This story starts off with telling everyone that I mopped my floors a few days ago. Now that might not sound like anything to write home about, but let me be honest, it doesn’t happen often at all. I have a running joke about the reason I don’t mop my floors is because the universe sees it as a challenge to make it dirtier than before within a day. Just ask the full jar of elderberry syrup that crashed onto my sparkling white floors several years ago, just mere hours after mopping. That was the last straw 🤣.
So my floors are mopped with their biannual cleaning, inevitably that same night my toddler dumps an entire pound of very finely ground pink salt all over the place. That’s not even what this is about because I laughed at predictable situation.
The real story is about today. Winter (4 years old) found this dinosaur excavation kit in the playroom closet. The kids were gifted a few of these kits last year, and the bigger kids had done theirs. I knew two things from their experience:
1. The clay dust from these kits get everywhere.
2. It is actually quite difficult to get the little dinosaur and the bones out. It took the big kids several attempts over days, lots of muscle power, and then I think they even gave up on some of it.
I put down a table cloth to catch the clay that I’m betting will be minimal because I’m thinking to myself, “He will probably try for a few minutes before realizing that it’s going to take a long time and then just find something else to do”.
Now I don’t know why I suffered from such delusional thinking. Some traits are absolutely certain about Winter: He loves and thrives on any messy experience. He’s a sensory input seeker to the max. Also, there is very little that can stand in his way once he’s set his mind to something. For one brief moment, I thought maybe he was done. He asked for my help excavating, then his older brothers, the tablecloth was sliding and was abandoned (uh oh!), then his tool broke. He was frustrated for a second but quickly recovered.
I found him some leftover tools from the other kits, and then he invited his little brother to try too. This was so adorable, I made a conscious decision to not even mind the table cloth and accepted this was going to be messy.
This is where the real fun begins. Recognizing that he wasn’t going to be able to uncover everything, he formulated a new plan. Water! I helped him fill a bowl full, and by the time I turned around he had moved to the floor.
At this moment I took a few big breaths and remembered wise words from a Facebook friend, that I’ve seen around unschooling circles about a clean room being a blank canvas. I looked at the joy on his face, I admired his problem solving skills and determination, and then I chose to let go of any anxiety over the mess.
He chatted with me while I wiped down the door and opposite wall (I needed to find something to keep my hands busy while I was staying close). Every single time he found a new bone he ran over to show it to me with so much exuberant pride in his voice. He talked me through every step of his plan, and worked away. When he was finished he told me he must be an archeologist.
When all was said and done, I put him in the bath, put the toddler on my back, and grabbed the broom and steam mop. The floor was absolutely covered as one would guess.
It took me about ten minutes to sweep and mop over this mess (it’s not spotless but that wasn’t a goal). Unusually, I found myself smiling while I mopped. Every time I found a spot with a big chunk of clay left, I visualized his smile on whatever bone was pulled from that piece. I genuinely felt my own joy cleaning up this mess that had filled him with so much happiness while it was being made. Ten minutes was absolutely worth everything this brought to us, our connection, his spirit. It was worth so much more without a doubt.
He is now diligently cleaning out the holes with a toothpick so we can work together to fit the bones into a dinosaur.
Mess often triggers my anxiety, and I do sometimes use that as a reason to say no. I am intentionally working on that trigger, because although I want to consider my needs too, these kids aren’t responsible for fulfilling my needs. It’s my work to figure out why this bothers me, and come up with a plan that works for all of us. Mess is inevitable with kids anyway, and Winter isn’t living his best life without fulfilling his need to touch, expire, create, and make messes.
Future messy activities will still bother me, but maybe a little bit less each time I move through the experience consciously.