I can feel it like a vise, slowly making its way up my chest and into my throat. My heart pounding in my ears, my field of vision slowly narrowing. I sigh again and force myself to get up.
One thing at a time. I pick up the square Magna Tile pieces. One thing at a time. I straighten out the chairs in the living room. One thing at a time. I carry the dishes to the sink. One thing at a time. One thing at a time.
And then, I start to feel better. Order and cleanliness help me; they are things that I can control. There have been many times in my life that I didn’t have an ounce of control over, which has left me with a lingering fear and inability to cope with unknown and chaotic situations. I get around this is by wiping, scrubbing, and cleaning my house until I reach a state of meditative calm. It’s not until I can see my clean floors and my clean kitchen and my clean dining room table that I can finally relax enough to focus, to fully enjoy spending time with my boys.
Except, I couldn’t do it.
I couldn’t allow the wildness and disorder and exuberance to creep into my home, my sanctuary. When he was just barely sitting up as a baby, Des would dip his fingers in the finger paint and smear it across his face and bare chest. “Oh no, baby. Not like that! On the paper! Here, let me wipe your hands.” As a toddler, Des loved throwing sand and dirt up into the air. It would get all over his little face and hands and down his shirt, and I would have flurries of momentary panic that ended with me scooping him up and rushing him to the sink to rinse off. All of these curtailed wild and natural experiences led him to develop his own fear getting dirty and also diminished his curiosity of and comfort in nature. All because of me and my need to have everything clean and neat and tidy.
I often think of this quote by Henry Thoreau:
“We need the tonic of wildness...At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”
I pick up the remaining Magna Tiles. I’m grateful that Des has found a school here in France that encourages that wildness, that encourages him to pick up rocks and see the earth’s creatures crawling underneath, that encourages him to play outside even though outside is wet and muddy and dirty. Through this school, he has regained his fearlessness and curiosity. It really does take a village, doesn't it?
I still cling to my cleaning rags and sponges in the midst of stressful situations. But I find myself not caring so much about the dusty footprints on the floor, the dusky lines of sweat around their necks, or the dirt underneath fingernails (Just kidding. Dirty fingernails make me want to vomit. I have a special scrubber specifically made to scrub out gunk from underneath fingernails). These serve as my daily reminders to just let that shit go and willingly, if not joyfully, invite the wilderness in.