"Mommy, come see my soup!"
We are out in the yard and my three-year-old daughter runs over to me, dirt smeared across her left cheek, mud splotches drying on the front of her pretty blue shirt. I follow her back to the white plastic bowl of "soup," which she stirs vigorously with a wooden spoon. Her recipe consists of water, dirt, leaves, and a few herbs she has foraged from our garden. She also added sand "to make it sweet." She is proud of her concoction; I tell her it looks delicious and she smiles. She'd be out here doing this all day if she could. Oh, how I love her, this girl who thrives on mud and water and sand and bubbles and paint and any other messy substance you can think of.
Learning to accept the messy side of parenting, however, has been a process for me. I have an aversion to messes. Clutter I can handle—but dirty, slimy, sticky things on me or other surfaces in my home? Ugh! I cringe at the thought of dirt under my fingernails, sand in my shoes, mud in my hair. As a child, I was the one reading indoors while my siblings were outside climbing trees and getting dirty.
Several years ago I took a pottery class; I dropped out after a few sessions because I couldn't stand the feeling of the clay drying on my hands. But once I became a mom, I quickly discovered that messes were going to be an unavoidable part of my life. There was no dropping out this time! Starting with diaper blow-outs and spit-up stains and moving on to food-splattered high chair trays, finger painting, and sand-filled pull-ups, children can be quite innovative when it comes to mess-making. Thankfully, God has shown me some practical ways to cope with my new, messy reality.
I know children need to create; they need to get their hands dirty! I won't let the mess factor keep me from giving my daughter those opportunities. I just make sure that any markers or paint we use are washable. I can't count the times I've come upon the aftermath of one of my daughter's art projects and consoled myself with, "At least it's washable!" Thankfully, the girl is washable too! I don't mind as much when she gets muddy and sandy or covered in art supplies when I can just plop her into a warm bubble bath afterward. (I also discovered that the bathtub is a great place to let her finger paint ... the mess washes neatly down the drain when she's finished!)
I've learned to change my attitude. I'm more relaxed. I'm getting better at tuning out the part of my brain shouting, "Mess alert! Mess alert!" I remind myself often that it's healthy for her to squish her toes into the mud and get sand in her shorts; that these young childhood years are fleeting and I don't want to miss any mud-smeared, paint-splattered moments; that one day she will (hopefully) clean up after herself and I will miss wiping chocolate ice cream off her forehead. As a testament to how far I've come, for her third birthday party this year I put two small wading pools in the yard, filled one with (washable, of course) paint and the other with water and bubbles and let her and her cousins go to town and get as messy as they wanted (it made for some great pictures). The kids had a blast! I'm so glad I was able to put aside my aversion and give them that experience.
These next few years promise to be full of messes. But with God's help, I will let my daughter create and explore and really live her childhood. Even if it means a little dirt under my fingernails from making dirt soup together.
Sarah and her husband Andrew live in central California with their daughter Elianna, who was born in 2010, a few months before their 15th wedding anniversary. After so many years of waiting and wondering if they would ever have a child, Sarah and Andrew are still in awe that God is allowing them to experience the joys of parenthood! In her spare time, Sarah volunteers as library director at their church, reads as many books as possible, experiments in the kitchen, does a bit of writing here and there, and practices her Russian language skills.
Photo by FreeLearningLife. www.flickr.com. Creative Commons license.