Beth Vrabel lives in West Manchester Township with her daughter, Emma, 6, and son, Benny, 3.

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Being a Parent is Messy Business

Smart Mama

My little guy, age 3, hadn’t played outside in what felt like weeks. Sure, the grass was soggy, and small piles of snow peppered the ground. But the sun was shining, and Benny was decked out in his new waterproof boots. So we went out to play.

I left Benny out back while I took something to the garage. And that’s when I heard the scream.

It wasn’t THE scream — you know, the one that glues a mother’s feet to the ground for a heartbeat while she gathers courage to face her worst fears. This scream was more of an annoyed squeal. He followed it up with “Ew!”

I hurried to the scene of the crime.

Somehow, in those 30 seconds, Benny fell into a mess made by our puppy, Jasper, that had been at the base of the sliding board.

Then, Benny decided to go down the sliding board a few times, leaving a nice little track in his wake, across the slide and down the length of his own body.

Go ahead, shudder. I sure did.

Parenting is often a messy business. And many times, there is no one but you there, slightly overwhelmed, thoroughly queasy and struggling not to cry while you wrangle in the wreckage.

“You’re ruining my life,” Benny told me as I scrubbed his face with a soapy washcloth.

“Sometimes, that’s my job.”

Sliding board mishaps aside, we’re easing out of the constant messiness. We’re just about through with diapers, spit-up, and my children regarding me as a human tissue. Our daughter, Emma, age 6, can even drink a cup of cocoa without too big of a mustache.

But Emma’s propelling us toward a different kind of parental messiness. One that is just as overwhelming, just not so obvious.

She’s becoming a big kid, one who writes her secrets in a little pink diary that she slams shut when I enter the room.

She has friends who are sometimes mean. She has fears that keep her nightlight glowing. She has wrong answers on tests, falls from pedestals and hills to climb.

And sometimes, it’s messy.

Late at night, when she’s curled up and peaceful in her bed, I see my baby in this kid’s body. And I pray that I don’t mess up the enormous blessing and responsibility of being her mother.

“Two kids in my class kissed today,” she whispers on the walk home from the bus stop.

“What do you think about that?” I ask.

“That it’s gross?”

“Yes, that’s right. It’s gross,” I answer, even though I know I’m mucking up a chance to really talk to her.

Worse yet are the times when she doesn’t tell me anything at all. Then, her forehead creases with worry, and she nibbles on her fingernails, but her mouth stays firmly shut. Does she need my help? Do I press, or give her some space? Then I long for something obvious, even if it’s messy, that I can make orderly and right for her.

But she’s becoming a big kid, and big kids often have to clean up for themselves.

I just hope that as she and Benny grow, they remember that I’m always here to help, no matter how overwhelming the mess.

Beth Vrabel lives in West Manchester Township with her daughter, Emma, 6, and son, Benny, 3. For more Smart Mama columns, click here.

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