Before my daughter Katie went away to college, we had outgrown most of our mother-daughter skirmishes except for one, the theater of war known around our house as, “The Great Bedroom Zone Conflict.” Katie preferred to think of it as the “My Mom Has Dust Under Her Corneas And Sees Dirt Everywhere” hostile takeover. I saw it as the “Battle of the Bulge-ing Drawers.”
Years ago, my friend playfully nicknamed Katie, “Katie Scarlett,” because she seemed to regularly channel the drama queen of Gone with the Wind. True to form, one day in twelfth grade, Katie planted her feet, raised her fist toward her bedroom ceiling and declared, “As long as I live, after I leave home, I will never clean my room or make my bed again!”
Why was she so stubborn about keeping her mess? She said she liked it. She said she knew where everything was until I moved it. She said it was the only place in the world that felt like her own.
Why was I so stubborn? I thought it was unhealthy. I thought laziness was taking over. I thought someone would see it and think she was a slob.
Look back at the last two paragraphs, and play Dr. Phil. Is it as clear to you as it is to me now?
Desperation and loss of control drove both of us. I was afraid of what visitors would think of me, not her, if they saw the mess. I was also afraid that I was failing as a mom if I couldn’t get her to see that a certain level of order and cleanliness benefited her. On the other hand, she was communicating that big changes, like going to college, are unsettling, so sometimes she wanted the comfort of sameness. She may not have been sure of which college or what major to choose, but she was sure of where she wanted her stuffed orangutan to sit. Stuffed animals aside, she wanted to say, “I’m not really a child anymore. I’m an adult, who happens to prefer functional disarray.” I couldn’t see past the mess to see her feelings.
Fall arrived. Katie stuffed her things into bags and left for school.
Her room stays neat now. Sometimes I forget to open the blinds, so it stays dark in there a lot. I don’t like to walk all the way in; it’s too quiet and sterile, even though sometimes I forget to dust. When I do venture in, I have an urge to throw a sock on the floor. So I usually just stand at the door, look around, then pull the door shut as I leave. Funny I couldn’t just shut the door and walk away when it was a mess.
It’s painful, but opening the blinds and letting the light in is a good thing, because it forces me to see the room as it is, which is empty of my daughter, making it much more unappealing to me than when it was a wreck. Light equals truth: my pride and being right were not as important as understanding my daughter’s need to lean toward independence while at the same time reach back for security. I’ve decided I’m going to live by this truth from now on when I tangle with my other kids, or Katie, or my husband, or my co-workers, or that rude driver who cut me off . . . “It’s better to be kind than right.”
The Disciple John said, “God is light; there’s not a trace of darkness in him. If we claim that we experience a shared life with him and continue to stumble around in the dark, we’re obviously lying . . . we’re not living what we claim.” Stumbling around in the dark can cause injuries. So, bring on the light of Truth—I may squint at first, but ultimately, I know it will bring warmth and healing.
(c) Linda Crow 2006
"Scarlett, that room is atrocious! I beg you to clean it up for the Cause!"