I saw her press her lips together, puff out her cheeks, and I knew the tears would follow. And, I couldn’t stop.
I have white furniture and four children. Two of them are forever, two are for now, and of those two are hovering at two years old. As a foster mother, I have learned to embrace the mess. But, not when it comes to my white furniture.
That day, I spent three hours making friends at the laundromat digging in the seat of my car for the ridiculous number of quarters needed for each wash cycle, and learning the importance of hovering over the rolling carts to transition soaking wet sofa covers into the dryers.
I’m tired and washing everything at once seemed like the most effective plan. It would save hours of laundry at home at the expense of navigating the laundromat for the first time since college.
I had to come home with everything damp, because I ran out of quarters, and began the dance of the slipcovered sofa. The joy of white covers is the ability to bleach them. The curse is getting them back on the frame and maintaining your composure. It involves pulling, and grunting, and maybe even a curse word or two. I’d had about all the fun I could stand for one day.
And then it happened. I saw red ink on the freshly laundered slipcover. Freshly laundered white slipcover, still damp from my lack of experience at the laundromat.
My foster daughter had been drawing with markers at the kitchen table, and I immediately turned to her. I asked if she knew about the mark. The red mark that was not there just moments ago.
Appalled, in all of her 8-year-old glory, she insisted she hadn’t left the table and it wasn’t humanly possible for her to get red ink on the sofa. The freshly washed, white sofa still damp from my lack of experience and coins causing the red ink to spread.
I stood there wondering, feeling all convicted for assuming it was her, and feeling like maybe it was someone else. I had no idea how it was possible, but maybe… I was contemplating my own sanity, and then I saw it.
Her shirt was soaking wet from where she was trying to wash away the red ink. And her hands, red. I had caught her red-handed. Literally.
As if in slow motion, from somewhere deep inside, I saw my mother’s finger raise up between us. And then the words.
“You lied to me. You lied. This isn’t about the ink, or the sofa, but about the power of your words. You lied to me.” I stood hunched over, leaning toward her with my finger pointing between us. I was calm but stern. I was clearly upset and highly disappointed.
And as I spoke, I saw her press her lips together, puff out her cheeks, and I knew the tears would follow.
And, I couldn’t stop my words as they spilled out between us. More red. This time, it was my doing. As the words spilled out something inside me shifted. I knew I was causing more harm than good. She knew she was wrong. She was trying to wash away the evidence. Shaming her would not clean my sofa, build our relationship, or help her feel safe enough to be honest when everything in her says not to.
I walked away. I didn’t know exactly what to do. But I knew that my words, posture, and wagging finger were not the answer.
This moment was bigger than the truth, it was a myriad of frustration including quarters, and tired, and coveted rolling baskets.
It was also the birth of the Mess Method. I knew that my frustration wasn’t about her, but was coming from Me. I identified the Emotion that I was feeling, frustration, disappointment, and irritation. I ran through my list of Shoulds, identifying the disconnect between what I wanted to happen, and what was actually happening, and finally Surrendered.
I approached my foster daughter and apologized for my response. I explained the importance of honesty, and the value of trust, and owned my actions.
Our moments of humanity are opportunities to do better. Your feelings are valid, every single one of them. And, it’s why the Mess Method is helpful. Pausing to identify all you are feeling helps you to remember that you are bringing more to the moment than you initially realize.
We’re all learning. We’re all actively in pursuit of being better than we were the days, hours, and moments before. We’re all a bit of a mess.
We’re in it together.