Creativity is the Enemy of Tidy

Creativity is the Enemy of Tidy


I had one of those flashes of insight recently where you suddenly see things in a new way but it doesn’t necessarily help you to change the way you act.

I realized that what drives me craziest about Bella is precisely the same thing that I adore about her: her creativity.

It drives me bonkers that I simply cannot teach her to clean up after herself and to put one thing away after she finishes with it before she gets out another. I ask her to pick up the blocks and before I know it she’s building something. I ask her to pick up the animals and people and soon she’s playing a game. I ask her to take the blankets back to her room and she’s got one wrapped around herself as a dress and is off in her own world. She’s a princess, a nun, or a saint. I try to work with her on all these things and to be patient with her. Oh but it’s so hard when all I want is for her to help my get the living room just a little tidy before they all go to bed. Fortunately Sophie is starting to take up some of the slack. She loves to help out and there are a few tasks that she’s made her own—when she isn’t being pulled into one of Bella’s games.

But what I realized the other day was that one of the reasons Bella has such a hard time putting things back in the proper places is that she doesn’t tend to see them in the same categories that I do. Oh she’s smart enough to understand how to sort things. But for her the categories are fungible. I see a bunch of headbands and hair ties that need to go in the basket that I’ve set aside for hair things. She sees the raw materials for a fabulous new game. The basket is a ship or a house or a cradle. The hair bands are dresses for princess figurines or fasteners to make her blanket into a dress or… who knows what. She can’t seem to think of books only as things to read. They are building materials, platters for serving food on, paintings to adorn the princesses’ palace….

The world is too full of possibilities and the mundane task of putting things into their proper places is just too boring. To make it more interesting, she tries to make a creative leap and all too soon her imagination takes her far away from what she’s supposed to be doing. Before I know it she’s out the back door and on the swing, she’s making a bed fort out of blankets, or lining up books to be the Great River in Narnia along whose banks Aslan and his brave army are hard at work defeating the White Witch and her minions.

I wish I knew how to inspire her and make the cleaning up into a game but the same tactic won’t work twice. One day she’ll be quite happy being Laura doing chores. The next day the same suggestion will be met with a sigh. One day she’ll be happy as a princess to wipe the table. Another day the same chore will seem to be the Augean stables. Life with Bella is never boring. But I have a hard enough time on my own being structured. When I have to be creative to get her to cooperate…. well sometimes it’s easier to just let her go play and do the work myself. I hate to be a nag, to be constantly interrupting her play to get her to help out. And yet being consistent with my demands…. isn’t going to happen. Life with five kids is too chaotic. Sigh. I suppose I shall have to resign myself to chaos.


Coincidentally, Melissa Wiley is also writing about creativity and mess:

I know it isn’t always easy, especially for type-A parents, to live with the clutter and chaos that so often surrounds a creative mind, but there are ways to compromise. For us, it means keeping the front of the house reasonably tidy, one main room where people can count on an uncluttered space, and letting the rest of the house wear a jumble of raw materials with abandon and zest. The girls’ room is overrun right now with wand-making supplies. The house smells like hot glue. Every time Scott looks at me he finds another piece of glitter on my face—I don’t even know where it’s coming from; it’s in the air.

Along with Freedom to Be Messy goes Lots and Lots of Down Time…that’s part two of my refrain: give ’em time to be bored, time to stare into space, time to tinker, time to obsess. So much of my work as a writer happens when I’m far from my keyboard…I’m writing while I’m gardening, while I’m doing dishes, while I’m curled up under a blanket doing a crossword puzzle. I may look idle, but I’m not. Things are churning in my head. Scott used to do his best writing on the walk home from the subway. Now, far from NYC, sans commute, he stands in the backyard, mind-working while Huck runs circles around him. Our kids know that we’re absent sometimes—lost in our thoughts, working something out—and they understand, they know we try to make up for it by being extra-present, fully engaged, in other parts of the day. But also by giving them that same kind of mind-space in return: big chunks of the day unscheduled, unspoken for. Let me get out of your hair so you can put glitter in it.

Join the discussion

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • Yes. I understand. Perhaps it is personal for me. Perhaps it is why I don’t feel comfortable in the Catholic Church to begin with. Unconditional love shouldn’t have conditions…I think that is the part I struggle with so much.

  • Hi!  I’ve been lurking here for quite a while, but lurking aside, I think you are exactly right with this. 

    It is so easy to get pulled into the mob mentality, especially when you start hanging out with the more counter cultural subsets of the church—the ‘daily massers’, the ‘latin massers,’ the ‘homeschoolers,’ the ‘real’ Catholics versus what?  the fake Catholics?  It’s easy to want to belong somewhere and then, well it makes you feel good doesn’t it?  To feel like you’re on the right side, to feel like you are the good Catholic, the better Catholic.  But that attitude isn’t doing anyone any favors.

    My husband and I have a friend who was a law school classmate of his.  One night over dinner this baptized, confirmed, occasional mass goer informed us that she didn’t believe Jesus was God at all—just a nice man really.  We were caught off guard but eventually my husband sat down and spoke with her and told her that she really shouldn’t be receiving communion.  We also set up an appointment for her to speak with the priest at our parish.  We tried to explain that it was wonderful that she was at mass and that she should absolutely keep coming, but unfortunately, as you mentioned, being told you can’t take communion often makes you feel unwelcome and she stopped coming except during finals when the stress drove her back to the one place she truly felt at peace.  Telling someone lovingly that they are welcome to come but not welcome to receive is so hard—this is a difficult plan you’ve laid out—but I think the right one.

  • Who are you all to judge who should be receiving communion and who should not?…and I am trying to say this in the kindest possible way… Shouldn’t it be an internal decision, coming from one’s own conscious? it’s like having someone come to your house for dinner, and then politely telling them they are not welcome at your table….

  • Gina, it’s not Melanie who should be doing the telling (or Cristina), but the Church.  And, in fact, if you look in the front cover of the OCP missalette so commonly in the pew, there is a statement about who should/shouldn’t receive Communion.  But no one reads it.  So often the task of catechizing (and evangelizing as well) falls to the individual Catholic.

    I have had to do this evangelizing with my father, mother, and sisters, all of whom are not Catholic at all, but are used to being welcome to receive Communion whether or not they belong to the (Protestant) church they happen to attend on any given Sunday.

    If you make a comparison to these Protestants, perhaps it is easier to see that it’s not simply a matter of individual conscience.  Of COURSE they shouldn’t receive Communion – but why?  It’s precisely because they don’t share the central beliefs of the Catholic Church.  Same thing for “cafeteria” Catholics, or for non-cafeteria Catholics with serious sin on their consciences, including such sins as missing Mass or, perhaps, lack of charity toward those in the cafeteria.  The Church sets out objective as well as subjective criteria. 

    Melanie’s post is instructive of the attitude we ought to bring to this situation and the renewed catechesis we need as a church.

  • Christina, I have to say my first reaction wouldn’t be worrying about her receiving communion but asking why she doesn’t believe that Jesus is God and then perhaps trying to offer her some evidence she might not have considered. I think I’d only bring up the question of communion in the context of how we believe that the Eucharist really is Jesus, it really is God. Then within the context of that I might share some of my own experiences of holding myself back from receiving communion when I knew I couldn’t receive worthily because I hadn’t gone to confession. I’d try to lead by example and also share about the time when I didn’t know any better. I didn’t understand that it was a mortal sin to skip Mass and then also a mortal sin to receive communion in a state of mortal sin. You see… I made my first confession and then maybe went to confession once or twice more as a child and then never again until I was 30. So yeah, I’ve done my share of receiving the Eucharist unworthily and I’m still struggling with the whole process of discerning when I am in a state of mortal sin and need to go to confession. I have a sort of theoretical knowledge that there is a distinction between mortal and venial sin but when it comes to applying that knowledge to my own examination of conscience.

    So I think it’s a hard thing to talk about. To share what we believe about the Eucharist without sounding judgmental or exclusionary. I learned best by becoming friends with Catholics who take their Sunday obligation seriously, who take going to confession seriously. Who stayed in the pews and didn’t go to communion when they knew they shouldn’t. For me it was their example that helped me to grow in understanding more than anything anyone said or anything that I read.

    That said, I know that when it does come to having these conversations the most important thing we can do is ask the Holy Spirit for guidance. Let Him give us the right words. It’s ultimately His job to do the convincing. All I can do is try to be useful to Him.

  • Gina,

    God’s love is unconditional. And he always welcomes us. But as I’ve grown in faith and understanding I have come to treasure the sacrament of reconciliation almost as much as I treasure the Eucharist. It is when I make a good confession and receive absolution that Christ’s Blood washes me clean and makes me ready to fully enter into communion with Him.

    The Eucharist is a wedding feast. And the more we love the bride and groom the more concerned we are with dressing up to celebrate the most joyful
    event of their wedding. Yes, the bride and groom will welcome their loved ones no matter what they are wearing. When I got married I’d have been perfectly content to have my friends and family there in jeans and t-shirts if that were the only way they’d show up. But because they love me and recognize the awesome importance of the day and wanted to make it special and acknowledge that it was set apart, an event not like any other, my dad and brothers rented tuxedos and my mom and sister bought fancy dresses. They wore their best because they loved me and wanted to honor me.

    I think that’s the way we should be with Christ. We should love him so much that we want to wear our best. And this is a metaphor mind you, I’m not talking about wearing a fancy dress. I”m talking about wearing a shiny clean soul. Christ invites us to make confession so that he can clean our souls. So that we can have the honor of attending the wedding feast wearing shiny new garments. Sure, he’ll welcome us if we show up with dirty souls. I know he will. I did it for years and years and even when I went to Mass and received communion in a state of mortal sin he still poured graces upon me. I received many consolations in prayer during those years. I felt his presence when I went to Mass and knew that he loved me. But once I understood that he was offering me more, I began to want to receive the gift he was giving me and I began to want to hang back when I knew I wasn’t ready to receive communion. While it is true that we are never worthy to receive him—we say that at Mass right before we go up for communion—still, we can be more or less prepared. We can be in a state of grace or in a state of sin.

    When I am in a state of sin he still loves me and welcomes me, but it is I who am less able to welcome him into my heart. When sin clouds my heart, then there is less room for his grace and so even though I eat him in the Eucharist, I am not fully welcoming him into my heart. If I truly believe that he is present in the Host, then why would I not want to prepare him a fitting place to come into? When the guy comes to clean my furnace, I pick up the toys in the living room and vacuum the rugs and make sure there are no dishes in the sink. Why would I do less when God himself is coming to visit me, to make his dwelling in my soul? If he is truly present in the Eucharist, then I want to make my soul tidy, to clean up the mess before inviting him in.

  • Mind you, I can write this passionately, believe it fully, and yet still struggle mightily with actually living it. I’m not very good at practicing what I preach. I’m terrible at getting to confession on a regular basis. I’m terrible at discerning when I should and shouldn’t receive communion. I know I should want to go to confession… I do want to go…. and yet it is so hard to get there. And so easy to find excuses. And, and…. I’m really not trying to tell anyone else they are doing it wrong because I know all too well I’m doing it wrong too. I probably still receive communion when I shouldn’t. I’m a mess. And I am so grateful that God is patient with me and showers his mercy upon me. So very, very grateful that he died for me, that he died for all of us while we were still sinners. I know his love is very patient and most certainly unconditional. But he is also always calling me deeper, calling me to holiness. He wants to heal me where I am broken, to make me one with him. And he wants to help me get rid of everything in my life that separates me from him so that when I receive him in the Eucharist we will truly be one. This is why I should really go to confession every week and receive the Eucharist more frequently. But… I’m a work in progress. I am so glad he’s more patient than I am.

  • Melanie,
    Thank you so much for this thoughtful reflection.  The issue of the Church’s teaching on reception of Holy Communion is one I am struggling with now.

    My youngest brother went through an awful divorce about 4 1/2 years ago. During that time he prayed the Rosary, went to speak with a priest, brought the children faithfully to Mass every week.  Then, after the divorce was finalized, he met someone and fell in love in a whirlwind romance.  He would call me constantly during the hard times and I would listen and also talk to him about our faith, always including the Church’s teaching on marriage and annulment.  However, when he met his current wife, he decided that he did not want to wait to remarry and had a big wedding with a non-Catholic minister presiding.  I didn’t go to the wedding, but wrote him a long letter about the spiritual dangers of going ahead without the annulment.

    We still have a good relationship, but my problem is that he and his new wife continue to receive Communion when they go to Mass.  I’m not close enough to my new sister-in-law to discuss any of this with her, but I am also my brother’s godmother and I fell some obligation to discuss this with him, but, honestly, I am still weary from the annulment discussions.

    So, I guess I’m wondering what do you do when you’ve tried to evangelize, educate, be kind…but the other person still wants to do their own thing, but “belong” to the Church.  It’s a little different than the prodigal son, since they’re not quite running back to the Father, but rather demanding to come back on their own terms.

  • Marilyn,

    I think I would say what you feel you need to say—being sure to pray to the Holy Spirit for guidance before you open your mouth. As his godmother and his sister you definitely are in a position to say something. And then when you’ve said what needs to be said, stop. Turn it over to God. Keep praying for your brother and his wife. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you to find opportunities to speak if it will indeed do your brother good. Actually, ask for the grace to know when to speak and when to keep silent. Sometimes what does the most good is not nagging. I like to ask St Monica for help too. She knows what it is like to pray for someone for years and years. And our blessed Mother Mary too. It’s hard not to feel like we need to convince people, but really that’s not always our job.

  • —Big Sigh of Relief— I know I get overly-grumpy on that situation . . . but, well, good to know I’m not alone.

    In fairness to my parish, btw, I don’t know what official policies are, but they didn’t object when I needed to do sacramental prep at home for my youngest, for other reasons.

    (I didn’t hear about the loaves incident until Deacon X this weekend made it a topic on the drive home. I don’t think it’s typical, honestly. And that’s the first time I’ve heard something so outlandish from the pulpit in our diocese.  I burst out laughing when I heard it, because it was like I’d been transported to a scene from one of Jeff Miller’s old parodies.  Yeah.  At Mass.  I laughed at the homilist.  Yes I did.  I stifled it fast, but a reaction’s a reaction, can’t help one’s reflexes.)

    And I know that to a person, our catechists are great people. Truly loving. They just aren’t any better educated in the faith than I was growing up.  The secret-compartment-cloak-theory is the kinda thing I might have said, once upon a time. 

    I don’t think people make that stuff up maliciously.  I think they heard it somewhere, and think it’s a neat example of the power of human kindness or who-knows-what. I mean, if Jesus arrived at my parish and got everyone to put a twenty in the collection basket, I’d consider it evidence of divine intervention, for sure.

  • I’ve got a Jekyll/Hyde personality when it comes to that pastoral-patience thing.  This weekend we heard Deacon X explain how the loaves and fishes miracle was all about Jesus getting everyone to share the lunch they had stashed in their cloaks.  On the way home, one of the kids piped up, “They taught us that in 2nd grade RE.”  You know, the year you *must* attend religious ed if you want your sacrament?

    So I can be patient for a lifetime with your average Catholic-in-the-pew who just doesn’t know better.  But when it comes to the professional Catholics who are educating our parishes . . . I lose it.  Totally lose it. 

    Thing is, I don’t want them out. I want them in.  (All the ones I know are wonderful people, too.  Clueless, but wonderful all the same.) I just want them to teach the Catholic faith.

  • Jennifer,

    I am with you 100% on that. If you can’t agree with everything in the Catechism, when you don’t believe in miracles, etc, decency says you don’t teach the faith to other people. I’d pretty much lose it too if I ever heard someone try to tell me or my kids the loaves and fishes was about sharing.

    And this is another reason I’m homeschooling religious ed. To protect me and others from the consequences of my righteous wrath. And don’t get me started about the whole “must attend religious ed” thing. Pope Francis had some choice words recently about people who act as gatekeepers to the sacraments.

    And I love what you say about not wanting them out but in. I keep thinking about C.S. Lewis’s Last Battle: “Higher up, further in.” A joyous welcome to come deeper.