Bless the Mess

By Anna Mitchael

The fingerprints first appeared over a weekend

They didn’t come one by one; all of the sudden there were about 50 on the door of our black microwave. I stared at them, wondering if a child put a hand in powdered sugar, then licked their fingers to make them as sticky as possible, and then decided (aha!) nothing would bring them as much joy as one simple bag of microwave popcorn.

Hoping it was a one-time thing, I wiped down the door and went on with my life, until the next day, when the fingerprints were back. This time I asked my boys, but they both claimed they hadn’t microwaved anything “in a gazillion years.” Luckily it didn’t take a gazillion years for me to get to the bottom of it. After just a couple hours my husband walked through the kitchen with our toddler, and I had my answers.

“Oh, you want to show Dad how you can open and close the microwave?” he asked. In response, she cackled with joy, waving fingers that are permanently sticky — if only with powdered sugar and saliva I would celebrate — in the direction of the microwave. Opening and closing it was exactly what she wanted to do.

“All right, here we go,” my husband said. And even though the mother of my first child and my second child never would have done it, the mother of this third child, this much-loved little girl, slowly turned and walked out of the kitchen without saying a word to stop them.

Now that I know their game I’ve stopped cleaning the microwave. The fingerprints are piling up to a point where, if you came over to visit right now, you would definitely notice them. Every time I walk in the kitchen I spot them first. But instead of seeing a mess, I see the windows in my grandmother’s house, tall panes of glass put in for their view of the piney woods of East Texas.

Those windows were a siren call for a curious toddler, and I’ve heard the stories of how my brother and I would stand there with our hands pressed to the glass, watching the natural world go by. When I was the mother of only one child, I would take that son every few months to see my grandmother, and I watched as he walked in my and my brother’s footsteps — right to those windows. He would stand for 10 minutes — to a toddler that’s about an hour — pointing at the birds, twigs and leaves that caught his eye.

One time when we arrived, he was still napping so I had a few minutes to greet my grandmother and walk around the house on my own. Like I’ve always done, like everyone does, I walked to those windows to see the piney woods. But as I looked out something caught my eye.

“Have you had other kids here to visit lately?’ I asked my grandmother. There were fingerprints on the window at a height only a child could make.

“Oh no,” she said. “Those are from when you were here last time. I just can’t stand the idea of cleaning them off.”

I didn’t get it. I even considered grabbing her Windex from under the kitchen sink to do the job for her. But I had not yet seen a toddler grow up. I did not know how fast it would all go. The fingerprints had been there for a couple of months. Now I understand that to a grandparent, or a parent, that’s only a millisecond.