How Spaghetti Sauce Hand Prints Taught Me to Find Joy in Unexpected Places

I looked over my countertop near the end of a very long day at the wall leading to the back door and noticed a brownish-red, toddler-sized hand print had been left on the wall. It looked almost intentional. Like it had been a two-year-old’s science experiment. All five fingers were distinguishable. As were all five spices that had been used in whatever kind of sauce had been used as his medium. I sighed, added that task to my ever growing mental to-do list and then finished up the dishes, cleared the counters, swept the floor, picked up the four or five various toys that had been left in the kitchen under mysterious circumstances and then glanced around to double check my work. There it was still. The hand print. But having just spent 45 minutes cleaning, I made the conscious decision to leave it for the moment. The boys were getting restless and fighting in the background and we needed to start the bedtime routine.

The older boys had already showered and the two year old (who’s identity could be confirmed via spaghetti sauce finger prints to be found on the kitchen wall) had been scrubbed and dressed. Now it was just me and baby.

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I mean.

I love giving my babies their baths. Every single one of my boys have been head-over-heels for water. They splash and laugh and blow bubbles and do just about every single cute baby-in-water thing you could possibly imagine.

I sat on the bathroom floor and watched his chubby little 12-month-old body explore his watery environment. I’m sorry, but is there anything cuter than a fat, naked baby bottom?? I submit that there is not. He laughed and cooed and ‘talked’ to me. He dumped water on his head and tried to drink it (ew). He blew bubbles in the water and played with his toys. And I watched him with total joy. It was one of those mom moments when you think, “this is what they talk about when they say enjoy it. This is one of those times I need to slow down as I try and soak in every detail” So I did. I made a mental note of the way his long brown hair hung wet on his forehead and the way he was learning to manipulate objects as he put the wet washrag into his cup and how boisterous he was as he ‘swam’ from one end of the tub to the other, laughing the whole time.

He soaked; I soaked.

And I felt happy.

Later that night, after the boys were in bed, I walked back over to the wall and finally wiped the hand print off with a disinfectant wipe. It took a minute because I’m pretty sure the spaghetti sauce was also part plaster and it had hardened by then.

And I felt annoyed.

While I scrubbed, I thought of that story/adage/piece of advice that young moms hear all the time about how one day we will miss the tiny hand print smudges on windows and walls. Later that night, while I was lying in bed, trying to fall asleep, the image of scrubbing that hand print off the wall came back into my mind.

I love and honor the advice to slow down in my mothering; to savor and enjoy the moments that are mine right now. But I’ve always balked when I’m advised to let the chores go in favor of spending time with the children. “Sure. Easy for you to say living in your pristine house that gets clean and stays clean because the people you share your space with don’t come into a room you’re cleaning with five things in their hands, dump them where they stand and then run into the next room to find the next thing they can unceremoniously abandon in another completely random location”  For a clearer idea of what my house would look like if I let the chores go in favor of spending time with my children, feel free to stop by any time with the understanding that I have not been following that advice and you’ll gain a pretty good insight into the potential horror I’m talking about.

But that night, that advice suddenly came to me in a different frame and so I bought it.

“Savor scrubbing the hand prints off”.

A light bulb went off and suddenly, that seemingly unachievable balance between finding joy in your children and also not drowning in dirty dishes made sense to me.

Smile and laugh at the finger prints; commit the saucy proof of children to memory…maybe even photograph it. As you’re cleaning, enjoy the types of chores you’re doing which serve as a reminder of the little people you enjoy so much. Your arms full of plastic army men, three nerf guns, two swords, five super hero costumes and as many Lego bricks as you can hold will soon be gone. They tell a story of four boys under seven, rambunctious and full of energy and creativity and too many fun ideas to be bothered with neatness. The super hero undies you’re folding, so small that you can’t believe an entire person fits in them, are symbols of your boy-mom status; reminding you how inherent their desire to protect and defend are. The crumbs, the sweeping 17 times a day, the play dough you stepped in, the bath toys you clear before showering; all of these messes are as fleeting as your children are. They aren’t to be ignored, or delayed, or put to the side; they are to be celebrated for what they represent. For who they represent. For the era they represent.

They are to be savored.

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