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Illustration by Mary Kirkpatrick

I like an organized, clean house. Items should have a place that we return them to when not in use. I believe that tidying up after oneself is a common courtesy. I am, therefore, often in the minority in the house that I share my husband and two sons, aged 10 and 12, and our two cats.

Every time I walk in the front door and make the turn to hang my coat in the mudroom, I grimace at the mayhem that meets my eyes. Legions of shoes scattered all over the floor, along with two giant sports bags, roller blades, slippers … and cat toys. You name it and you may find it in my mudroom. No matter how many times I attempt to reset the scene, this room almost immediately ends up back in disarray.

The other day I started to think about why that is, why is the mudroom the most challenging room to keep in order? I came to the realization that it is because the mudroom is both the beginning and the end, it is the jumping off point to the adventures of our day and it is the dumping ground when the sun sets. In turn, those four walls have become a holder of memories, and a museum of my family’s artifacts, as each item tells a story of those that I love most.

The new, bright white Nike high tops upended on the floor will introduce you to my oldest son. As he moves into tweendom, he is enjoying demonstrating his emerging fashion sense. No longer do I get to pick out clothes for him. Oh no! He bought these with his own money, and they are a source of great pride. The small black and blue Velcro runners scattered nearby belong to my youngest. He has run, jumped, slid and kicked so much in those shoes that the Velcro no longer holds, and the soles are raw. He is a tornado wrapped up in a 10-year-old’s body and his shoes definitely echo that.

There are always sports bags in our mudroom, too. The time of year will dictate the sport – basketball and hockey supplies in the fall and winter months, and soccer and baseball throughout the spring and summer. Despite having bins for everything, baseball gloves and tennis balls, bats and helmets repeatedly end up strewn about. In particular, this happens as spring arrives and both my boys rush home from school, drop their backpacks off in exchange for their oversized baseball bags and head straight to the local park. The neighbourhood kids often have a game going and they tag along with their friends carrying everything needed, including the bases.

The rollerblades provide a different kind of memory; they are a reminder of the pandemic. Looking for something to keep our active children entertained in lockdown, we were lucky enough to acquire rollerblades for both of them. (They were like Cabbage Patch Kids in the 1980s in those early lockdown days and very hard to get.) Our house is on an extremely flat block, providing the boys with the perfect place to learn to skate. Soon roller hockey games, skating obstacle courses and races ensued and, of course, it didn’t just stay contained to our children, other little ones were quick to join in. Neighbours would come out to chat as the kids bladed around, and our little block became a community centre of sorts during a much-needed time.

Now the slippers … those belong to my husband. They were a Christmas present from the boys and me many years ago. During the colder months, it is the first thing that my husband does when he returns home from work, he slips on those charcoal grey wool slippers and continues to settle in. He loves and wears them so much that the initial pair wore right through the toe. He won’t part with those treasures but now has a second pair; the exact same make and model.

Last fall we lost our 20-year-old cat, Gracie. You think when you experience a loss like that you will not want to “replace” your pet, however, sooner than we expected we felt room in our hearts and lives for another feline friend. And if you are getting one … why not two? Thus, two sweet calico sisters joined our family and quickly displayed a love of … Lego! Not any Lego, just those little yellow mini-figure heads. Penny and Rosie love to carry those pea-sized heads around in their teeth, hiding them all throughout the house. When we lift a shoe or slide our toes into a boot we are often greeted by a little, smiling, yellow face.

Recently, as I was reflecting on my exasperation at the mudroom chaos, it occurred to me that this feeling is fleeting. It is only a matter of a few years that this disorder will ensue. The boys are getting older, and the toys and mess will move on … as will my sons eventually. This makes me mournful for what I know will feel like a big loss. A change in perspective is therefore upon me. I am now trying to embrace the mess because each day that I see that quirky collection of goods means that my house is full of love, energy, passion and family. While it would make my day to see someone finally use the shoe rack, maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to want to tidy everything up.

Kelly Irwin lives in Waterloo, Ont.

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