The Perspective of My Messy Kitchen

At just after 2 am Pacific time last Wednesday morning I pulled our van into our driveway, arriving home with my youngest three kids (ages 11, 5 and 2) after a week-long vacation at Grandma’s house in Florida. Nearly 17 hours before, we had hugged her goodbye and made our way diagonally across the U.S., taking a variety of planes, trains and automobiles to get back to our home in the state of Washington. We were all exhausted from traveling, yet my kids were still excited to go hug Mommy, who was already sleeping. They ran in ahead of me as I brought in a couple of bags, dropped them on the floor inside the front door, and followed them upstairs. The first thing I noticed once I got upstairs was the clean floor of my girls’ room, which had been totally messy with clothes, shoes, toys, and plastic bins when we left a week earlier. My wife had cleaned it all up while we had been gone, so it was a pleasant surprise to find upon our return. It was a job that had taken her a considerable amount of time to complete and I made sure to thank her for doing it before I went to sleep that night.

At about 5 am my five year old woke me up, complaining of a headache and hunger. Obviously the three hour time change and long day of travel was catching up to her. I brought her to the kitchen to get her some yogurt and a glass of milk. I wasn’t prepared for the mess that was revealed when I turned on the lights in the kitchen. Every surface of the counter was covered with what appeared to be week-old wrappers and boxes from several restaurants, dirty dishes, mail, textbooks, half-filled soda cans and mostly empty cups. I slowly shook my head in disbelief, got my daughter her food. After two bites she was full and I put away her yogurt and milk in the fridge and turned out the lights. The messy kitchen could be dealt with later after I had more sleep.

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My Messy Kitchen.

Thankfully, my younger two kids slept in until about 10 am that day, so I was feeling reasonably well-rested and appreciated the warm sunshine as we began our first day back home. The girls marveled at their now-clean room and I made sure to remind them that it was because of the hard work of their mother that it was so nice for them. They wasted little time in bringing some dolls and stuffed animals into their room to play on the expanse of clean carpet. While they entertained themselves upstairs I snuck away to the kitchen to assess the mess in the light of day. It was just as bad as I had remembered from the middle of the night. Only, this time I started to feel really angry at my wife and two teenage daughters. It felt like a literal and figurative F-you to see a full load of clean dishes in the dishwasher, dirty dishes piled up in the sink and on the countertops, and the rest of the mess all over the place. Even the dining room table, which had been completely cleaned (by me!) after our Easter dinner the day before we left, was full of all kinds of stuff that didn’t belong there. I debated taking my little girls to a nearby favorite cafe to eat because of the mess. I really wanted to teach my wife and older kids a lesson about respect and responsibility. I felt this almost righteous indignation because I had worked really hard to make sure that the house was tidy before we left so that there would be no excuse for it to be messy upon my return. I really wanted to just leave the mess for them to clean up. I didn’t deserve this extra work. This was literally their mess to clean up.

As I was starting to really get myself worked up over this my two year old wandered into the kitchen to ask me to make her some pancakes for breakfast. Pretty please with sugar on top, Daddy? Of course, even though there was not even one spot on the counters clean enough to to fit a mixing bowl, much less a griddle, I told her that I would be happy to do that once I cleaned up a little bit. Without being asked, she cheerfully started to empty the dishwasher. If my little one could help clean, I figured that I really had to figure out a way to get over myself and get a better attitude about this mess, but, oh boy, I was struggling. I decided some upbeat Christian music might help change my angry spirit, so I plugged my iPhone into some speakers and started cleaning alongside my little girl. It took a few songs until I really started to realize that cleaning up someone else’s mess wasn’t really the end of the world. Sure, it was irritating and disappointing. Yeah, it would’ve been nice to come home to a cleaner kitchen. But, as I began to clean, I started to gain a different perspective from my messy kitchen.

For one thing, while we were having a great time at Grandma’s pool and at the beach, my wife was busy working at her job to provide financially for our family and my teenage daughters were busy with school, homework and water polo practice. Because of my wife’s faithfulness in working hard at all times, even while I am on vacation, I am able to be a Stay At Home Dad. I am able to take these kinds of trips with my kids. Sure, it was a working vacation for me because my SAHD duties didn’t end just because I wasn’t at home, but it was still a vacation all the same. Also, it dawned on me that this was an opportunity for me to really practice what I preach, or, at least blog about. Just a few weeks ago I wrote What’s In Your Garden?, a blog post about cultivating kindness and gratitude in all of my relationships by focusing on the positives instead of the negatives. After all, since my wife had done a great job of cleaning up the girls’ room and my girls had taken care of their school responsibilities, cleaning up the kitchen shouldn’t be that big of a deal, right? Even if my attitude hadn’t fully caught up with that positivity, I was sure that it would at some point. Then, my phone rang, cutting off the uplifting music and my mojo along with it.

It was my oldest daughter, calling to talk about some other stuff. I wasn’t really in a mood to talk at that moment and I was, sadly, a little short with her, as I let my frustration with the situation in my kitchen affect my conversation with her. As I was talking with her and flipping pancakes my teenage daughters arrived home from school (it was an early-release day) and came in the kitchen to say hi, as they hadn’t seen me since we had gotten back home. Instead of returning their greetings, I shot a very sarcastic “Thanks for the mess, girls!” at them. So much for that attitude of gratitude. Epic dad fail. That, obviously, set a negative tone for the next few minutes, until I realized what a complete tool I was being. I asked their forgiveness (both my girls at home and my oldest who was still on speakerphone) and shared with them my feelings of frustration and that I was really trying to have a good attitude about it all. They graciously forgave me and I finished serving pancakes to my little girls while the older ones made themselves some lunch. After the kids all finished eating and cleared out of the kitchen, I finally had a chance to eat my own pancakes, enjoying the sudden peace and quiet. It was then that I fully released the burden of being angry about the messy kitchen. It’s just stupid stuff. What really matters to me is relationship with my family, not if my kitchen is perfectly clean.

It took quite a bit more effort on my part to get the kitchen cleaned up. I think I ran the dishwasher three times in the first 24 hours I was back and did a load of hand-wash items as well. I also took moment to consider the fact that we’re fortunate enough to live in such a beautiful home with plenty of food and dishes to get messy in the first place. And we even have a functioning dishwasher to help. It’s really all about perspective. It’s been almost a week since I came home to that messy kitchen. I realize now that it was an opportunity to really teach my family a lesson. Only, the lesson was one of grace, not one of punishment. And it was not just their lesson, but mine as well.

EDIT: Please note that I’m sharing this to encourage others to examine what’s really important in life. In no way was I trying to embarrass my wife or daughters for not cleaning up the dishes. It’s only a temporary mess that was cleaned up within a couple of hours. Much more meaningful to me are the lasting relationships in my life with my wife and daughters.

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Happy Birthday to Me! (42 Things For Which I Am Thankful)

It’s almost 1 am here in Washington and my four year old is still going strong thanks to a long late-afternoon nap. If you’re a parent you know the double-edged sword of such a nap. My wife told her that she could watch a movie if Daddy stayed downstairs with her (um, thanks?). She unloaded the dishwasher and practiced writing her name (part of the deal) and ran to the sofa, requesting me to get Netflix on for her viewing pleasure. While she’s snuggled in her sleeping bad watching My Little Pony I decided to make some late-night Mt. Dew lemonade out of these here lemons. Oh, and it happens to be my birthday today. Thanks, Mom, for having me on this date in 1972, just a few miles away from where I now live. Crazy how life works like that! Back to my lemonade. I’m going to try to stay awake to compose a list of things for which I’m thankful, one for each year I’ve been alive. The order is going to be pretty random as it’s now past 1 am.

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Just past midnight birthday selfie. That’s our family’s birthday hat. (Obviously.)

Forty-two things for which I am thankful.

  1. My parents. Duh. They had me! Thanks.
  2. My wife. She’s put up with  loved me for over half my life.
  3. My children. All six of them. They fill every day with so much love and laughter.
  4. Being tall. Usually a pretty good thing. Except when I hit my head on a door frame. Or take out a light fixture on a cruise ship.
  5. My English teachers (I must be tired) who told me that I wrote well and encouraged me to write. Even if it took me over 20 years to heed their advice and start writing regularly here.
  6. Netflix. I’m too tired to actually parent right now. Thanks for the small break.
  7. Headphones for my iPhone so that I can listen to my music instead of the awful music and dialog of My Little Pony.
  8. Sunshine. You won’t hear me complain about the sun and heat (even now in mid-September) because I know the cloudy and rainy season is coming soon enough.
  9. Rain. Seriously. I don’t have to shovel it like all that snow that I had to take care of when we lived in Wisconsin.
  10. Football. I know, there’s been a lot of bad press lately about some awful actions by some players. But, I still love to watch my Green Bay Packers. Glad my kids like to watch with me as well.
  11. Christmas music. Guess what I’m listening to right now? Pentatonix PTXmas. Amazing any time of year.
  12. Trains. Just heard one blowing its horn. Reminds me of growing up in Neenah, Wisconsin, and hearing trains at all hours of the day and night.
  13. My bed. Where I should be now. It’s so comfy and warm. And long enough for me. Unlike this comfy sofa.
  14. My sense of humor. I crack myself up daily. I’m hilarious. Seriously. (See what I did there?)
  15. My church. I look forward to going every Sunday and am so glad that my kids also are excited to go with me. Speaks volumes about the kind of community and ministry there.
  16. Leftovers for dinner. That means that we are so blessed to be able to have extra food from a previous meal. It also means that they kids are guaranteed to complain about the menu of “leftovers for dinner”.
  17. The dishwasher. It was broken for six weeks when we first moved here almost three years ago. Enough said.
  18. Dishes, pots, pans, or knives that can’t go through the dishwasher.
  19. FaceTime. It’s not the same as in-person, but it’s a great and affordable way to catch up with family and friends.
  20. Indoor plumbing. I cannot imagine how horrible it would’ve been to have to use an outhouse every day. I mean, where would I find any private time to read? (I’m laughing. Told you I was tired.)
  21. Camping. Ususally at a state park. Although, my son is currently in our large family tent just outside our house. For the 10th night in a row. Accompanied by our dog.
  22. Sleep. Yeah, I went to bed. Well, fell asleep on the sofa while my child watched My Little Pony. Woke up at 4:39 am and trudged up to my comfy bed for two more hours. Hopefully the crink in my back and neck from sleeping on the sofa goes away in a day or two. At least I made it halfway through my list of 42 before crashing.
  23. Reliable transportation. I take it for granted that my car will start every time I turn the ignition. Except that one time that one of the kids left some of overhead interior lights on overnight.
  24. A pile of laundry that needs folding and a dish full of dishes that needs to be loaded into the dishwasher. Even on my birthday, I’m thankful for these things because that means we are blessed enough to have a dishwasher and clothes washer/dryer.
  25. Safe travels. Driving my daughter to school this morning we saw an SUV blow through a stop sign at about 35 mph. Had we been about 5 seconds farther along on our way to school that vehicle might have ended my life. Thank you, Jesus.
  26. The National At Home Dad Network (NAHDN) and the upcoming convention in Denver later this week. Looking forward to seeing my fellow SAHD brothers again. The support and friendship from that group of guys this past year has been nothing short of amazing. My only regret is not knowing about such a network for the first 12 years as a SAHD.
  27. Mountains. I love going to the mountains for recreational purposes. I also appreciate their beauty on clear days as we have a beautiful view of the Olympic Mountains across Puget Sound from our house. I love how the rising sun wraps them in a blanket of pink.
  28. Siri. Yeah, that sometimes annoying iPhone/iPod voice. She’s hilarious. Especially when she mistakes a request to play Jingle Bells and states, “I’m sorry. I’m not familiar with Vagina Bells.” Actually, neither am I.
  29. Good health. Ever since I was a child I’ve been blessed with a strong immune system. Even now, as a long-time Stay At Home Dad who gets exposed to all sorts of germs and such I seldom get sick. I joke that I have a deal with God. In exchange for not complaining about caring for or cleaning up after my wife and kids when they are sick, I don’t get sick.
  30. Computers and technology. Sometimes it seems like we depend on them too much, but overall I enjoy having them in my life. And I’m not even that tech-savvy. I’m sure I’m just using the tip of the technological iceberg, but it sort of works for me.
  31. Credit cards. Really. I use them for most everything that I don’t carry much cash around. So convenient.
  32. Airplanes. Making long-distance travel so much easier. Even if I often feel like a sardine squished in my seat I still don’t mind it.
  33. America. Or ‘Murica. Despite being a flawed Republic with a messed up political system that can’t get out of its own way, there are still a lot of great things about our country. We enjoy a lot of freedoms and privileges that the rest of the world envies.
  34. Being a SAHD. Despite basically working 24/7/365 I love my job. And, for the love of everything, don’t call me “Mr. Mom“. Really. It’s not as funny as you think.
  35. Words With Friends. Scrabble. I enjoy playing word games. Keeps my brain working. I think.
  36. The Bible. God’s word. I’m constantly challenged and encouraged by His words. They’re just as relevant today as they were 2,000 years ago.
  37. Music. I love to sing, play/perform and listen to music. Still cannot dance. And I’m okay with that.
  38. Facebook. Yeah, they keep making those annoying changes. Why can’t we just go back to the 2007 settings? Really, though, I enjoy keeping in touch with all of you. Okay, maybe not all of you, because of the weird metrics that screws up my newsfeed so that the sponsored stuff gets shown more. But you know what I mean. The love I’m feeling today from all of the birthday greetings is so uplifting. Yeah, that was a little cheesy, even for me. I really do appreciate the friendship,networking and support from social media.
  39. Netflix. Thanks for the quality shows to watch when I’m cleaning the kitchen or folding laundry after everyone else is asleep. Did I mention that I finally watched LOST last December? Only a few years too late.
  40. The silly humor that my kids inject into my daily life. Like my 10 year old son. This morning he came into the kitchen (while I was making his lunch sandwich) and sat at the table. He set his iPod down and asked Siri, “What is my name?”. Her reply made me laugh until I cried. “Your name is Cornelius. But since we’re friends, you asked me to call you Junio Ten Why Cheo.” WHAT?! (I might still be a little slap happy from the lack of sleep. But that was crazy.)
  41. Perspective. Counting my blessings instead of my shortcomings. Over the last year or so I’ve known far too many people who have gone through some tough times, losing loved ones to cancer, car accidents, and other causes. Life is too fragile and short to focus on anything else.
  42. Friendship. Not just the virtual kind but the people I see in real life. Just this summer I was able to reconnect with a few friends that I had not seen in years, in one case it was a friend who I hadn’t seen since 1991. Even if I have not seen my friends in person I love being able to call or virtually reach out, knowing that our friendship remains. And, I do not mean to ignore the new friends I’ve made since moving here almost three years ago. My life is so much richer for knowing all of you.

I look forward to whatever God has in store for me this coming year. In parting, I leave this passage I just came across last night while finishing my Bible study. I hope it encourages you as much as it did me. It’s from Isaiah 43:1-4, paraphrased by me.

This is what the Lord says…Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze…Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you.

If you’re bothered because this is a “religious” quote from the Bible, I would encourage you to reread it, but this time think of it as a father (or mother) talking to his (her) child. The love that drips from that passage is what I’m striving for with my own family. While I’m certainly not perfect, I am trying to be the best husband and father that I can be for them.