4.05.2010

Mess is a dirty word

I take the making of messes very seriously. I think that they are absolutely vital to living well.

The making of stuff,


and the enjoyment of stuff,


is all very messy. This is life.

Usually, I relish a bit of mess. If giving birth taught me anything, it's that the best things come with disarray and a whole lot of gunk.

Mess is good. There is gold in the silt.


But, I confess, sometimes I get uptight about some sorts of mess.

Messes like the markers that wash off clothes and the table, but not hands. I hate those markers. When I see the kids have managed to find them again (how do they do that?!), I feel seriously put out. I also get tetchy about tape and glitter and plastic confetti. A lot of that has to do with the arts and crafts studio also being our dining room table. I just don't fancy my pancakes with sparkles.

And then there are messes that border on the edge of crazy making. Messes like the wearing of the Cinderella dress that was handmade for a certain little girl's third birthday, which was not only greatly demanded prior to the party by said small girl, with all sorts of dithering and deliberation in the choosing of the fabrics and colours, but, then, greatly derided as too short and not what was desired at all, and banished to the far reaches of the closet, unloved and forlorn. But then, whoa!, two and a half bloody years later, pulled out of the dress up bin with completely new eyes, where the certain little girl adorns her precious body with it and wears it all day, in and outside, with dirt, peanut butter, and tomato sauce saturating the satin fibers. This is the mess where the little girl has absolutely no memory of the Cinderella birthday dress and is adamant that her mother did not make this beautiful dress, no way.


(Deep breathing... Calming down...)

Okay.

I've got this thing, though, where I like to give myself a nudge every once in awhile. A little push out of the comfort zone. For the greater good, I think. For self growth. Or modeling appropriate attitude for the children or developing a sense of inner mastery and order by being OK with external disorder and all that nonsense. Mostly, I it is just a part of who I am. I feel a limit to be an irresistible challenge. I rebelled against my parents, my teachers, authority, The Man. Have limits, will push. But now, I'm the parent, I am the teacher. So I give myself a nudge to see what I will do.

Y'all remember my Crayon Liberation. That whole exercise was about me letting go the controls and remembering what exactly it is that I am doing here with these little minds and their great oceans of potential. It's one of my prouder parenting moments.

But it's not like I'm cured of anal-ness. Smootch still likes to peel the occasional crayon. And I still have to breath through the experience.


Yet, crayon use or misuse, at this time, is pretty light-weight stuff. My personal nemesis of late, at least in the mess department, is crafting with children of different ages. It's a whole new game. Painting, for instance, with a five year old is a completely different animal then crafting with a two year old. Both children will make a mess, all fine and good, but together they make two completely different messes.

The five year old will paint on the paper, maybe on her face a bit as she ponders a particular brush stroke while chewing on the end of the paint brush. And then, because she is five, she will wash up her own brushes and water jar and completely destroy the bathroom sink and floor in the process.

The two year old will paint his hands, the table, the chair behind him, then drop the brush so that it slides down his clothes and finally onto the floor where the overloaded brush will splash paint up underneath the table and the wall behind. Two days later, the paint that has somehow made its way up on the ceiling will finally be noticed. There will be only the faintest hint of paint on the paper.

I'm know I don't have to articulate to many of you how difficult it is to craft with children of different ages. Preaching to the choir here. The varying needs, questionable appropriateness of materials, the ways of making messes being so different that there are, in actual fact, two messes (or more) to clean up for every one activity.

Oi. I'm tired just thinking about it.

But, and here's the magic about multi-age group creativity and activity, when it goes well, there is so much more for everyone to learn and enjoy. Community, a sense of belonging, trust in each one another. The big ones teach the little ones about doing, and the little ones teach the big ones about articulation and patience. That's the payoff to making messes in harmony.


So, here I am tonight, after the children are finally in bed asleep. Nudge, nudge, nudge. Remembering what it is I am doing here.

And now I'm going to put together my house again. With rags, hot water and vinegar. Ready for a fresh mess in the morning.

13 comments:

  1. Oh Vegbee, I hear you. I don't love messes per se, but I value them. I close an eye (or two) to them because they are the necessary channel through which kids find freedom to try (never mind create). I think a large part of me being OK with messes is that Dad and Mum were OK with messes because they too felt they were the necessary channel etc. etc. There was always cleaning up after, of course, but they allowed mess to happen first. Which made all the difference. I'm glad they did because now I allow it too. My kids make a lot of it so I'm hopeful they're going to do the same with their kids.

    P.S. What drives me crazy isn't the mess - it's the shortness of the activity itself after having spent like three times that time setting it up. I almost want to tell my kids, "You'll paint for three hours whether you like it or not. Just to make it worth my while getting it all ready for you!" And yet- magic. In just seconds, they've painted their masterpiece, whereas, had it been me, I'd have spent a longer time than I needed, tweaking and fiddling until the magic was gone. Hurrah for those times the kids know better.

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  2. What an absolutely adorable post! Oh, I love it! I'm one of the choir for sure, having a 6 y.o. and a 4 y.o., I KNOW what you're preaching! You are a delight.

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  3. Loved this post, on this day, after letting my kids draw exoskeletons on themselves with Crayola washable markers ('cause they come of skin in water), then they decided they wanted to draw on some of their toys (which I let them do 'cause they asked me first and they are made of 100% washable plastic), but then they decided their toys need a bath, in the handbasin! So, yes, the mess of small children who can reach the sink and turn the taps on by themselves!

    So then it was everybody in the bath with bubbles, which created an even bigger mess because my boys like to throw bubbles at each other. But, a wipe up with a cloth and towel and what do you know I've cleaned the bathroom.

    And why did I let them do all this. Because it was just plain fun. But my kids are closer in age (5 & 6) so they make the same mess. But I remember back to when they were a bit younger and the mess was different and the frustration of that.

    And I'm with LiEr - so now if it takes me longer than 10 mins to setup an activity then it's the wrong activity.

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  4. What a timely post... I woke up to permanent markers and modeling clay on the walls of government housing. :/ This post is one of those that remind me why so many people are in love with your blog. I mean, aside from the tutes. And I loved the pictures, even if my daughter is now running around crying because no one ever made her a pretty Cinderella dress.

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  5. I told my husband yesterday that I need to just give in and strap large bath towels to my hands and feet and walk around like that all day. Much more efficient. (I have 4 that I home-school, ages 10, 4, 2, 1 ...!)
    -Robyn

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  6. This is an amazing post! I love this. What a way to capture the essence of being a mom :) Very sweet.

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  7. My fathers nickname was Mr. Clean. Our house was a museum. No mess. No dust. We were not allowed to do any crafting without MAJOR set up and supervision. It was painful. And all so ironic, when you consider the fact that BOTH my parents are ARTISTS! Designers, sculpters, painters...they are amazing...BUT...they are anal. They must have majored in ANAL ART in school.

    I PREFER a clean house. I PREFER no mess. I hate clutter, GLITTER everywhere, scraps on the floor...I hate it all. BUT...I also love to craft...to see my kids getting dirty, creative, enjoying life.

    This might be why I am so conflicted and so crazy in so many areas of my life.

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  8. Oh. My. Goodness. I hear you. I HEAR you. My three year old girl...I know what she can do. I know what she can handle, and I can tell you (almost down to the last paint spatter) what messes she will make.

    My one year old son?! Oh, please no. There is eating of markers, flinging of flour and general mayhem. It's almost impossible to do any crafting with him around.

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  9. I second LiEr on the irritating fact that activity last for 5 minutes max. and the setup takes at least 3-6 times as much not to mention the cleaning afterwards that takes 6-10 times that time... But I guess it's worth it! They seem happy and that matters:)

    I have a 2,5 and a 1 year old... Even more mess, belive me;) My olderone goes to wash her hands in the sink and it ends up being as dirty as her hand were before and my 1year old would just splash the paint wherever possible and she just loves touching her face and hair when she has someting spread on her palms and fingers;)...

    I decided on this path: when I'm healthy I do at least one craft or other activity a day with them. But when we're all sick we just read stories, sing songs and fondle. So I skipped the noodle art today for example.

    I also organized a little notebook with lists of all sorts of activities that we (my Male and me) think of. Than when we'd like to do something but don't have the idea for just 2 hours of time in a given weather we look at the ideas and there is always one that fits.
    We have lists of sports, crafts, gardening-related stuff, walks, trips, expeditons,...

    The idea came when I got a school jotting where you have some sort of a logbook - a page for every day. But in my country kids in school also have 4 nature days, 4 sports day and 4 cultural days a year (every school decides where they will take their students and it's different for different age groups, of course). So those pages were there to fill out as well and I thought - hey, we could do that, too. We did and we really liked the idea so we kept it and extended it to more "days" and activities and made larger lists for us to choose from.

    Some ideas (not for trips as this are not universal;):
    - natual days: botanical garden, zoo, aquarium, arboretum, picking mushrooms, chestunut, blueberries, blackberries...
    - cultural days: puppet thatre, art exhibition, photograph-exhibition in the open air, castels, book fair...
    - sports days: swimming in the pool, sledding, ice-skating, biking through a mine (we have this here, organized, not dangerous;),...
    - crafts: snowman, peanut wreath, birdhouse, salt dough, animals from baloons, felting snakes, making costumes for the carnival, pasta pictures, finger paints, blowing large bubbles, dying clothes, making NY cars...
    - food: making bread, pasta, jam, collecting teas (chamomille, linden, elder,...), making elderflower syrup, gathering wild-grown herbs (oregano, majaron, mint...), cooking preserves: compotes, tomatoe saucse,... baking pumpkin seeds, bd cakes, gathering utricaria, dandelion and other edible plants,...

    When they are older we'll add some scientific experiments as well and I hope we'll cover all the possible interest they might have and I hope they will feel that we support them at what ever they will be interested in. Of course we find more ideas where we are interested (biology, crafts, sports,...) but I count that they will show us what they want to do more...

    I know I wandered of topic but maybe somebody would find it useful...

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  10. PS: on the topic: I always show my dds puddles if they by any chance don't see a particulary big or atractive (read: dirty) one. And when they wade right into it laughing out loud you should see the other mom's faces;) I think they'll never understand! But if they just tried once how good it feels to jump in the puddles! Don't they remember how we yearned for that pleasure when we were kids? My parents weren't that strict - they didn't incourage us to do it and it was not officialy allow it but we were never punished when we did it either. I take it every generation has to make a step forward in liberation - afterall we have the washing machines that our grannies didn't have;)

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  11. PS: on the topic: I always show my dds puddles if they by any chance don't see a particulary big or atractive (read: dirty) one. And when they wade right into it laughing out loud you should see the other mom's faces;) I think they'll never understand! But if they just tried once how good it feels to jump in the puddles! Don't they remember how we yearned for that pleasure when we were kids? My parents weren't that strict - they didn't incourage us to do it and it was not officialy allow it but we were never punished when we did it either. I take it every generation has to make a step forward in liberation - afterall we have the washing machines that our grannies didn't have;)

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  12. Veri, great ideas! I've always wanted to keep a list of projects and outings, especially for when I'm feeling low and uninspired. Sometimes it's nice to have the thinking and planning already done.

    re: puddles - hear hear on the washing machines. I think we're out of excuses. Let the kids get dirty and wet! Sometimes other parents are a little uptight about kids and dirt. One memorable lady we encountered brought her preschooler to the spray park and forbid him to get wet. I have no idea what she was thinking but it was pretty obvious what her boy's thoughts were.

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  13. This is an amazing post! I love this. What a way to capture the essence of being a mom :) Very sweet.
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