I was downstairs tossing laundry in the dryer when I heard an ear piercing toddler scream. My heart faltered for a moment as a hundred different scenarios flitted through my brain. I had left my two year old playing upstairs in her room with her daddy down the hall. What on earth had happened?
I launched myself up the stairs two at a time. I felt like my legs were moving through jello but I finally reached the top step and dashed across the house. The screaming was coming from the bathroom.
I got to the door and stopped short for a moment as I took in the scene. My daughter had our diaper sprayer in a death grip and it was shooting water six feet out the door. Her little body was shaking in terror and her face was frozen in fear as water flooded the room and hall.
My mouth dropped open in shock. I was going to be doused if I got any closer but she was crying too loudly to hear me say anything. I only paused for a moment before I closed the distance and yanked the sprayer from her little fingers. I quickly shut off the flow and surveyed the damage.
I was soaking wet, my floor was one big puddle, and my daughter was still sobbing hysterically.
In that moment all I felt was relief. Relief that all I had to clean up was a few gallons of water and not a hurt baby.
I folded my child into my arms and told her it was ok. Gradually her shaking stopped and her cries subsided. I pulled her tiny body away from mine and brushed the curls off her forehead. Her sobs turned into tiny hiccups as she searched my face for anger.
She knew she wasn’t allowed to touch the diaper sprayer.
I stared back into her worried brown eyes and felt a giggle rise in my throat. I was trying to be serious but my stern expression was slipping. Her little brow wrinkled in puzzlement and it pushed me over the edge. The situation and her expression were absolutely priceless and I couldn’t help but laugh as I relived the mad dash in my memory. I giggled so much tears began to leak from my eyes!
When I finally calmed down we cleaned up the mess together (a.k.a. she pushed the water around with a sopping rag while I actually removed water). After everything was dry we had a discussion about her choices. It didn’t take much to get her to agree not to touch the diaper sprayer ever again!
After I went to bed that evening I lay in bed and pondered the whole situation. I was so proud of myself for keeping my cool in the midst of the chaos. My primary concern had been comforting my distraught daughter and making sure she was ok. The mess was an afterthought.
How great would it be if the mess was always an afterthought? There are so many times when I react in anger to something inconsequential. Do I really need to freak out about spilled milk, a shattered cup, or muddy footprints on my floor?
Is my overreaction sending the message that the broken glass is more important than her? That she is incompetent?
What if instead of immediately chastising and reacting in anger I always showed my child grace. What if I gave her a hug, handed her a towel, and helped her clean up the mess every time instead of shaming her.
What she needs hear is that accidents happen to everyone – even grown-ups. She needs to know that messes can be cleaned up, most broken things can be fixed, and possessions just aren’t that important.
My reactions are key because the messages I send now are slowly being built into who she is, and how I treat these situations will impact our relationship in the future. Spilled milk, shattered cups, and muddy boots are just a training ground.
My daughter needs to know she can come to me when the stakes are higher.
I don’t want her to hide her problems because she is afraid of my reaction. I want her to tell me when she has an accident in my car, makes a poor relationship decision, or needs a ride home from a party. I want her to trust that I will be a fair and careful judge in every situation.
It is my job to make sure there are consequences for intentional disobedience and carelessness, but the attitude I have when I do my job makes a world of difference. She needs to know that nothing she does could ever diminish my love for her. Nothing can alter her innate value. Nothing can take away her status as a beloved child of God.
My daughter needs to know that she doesn’t have to hide her messes from me, and she doesn’t have to hide them from God because she will always be met with grace.
So the next time I catch my child tromping across the floor with muddy boots I’ll try to react with understanding and love. After all – it’s only mud. Nothing a damp towel and a measure of grace can’t handle!
And in case you’re wondering? She hasn’t touched the diaper sprayer in over a year. I think she has learned a healthy respect for the sprayer.
Do your kids make messes? Do you feel like you react the way you want when it happens? Share with me in the comments!