“Beautiful Messes,” column for Jan. 21, 2014

When Henry came to visit, he stood at the French doors in the living room, pressing his nose against the glass, and we talked, he and I, about trees and birds and passing clouds and other fine things that we love.

“Henry,” I said, “do you know what kind of trees those are?”

He grinned his smart Henry grin and said, “Palm trees!”

He was right, of course.

Henry is my 2-year-old grandson. He has soft dark curls and chocolate brown eyes that shine with a light all their own. And he’s about 3 feet tall, a fact I just estimated by measuring from the nose prints he left on the glass and adding a few inches for the top of his head.

I wish you could see him.

I wish I could see him, too, along with his cousins and their parents and uncles and aunts.

Talk about a beautiful mess.

My husband and I share five grown children, their others, and four grandchildren, ages 3 and younger. They all live in California, 500 miles from our home in Las Vegas, a distance my mother would have called the far side of the moon.

We visit often, but not often enough. That’s how it is with people who own your heart. Enough is never enough.
This morning I tried again to clean Henry’s nose prints off the glass. Couldn’t bring myself to do it. It’s been two weeks and I’m still not ready to let them go.

Every time I walk through that room and see those nose-shaped smudges all lined up like fat little birds on a wire, I picture Henry standing there, grinning up at me, and I light up like Christmas, all over again.

Call me easy, but I’ve had similar reactions to various handprints and footprints, big and small, bathtub rings and turkey carcasses and empty pizza boxes and crushed beer cans and the inevitable stale Cheerio that I find on the floor after a visit from my children and grandchildren.

I love those things. They seem to say, “We all got together and had ourselves a good time.”

Years ago, I’d have seen them not as signs of a good time, but just stuff to clean up. I still clean them up, eventually. But I’m in no big rush to get rid of them.

Messy isn’t always a bad sign; sometimes it’s just a sign of life.

I wish I’d learned that sooner. I wish, when my children were growing up, I’d spent less time worrying about cleaning up after them and more time lighting up at the way they made me feel.

For the record, I always delighted in my children and my house was often a mess. But I might not have minded the mess so much had I known then what I know now: Today’s mess is tomorrow’s treasured memory.

Life, at its best, is messy and chaotic and unpredictable and basically beyond control. Especially with children.

A little order can do a lot for your peace of mind, and even for your sanity. But creating order should never be more important than finding joy _ if only the joy of survival.

Looking back, I wish I could’ve saved every fort my oldest built in the living room. Every flower my daughter picked for me from the neighbor’s yard. Every note my youngest played on the piano or banged on the drums. All the things they said or did or drew or spilled or broke.

We can’t save all the pieces of our lives. But we can try to savor each piece as it comes along and remember it when it’s gone.

My daughter called last night to tell me a story. While reading to Henry, she had pointed to an illustration and asked, “What kind of tree is that?”

“Palm tree,” he said, quickly, “like Nana’s house.”

I will savor that. Long after his prints are washed from my windows, the memories will remain imprinted on my heart.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep hoping for another visit and a chance to make another beautiful mess.


  1. Debbie Brozowski says

    I loved your column today! I do the same thing when my grandchildren come to visit us at our lake house. They leave on Sunday, the following weekend we get there, and I can see those little hand prints, I can’t wash them off. Sometimes they remain on the windows until I know they are coming back. Then I may wash them off so that new ones can be placed on there! I too wish that I would have not minded all the messes when my own children were younger, but I guess we think they will stay little forever. Then suddenly one day they are grown, married and have children of their own. I have found that there is nothing like a grandchild. I now have 3 of them, with another one on the way, and couldn’t be happier!! Thank you for the wonderful story today.

  2. You should finger paint on your window next time they visit. 🙂
    Make some handprints that you can actually take a photo of!!
    Photos keep!!

    Beautiful story!!

  3. Marilyn McLinn says

    Love your column!! My family always lived far apart We used to pile in on my parents with our kids too. My Mother always had something for the Grandkids to do. Our family now lives in about a 50 mile radius. Don’t know how we pulled that off. Now I try to do the same with mine. We eat with one or the other of our children once a week or so. Never sure which set of kids n grandkids will be available to eat. Last night I got to eat supper with my two year old Grandson and his parents. We ate at a restaurant and while we waited for our food he played with my iPad. The hamburger shop game is his favorite. He likes to get the people in the shop and then throw their food in the trash. My little red head has sparkly blue eyes and an infectious giggle.

  4. Sharon, I totally understand. We have a cabin in the mountains, and our first chore each summer is to wash the windows. But there was a greasy handprint (sunscreen? chicken marinade? who knows….) on a front window, and we left it for over a year. This summer, we smeared lotion on our grandson’s hand to attempt to compare whether his hand had grown….and then we finally washed the window. With sorrow. and regret.

  5. That was beautiful. I just printed it out and will give it to Henry’s dad when I see him in a few minutes just in case he hasn’t already. Loved it.

  6. We too lived over 500 miles apart from my family. But every chance we had, be it Spring break, summer vacation, Thanksgiving, Christmas…or any other excuse, we got together. I remember my Mom telling me she would leave the and hand prints on the storm door for several days after we left. Those are good memories, times etched in our son & daughter’s hearts, times spent with Grandma & Grandpa. And she never complained about the mess we made when we piled in to their home for several days. It’s been 10 years now and I still miss them so! I never regret the miles we drove back & forth to be with them.

  7. Marie Disselhorst says

    I know the feeling. I love those little prints that they leave I look at them a few days before I clean them off.

  8. A beautiful story- I love it Thank you, Weldon


  1. […] years ago that Sharon Randall wrote and it resonated very deeply with me then (and now) about the beautiful messes she has after her family […]

  2. […] newspaper. I read a sweet piece from Sharon Randall and it resonated very deeply with me about the beautiful messes she has after her family visits. She writes: “We visit often but not often enough. […]

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