I detest clutter.
In the early years of our marriage, Sarah and I got into a screaming match over whether we would hold onto some of her textbooks from college. Sarah was unwavering in her desire to keep such classics as the “Parasitic Diseases (5th edition)” or “Principles of Anatomy & Physiology (10th edition).” I, on the other hand, opined that these tomes were taking up way too much space on our bookshelf, so I yearned to rid ourselves of them. My sarcastic comments comparing these texts to Homer, Shakespeare or any other classic that has stood the test of time were ineffective; however, as I type these words, those books still sit on our shelf.
When we had kids, things got much worse. Kids come with a lot of shit, both literally and figuratively. I have tried to impose moratoria on my mom from continuing to buy things that our children not only do not need, but for which we have no room — clothes, shoes, horrible books, creepy toys that sing or talk to me, and some medieval torturing device called a “thunder gourd.”
Arguments with my mom about these things are equally as fruitless. Whereas Sarah relies on violence of action and aggressiveness to get her way, Mary Ann plays the guilt card with unabashed brilliance.
“Fine, take away one of my greatest joys as a grandmother,” she will say.
Or, when I draw arbitrary lines in the sand and refuse to bring home a pair of summer shoes she has just bought for Amelia in the month of February, she will remind me:
“You know I’ll be dead one day.”
These battles are lost and the countless hours I have fought against the buildup of clutter in my life have been largely ineffective. Yes, it’s a ridiculous, first world problem, but it still stresses me out.
Aside from sheer aesthetics, I think what bothers me so much about all this stuff is that it serves as a tangible reminder of how much of an unmitigated disaster our lives can be sometimes. It is symbolic of how much I just don’t have my shit together, and it flies in the face of a fundamental desire for simplicity.
Yes, I have lost many of these battles. And while I will continue fighting the good fight and I am far from having lost the war, I will admit that having a child with brain damage has helped me discover a few of the virtues of messiness:
I have learned that messiness, chaos and disorder are inevitable and to fight against them is, sometimes, to fight against the natural order of things. There is a also certain freedom in embracing them.
As a Marine, I learned that smiling and saying “good times” when you are freezing your ass off in the cold, wet rain in the woods or while undergoing extreme physical exertion have some sort of psychological effect that make bearing those things much easier.
As a parent of a child with brain damage, I have learned that laughing in the face of things that are profoundly unfair and ridiculous in the scope of how much they can suck helps make those things a bit more bearable. Sometimes you gotta say fuck it.
I have learned that learning itself is messy.
We said “fuck you” to developmental milestones a long time ago when it became apparent that Kohl was not doing the things that he was “supposed to be doing” as a rapidly-growing infant. But freeing ourselves from the tyranny of these milestones was only the beginning. I continue to discover how nonlinear and messy Kohl’s development has become.
I have written before about getting so hung up on the things Kohl is not doing that I sometimes miss the tiny miracles occurring right in front of my face. Sure, he may not sit up yet by himself, and maybe it’s a pain in the ass sometimes to bathe him and dress him. But he is also becoming more comfortable in his own body, more vocal and happier. He is communicating with us. Miracles are happening. I just need to learn to continue opening my eyes.
I also see this principle in action with Amelia whose development has not been hindered by brain damage. She can do things that, from what I can gather, seem advanced for her two years: spell her name, count past 20, solve complex puzzles, show amazing recall of things including, unfortunately, wildly inappropriate jokes about dicks and balls. Yet, even as she shows us how amazing her little brain is, things like pooping in the toilet continue to elude her. Instead of telling me good night, she informs me that she just farted. Instead of telling me good morning, she gives detailed descriptions of her boogers. Her learning is messy too.
And as I observe the way Kohl learns and grows despite having a massive disadvantage and juxtapose that with the way Amelia learns and grows like most kids, I just can’t help but to be awestruck. Medical science seems to be in the beginning stages of learning what an amazingly complex organ the human brain is.
And there is beauty in complexity. There is beauty in the mess.