Chaos Theory

Click to read story with text only

November 2006

Jean's Stories

Provence

Grandpa's Cabin

Pay-It-Forward Latte

England and France

N. Italy - 1

N. Italy - 2

N. Italy - 3

N. Italy - 4

Lessons from 4 Corners

Mexico

Going to the Dogs

Don't Embarrass Me!

Letter from Siena

Arrivederci Roma

Joining the Matriarchs

Living History

Newlywed Game

Chaos Theory

Zach on the Road

Huckleberry Season

Stanley & the Sunbeam

I Dare Say

Middle School Relay

Grad Party

Yellowstone

Moving On

Newlywed Couches

Visitors

Old Faithful Inn

Snowbound

Sweet Potato

Mother Bear

Two Blondes in Iberia

Revisiting Spain

Curly's Truck

Old Buildings

Chelsea's

Split Seams

All Nighter

Talent Show

Travel Photos

England

France

Siena

 

Before we moved to a bigger place in 1968, I lived with my parents and four siblings in a small three-bedroom house.  Mom let us build forts in the living room.  She let us breed our black Labrador, mostly because we wanted the puppy experience on the grandest scale possible.  I was an adult before I realized that most families actually used matching plates at dinner.  Later as a grandma, Mom would take our three young kids all day for my birthday to give me a break.  On one birthday she let my children plan the menu and each kid got to make and decorate their own cake.  That meal ran high on starch and one of the cakes had an actual Barbie doll jammed down the center; I’m assuming Barbie got a bath first, but don’t know for sure.  (I do remember Barbie’s hair caught fire when we lit the candles.)  Mom’s plates still don’t match very well, but nobody matches her as a mother and grandma.  

When I got married, I registered for a complete set of Mikasa dishes and ran my newlywed household with a degree of organization unimaginable to my mother.  My refrigerator held no expired Ranch dressing.  My Christmas decorations resided in carefully marked boxes.  My socks never lost track of their mates.

I gave birth to two children and attempted to keep my house running on the same tight and tidy ship, an incredibly frustrating experience for all of us.  Over time I realized that Mom had been right all along, and I’d been getting it wrong.  Mom knew that real love was messy.  Once I understood this truth, I tried to do better.  I tried to do messier. 

I remember a television commercial advertising a plastic toy village where all the pieces moved about a fixed track.  Children smiled as they eased figures up and down an incline and around a circle.  A parent’s dream!  No loose pieces and no clean-up time!  My kids would have despised this toy.  They liked buckets of Legos that they could dump all over the floor to create towers and cars and houses.  They wanted sets of Brio train track to connect down the hall from room to room.  These types of toys were a pain to pick up but they were the very best for their little brains, so I bought them.  The small pieces sparked imagination and creativity--and jabbed our bare feet when we accidentally stepped on them.  Today our oldest son, Zach, is a senior in engineering at Oregon State where he builds stuff.  We’re still finding his Legos in the couch. 

Of course, we should avoid extremes and not live in filth, but I don’t think Christ cares about spotless pantries or matching stemware.  I picture Jesus down on the carpet beside us, hands working the pieces of our lives.  He has the tools to create masterpieces from our spilled parts, if only we’d let Him.   

After my recognition that love was messy, I consciously and deliberately allowed it into my home in practical ways.  Even so, I realized I still held too much control.  I maintained too great a handle on my home as the mother of two.  My house simply stayed too neat for my own good.  I needed something to push me over the edge.  So I had a third child.  This was not the only reason we had Taylor, but seriously, it was a reason. 

From there, I ventured to the most dangerous place of all:  I got a dog--a big, excitable one.  Our youngest son had long begged for a puppy to love and hold and train, and could hardly believe it when I finally caved.  We got Bailey, a beautiful yellow Lab who chewed her way through table legs, chairs and stair rails.

I worked to move beyond merely tolerating chaos to embracing it.  I opened our home to our kids’ friends, and they came and came and came.  I’d walk in the front door to discover unknown teenagers searching the fridge for a snack.  Sometimes our kids would be gone but their friends would come anyway.  No matter the resulting mess, I tried to support and encourage my family’s projects.  I had to smile through our daughter’s impulsive attempt at triple chocolate cookies, which generated a sink-full of gooey bowls and utensils, counters littered with flour and eggshells, and three-dozen charred cookies.  Today our Annie studies nutrition/dietetics at OSU.  

With the help of our three children, teenage friends and neurotic dog, I made progress in my messy sanctification.  It was just in time.  Jim’s art career was taking off, and I was prepared for that fabulous mess in a way I’d never been before.   

Jim painted his first original in acrylic at our kitchen table.  Before long, he moved from acrylics to watercolor to pastel and from the kitchen to our downstairs family room.  Jim now claims more than half of our family room, most of Zach’s room, and part of the garage for his art.  Occasionally he encroaches upon the living and dining rooms where I repeatedly evict him.  Without limitation, he’d surely take over the entire house. 

Some suggest that Jim build a separate art studio out back, but he needs company and feedback too much for that.  I can’t draw stick figures, yet Jim continually seeks my critique for each of his pieces.  I don’t know what I’m talking about, but sometimes notice parts of a painting that don’t seem right.  I have no idea why.  I’ll point to the spot.  “Here,” I say. 

Jim frowns slightly, admitting, “Yeah, that’s a problem area.  I hoped you wouldn’t notice.”  He’ll explain exactly why it doesn’t work, take the painting downstairs, make a few changes, and return with a perfect piece.

Jim claims he lives for my “thumbs-up” on a painting.  I don’t know why my response matters so much to him, but it does.  Maybe it’s the realization that I’m honest—gently honest--and that he can trust my pure motives.  But I think what he seeks most is assurance from his wife.  Our praise means more than anyone else’s.  Our approval carries tremendous weight and responsibility. 

Sometimes this encouragement is tougher to provide than other times.  Jim often paints into the silly hours, long after I’ve gone to sleep, but that doesn’t stop him.  He’ll burst into our bedroom where I’m fast asleep, flip on the overhead light and plop his latest work in my face.  “What do you think?” he’ll ask.  I look at the clock and tell him he’d get a better and friendlier answer in the morning.  

In reality, the hour is never too late to insert any type of art into our lives.  My most horrible class in high school and college was writing.  While I loved books and did plenty of reading, I was absolutely a math/science girl, a concrete thinker who liked control and clear parameters.  In writing class I’d outline all my ideas, producing error-free but lifeless papers.  I couldn’t allow my mind to flow creativity down different paths; my need for perfection held me back.  I needed the courage to be imperfect, and it took me 36 years to find it in the area of writing.  My increasingly messy, open home environment had helped open my mind.  Inside our house, the climate had changed for all of us.  

I don’t think women realize the tremendous influence they have in setting the tone in the home.  Is it okay to take risks and perhaps fail?  Is it all right to try something new and messy that might send Mom over the edge--through the missing stair rail that the puppy chewed? 

Our homes should be safe and encouraging places, places for our families to hear gentle suggestions, then go boldly…into the studio, into the kitchen, into the university.  Let them run with it.  Step back and just watch where it goes.