La Chica: Momma, why does it say July 13 on the milk?
Me: That’s when it expires.
La Chica: ……isn’t it July 31st though?
Me: Huh. Maybe? The date’s only a suggestion.
See, I am sort of a messy human being. Not in terms of being untidy or disorganized or actually spilling milk. Well, OK, I’m that kind of messy too. But really I mean I am a nuanced individual. I have flaws, but I mean well. I’m overall a good person. Just complex. Like I clearly believe food expiration dates and speed limits are merely suggestions.
Like I have two children of my own, but none of my friends would ever ask me to watch their children. Ever. I do really well with talking to kids about their feelings, their difficulties, their observations of the world. But no one would actually entrust another human being’s well-being with me. To do so would be akin to thinning the herd.
I’m not the only one who is a walking contradiction, who spills her milk. Being a good person and making mistakes or unwise choices is not mutually exclusive. Yet we assume it is. Someone recently was aghast that a family friend was discovered to have had an affair. Or three. People just could not believe it. This person was well-liked and well-regarded in the neighborhood. This person had a good job. This person was a role model for children! People were disappointed. They were incredulous. People felt like this person had let them all down. People did not approve of this person spilling milk.
But see, no one is a saint. We don’t know the back stories of anyone. We don’t know the hard fights people wage within themselves, the demons we all carry, the issues we all struggle with. But we all put on one hell of a good show.
People are able to make sense of things that are easily placed into categories. A very good person, or a train wreck of a person. The Pope versus a Real Housewife of New Jersey. We thrive on things that are easy to understand. Therefore, someone who is great with kids couldn’t possibly also have a drinking problem.
We vilify people for their faults, for their messy, for their spilt milk. So the message we understand is, “Oh boy, I better polish off my exterior facade and show the world just how not-messy I am. I better try hard to be as perfect as possible, lest I disappoint people, or be condemned myself.” No one wants to be outcast or judged or criticized. It’s shameful and hurtful and embarrassing. So we keep expecting clean, not-messy people, and clean, not-messy selves. This bar of perfection keeps rising in this sick competition of phantom not-messiness.
Sometimes seeing other people’s faults and messy innards cuts a bit too close to home. It’s not comfortable to see someone unravel at the seams, because those messy innards look too much like your messy innards, and you are just not going to unravel. You cannot–let people down, fall from grace, be vilified. So you posture up, shiny up your outsides, and raise that bar of Not-Messy. Oh, the pressure to not spill any milk.
It doesn’t have to be that way. When we see another person’s messy, and we always will, we need to offer empathy and kindness and love. We need to try to help them with their mess the best way they’d like us to help. And sometimes they don’t want the mess to be cleaned up. Sometimes they just want you to sit with them in their mess and be OK with not judging. And that’s perfectly acceptable too. At the end of the day, we’re all good people trying our best. If we just accepted this, instead of expecting idealized lives and selves, we’d be able to breathe just a little bit easier. We’d be able to live a little bit better. We’d be able to love a little bit kinder.
The Boy mused the other day: “I think heaven is above the clouds, but below outer space. And when the sky is clear and blue with no clouds, all the souls must be on vacation so that’s why we can’t see them. But I know it’s crowded up there, because everyone gets to go to heaven. We all do bad things, but we’re all good people. So no one really goes to hell. We all deserve to go to heaven. ”
Amen. I will drink to that. A round of milk for everyone, on me.