I walk down the stairs into the basement and find him there, surrounded by Pirate Booty that used to be in a bowl. My non-verbal son, seemingly oblivious to the mess he’s caused, looks up with a smile as I survey the damage.
There’s food everywhere. Pillows are strewn about, blankets are all over, chairs are toppled, and, among it all is white Booty dust. Like an indoor winter-wonderland, my little man has snowed out the family room within ten minutes. It’s like eight in the morning. I sent him down here without realizing that the bowl hadn’t been brought upstairs yesterday. I’m exhausted, desperate for coffee, and crying inside. He’s still smiling.
Most times, I would insist he help, but in a situation like this, it is counterproductive. He’s just going to stomp around the floor and, for every piece he helps pick up, he’ll squash ten more beneath his feet into the carpet. It’s my job now. This is my lot in life.
After a deep breath, I’ll get down on the floor and begin picking up the pieces. I go into autopilot parenting and just focus on getting my task finished. I can hear Jerry Stiller in my head screaming, “Serenity Now!”
Then, as I’m hunched over and examining the floor, I feel a hand on my chin. It’s Lucas. He slowly turns my head up towards him as he stands in front of me. When I look up, he has a huge smile.
And I smile back.
I will say something along the lines of, “You’re killing me, kid” or “You’re lucky you’re so cute.” I usually give him a hug too. I may be able to get angry at him, but it’s almost impossible to really stay angry at him.
This isn’t a unique story of a destroyed room surprise for my son. There are far worse ones and far grosser ones. There are clean-ups that last hours and involve carpet shampoo, emergency showers, and urgent laundry loads. There are days that last for years and it’s up to Dad to get it done.
It’s not “easy”, in the traditional sense. In fact, it’s pretty damn hard. It is, however, easier than it sounds on paper. The reason why is because I love him. In fact, it’s easy for both of my children because, well, I love both my kids.
That’s something that gets lost in the memes and attention-seeking messages online. There’s no humor in complaining about your child’s path of destruction if it involves, “But I love him, so it’s OK.” Instead, it’s an endless stream of pity parties and stories that make those without kids, non-verbal with autism or otherwise, glad they stayed away.
I’ve spent my life cleaning up messes, many of which weren’t mine. People have relied on me, insisted I help, or just dumped issues in my lap. Scooping up Pirate Booty is just one of a long line of things that I’ve had to do to maintain order in my life.
The difference I notice now is that the love I have for my kids makes it all so much more palpable. I don’t feel taken advantage of. I don’t feel that life is unfair or cruel. I don’t question their reasons for causing the mess. It’s part of our dynamic.
There have been many messes I’ve been expected to fix that were caused by people who I know didn’t love me. Truth be told, in many cases, I didn’t love them either. Sure, we may have at one time, but by the time they start routinely walking away from catastrophic disasters that they assigned me for unspoken custodian duty, that relationship had long changed.
I remember that feeling of resentment. That’s something that most people can relate to. Whether you’re doing physical work like vacuuming a carpet while someone sleeps on the couch or emotional work to repair a relationship that another person has long since taken for granted, the feeling that you’re expected to fix someone else’s life out of obligation is a terrible one. It’s enough to break even the strongest of us. It’s nearly broken me on more than one occasion with more than one person.
My children don’t do that. Both love me. I love them back.
For that reason, I don’t mind cleaning up their messes. I know that they didn’t cause them on purpose to test my allegiance or see if I’d do it. I know it’s not because they don’t value my time or commitment. I know that, if they could, they wouldn’t have made the messes at all. That’s why I’m so willing to help them through anything.
Life is about finding your home team and realizing that they value you in the same ways you value them. My daughter would help me the same way I would help her. My son might never have the understanding to come to me and assist in my times of need, but I know he loves me. I know he never does things to hurt me on purpose. For that reason, I would clean up any mess he ever makes. I do it because he deserves it.
These kids are my world. I am grateful they are in my life. I will happily help with anything they need because I know they love me. After a lifetime of doing it for people who didn’t, I can tell you, it makes all the difference in the world.