Article Content

"Kids[horizontal ellipsis]come down here right now and clean up this playroom!!!!" As I stomp up the stairs I tell my husband, "The playroom is a mess[horizontal ellipsis]again." That seems to be a common occurrence in my house, where 3 young children have yet to learn to put their toys away. It is a daily struggle between us to keep the playroom neat and organized. This room is devoted to all of the "stuff" that accumulates over time-from birthdays to Christmas to Halloween-from life. As a result, the many cabinets and shelves are filled to overflowing.


The big problem is that the playroom is always a mess. I try each day to teach my children to take one toy out at a time, and then put it away before they take out another. It seems so simple. I strive for patience, but at times it has become a great controversy. I've bagged up the toys and threatened not to give them back. I've punished, yelled, and sometimes I just clean it all up by myself and then I get angry. But either way, the basement is never clean.


Last week in my role as a visiting nurse, I had a very touching event take place that has changed the way I look at things in my life. I went to visit Mrs. S, an 82-year-old woman who lives alone in her home. She is the mother of four children, now grown, and she is quite debilitated with severe osteoporosis and pain. She is limited by a walker so that she can't go down the stairs to the basement on her own anymore. Simple things, for her, are impossible. I had to bring her newspaper up for her. Despite being trapped in a body that is aging painfully, she was so funny, kind, and very intelligent. She was the kind of person you want to sit down and share a cup of coffee with and listen to some of her history. During much of my visit, she told me stories about her children and her fond memories of their childhood in this house that is now her prison.


When I called her to set up my visit for that day, she told me that I should come in the garage door, and "go through the playroom, up the stairs, then holler." So that's what I did. As I stepped through the door into a very dark, empty, and musty-smelling garage I saw the door leading into the playroom at the other end. I sort of froze as I entered the playroom. I almost cried[horizontal ellipsis]this room was left as it had been many years ago when children had run and played here. It represented a shrine to years past; to children and laughter; to healthier, happier times. Long gone were the many toys, but the cabinets remained, mostly with empty shelves and cobwebs now. The linoleum floor shone brightly in the dark room, gleaming, with no signs of muddy foot prints or cookie crumbs. There was nobody here to make a mess. The ping pong table sat abandoned in a dark corner without paddles, the net long gone. The quiet rang out. The neat, clean appearance was almost painful. The loneliness called to me and whispered in my ear, and I will never be the same.


All day, as I visited other patients in their homes I could not get that lonely and stark playroom out of my mind. It left me with such a melancholy feeling. I could not wait to get home and see my young family to ask them about their day. I didn't care about a mess. They were so happy to see me, and that's all that mattered. Later, as I went downstairs to do a load of laundry, I was touched to see that the playroom was fairly neat!! Here and there a little something was left out and forgotten. A tattered piece of construction paper and a Barbie's shoe were on the rug; a couple of scattered things were on the counter. Oh, how I welcomed this little bit of mess. I will now cherish the warmth that hovers around the well-loved toys that are sometimes strewn about. I'm not ready for the day to come that the playroom is clean and empty, and the toys are gone. That will be a hard day. When that day comes, I don't want to look back with regret-regret that I had cared too much about the mess. I want to look back and remember the fun and joy, just as my patient does. And I pray that when that day comes, and my playroom is clean, I can be as witty and as positive, and as much of a lady as Mrs. S. was. But for right now, I hope my playroom is a mess for a long, long time. I will miss the mess.