: a brief, bright moment of Love shining into the loud, wild moments of Advent.

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