Lesson from a Cereal Bowl


Blessings sometimes come in messy packages.

I am sure every mother has thought her life would make a great television sitcom—either that or a good disaster movie. That’s how I felt one particular morning.

I had made hot cereal for breakfast, and my older children had gone to school with contented smiles on their faces. When my two-year-old woke up, I set him on a stool at the kitchen counter, put a bowl of cereal in front of him, and left the room for a few moments. Big mistake.

Some situations are so bad they defy a reaction—this was one of those situations. When I returned I saw that there was cereal on every inch of exposed surface from my son to as far as his spoon could catapult it. I stared in stunned silence. Still, I had to admire his thoroughness. I was amazed at the coverage he had achieved from one small bowl.

My gaze drifted to the clock on the stove. Through clumps of cereal I noticed the time and came to my senses. I had a meeting at my children’s school in less than an hour. Should I change out of my robe and slippers and hope this was a nightmare I would awaken from, or should I face reality and try to find my kitchen under its new textured coating?

I decided to remove the cereal while there was still a chance. With a withering look at my son—still perched on his stool, his hair spiked with granulated “mousse”—I rolled up my sleeves and slipped and slid to the sink. I retrieved a dishrag and started to clean.

After what seemed an eternity of scrubbing, I could see progress. I looked at my son again and realized this was the longest he had ever sat in one place in his life. Either he was getting an inordinate amount of pleasure from seeing me work so hard, or he was stuck fast to his seat with ever-hardening cereal.

He didn’t say anything, just looked at me. Then I saw it—something I had never seen before: remorse on the face of a two-year-old.

“Sorry, Mommy.” Big brown eyes glistened with unshed tears.

Why did he have to do that just when I was calm enough to scold him? I glanced at the clock and knew I had missed my meeting. So with a huff, I rinsed my rag and began to wash him.

When I had him clean enough to touch without getting stuck, I finally picked him up. He immediately slipped his chubby arms around my neck and snuggled into the fuzzy softness of my robe. With a sigh, I sat down and gently stroked his back.

My mind drifted to a dreamy world where the kitchen sparkled, few dishes were ever dirtied, the floor rarely needed to be swept, and cookies stayed in the jar for more than 15 minutes—where bathrooms smelled like pine forests, guest towels weren’t covered with greasy smudges, and the tub wasn’t full of assorted action figures. I pictured beds that were made, floors void of debris, and laundry that stayed in the hamper until wash day. How wonderful! Yet how sad.

No more little arms thrown around my neck or kisses planted firmly on my mouth. No unconditional hugs despite my temper. No bedtime stories or eager anticipation as new life nudged through the soil in a paper cup. No more homemade Mother’s Day cards or art projects. No clay toothpick holders wrapped in newspaper for Christmas.

That’s all it took.

Even though it was frustrating to have punch stains on the carpet, to constantly blaze trails through toys and dirty socks, and to remove crayon scribbles from the new wallpaper, I realized that these things were insignificant when compared with the magic my children brought into my life. I held my son tighter as I smiled and thanked heaven for messes, for they walk hand in hand with joy.

[illustration] Illustrated by Jerry Thompson