Embrace the Mess

By Douglas Withrow - 07/06/2022


Recently, my family was together to celebrate my youngest daughter’s graduation. My two adult children, who flew in from out of state with my oldest son’s girlfriend, three teenagers, my wife and I, piled into the house for four days stuffed full of family fun. I had visions of laughter, silliness, tenderness, and meaningful conversations. The plan for four days was detailed, allowing for all of these expectations to be fulfilled. Day one: graduation and celebration. Day two: relax, order pizza, and go to a movie. Day three: paddle boarding down the river, and dinner with family and grandparents. Day four: relaxed morning with a big breakfast and then a family farewell to those returning home. Not too much. Not too little.

The plan crumbled. Sure, we accomplished the tasks, but not with the ease I had anticipated or wanted. On graduation day, much of the time was spent apart was we needed to separate in order to save seats. Pizza and movie night ended up rushed, with a few family members not interested in the chosen movie. Paddle boarding was crowded by hundreds of other people who also thought of joining us on the river, which led to being separated, and two of us exiting the river two miles too soon. There were sunburns, and lost water bottles, sun glasses, and ball caps. There was frustration, boredom, eye rolling, arguments, and hurt feelings. Coming home, we planned to watch a new television series to end the night, but some were so tired they decided to go to bed. The day ended with a fizzle.

Now, I sit reflecting on our few days together. I see piles of laundry, dishes, and bed linens. Those of us still at home are quiet, in our rooms, catching a breath after a tornado of activity and chaos. Not quite what I was hoping.

But, the messiness is it. The messiness is living. Messiness is the adventure. I make plans and hope for magic moments. I miss the magic of the mess. I want a photoshopped glamour reality and get a blurry, creased black and white photo.

Then I pause. I look passed failed plans and remember the moments of sharing memories, trying something new (even with some frustration), “I’m sorries,” and teasing that can only happen between siblings. I know everyone in my family a little bit better. We barely started those meaning conversations I had planned to have, but they are started, and we will look for opportunities to continue. We are figuring out life and it is not easy. We — every person on the planet — are trying to figure out life, in all its mess, just like people have done since the beginning.

Families are messy. There is conflict, sadness, failed plans, and frustrations. There are also the bigger struggles of depression, trauma, addiction, and divorce. There are nights when screaming at the moon seems like the best option. There are also accomplishments, small victories (like getting out of bed), and big victories (like graduating). You are not the only one whose life is messy — despite what social media suggests. Breathe. Look for the moments in the midst of the chaos. Sometimes they are hard to see, but those moments are there. And when you cannot see them, ask for help. I know there are times I need it. 

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