Our white couch used to look pristine before we had Emerson and Ezra. Upon close inspection, you might have been able to see a pin-sized splatter of pasta sauce overlooked from a dinner-and-a-Red Box movie night. Occasionally, the bluish tint from our new dark-rinse jeans would appear on the couch prompting us to wash our slipcovers as if it was an eyesore of the worst kind. Now, upon not so close inspection, the white couch boasts gray fingerprint smudges, pink crayon marks, and water stains from leaking “spill-proof” sippy cups. We still wash our slipcovers, but the time between washes has gotten longer and the care with which we iron them has eased. The washing machine is burdened with extra loads of laundry and our schedules are filled with other responsibilities like feeding small human beings, giving baths, managing changing work schedules, picking up toys, and hosting play dates.
I used to get frustrated with our post-baby white couches. “Horrible!” I would mutter to myself as I gathered books and puzzles from the surface, revealing the dingy cushions. “What kind of insane parent keeps a white couch?” I would rearrange throw pillows before guests came over to cover the worst blots.
I can remember Emerson standing in front of me holding an oversized piece of art paper between her two hands. She smiled at me with pride. She had used real pastels to recreate Monet’s Water Lilies with a Master Kitz art set her grandparents gifted her. “I’m going to keep it forever,” she sang.
“Saving it seems like a great idea,” I encouraged her. “Why don’t you think of a way to store it?” I came back in the room just as she laid the artwork face down on the arm of the couch and rolled it into a scroll for safe preservation. The iconic purple, blue, and green impressionist masterpiece I admired had made a permanent exhibit on my couch.
And maybe we are crazy to still have our white couches. Gray would certainly hide more. Perhaps we could make a family rule about what can and cannot be done on the white couches. But we want our children to be comfortable in our home; to know that we value them over our material possessions.
So, what if I look at the white couches through a different lens?
These imperfections in our life tell stories. Not the story of dirt or what Emerson had for her snack today. That extra-discolored cushion on the left tells the story of two joyful children who love to stand on the couch peeking out the window anticipating the arrival of our babysitter. The crayon mark tells the story of Ezra who is learning to draw big circles – and the drive he has to practice when he finds Emerson’s crayon sitting on the table.
The worn carpets in our lives, the scratches on the bookshelf, the impossible-to-remove cheerios crumbs found in the crevasses of the car’s leather seats are representative of something else: the company of good friends, the imaginative curiosity of a small child, and the pure joy that can be found in something as simple as O-shaped whole grains.
Childhood is alive in front of us, showing us its creativity and wonder, like little sparks of beauty among the disorder. So when you come from work and all you can see are the dust bunnies on the floor, and the pile of laundry keeps multiplying even though you’ve told it to stop, and the only way you can make a five-minute phone call is to shut yourself in the closet, let’s remember something bigger is going on. Beauty is alive in the chaos.
We can choose to see the dirt as dirt. Or we can see it for what it truly is – the beauty of this stage of life.
Jessica Mancari leads editorial projects for Fortune 100 companies and public sector clients as director of content strategy at Adfero. She believes truth can tell beautiful stories, for which her family provides the best content of all. Jessica lives in Arlington, VA and attends NCC's Potomac Yard campus.