There’s a foreign devil in my psyche, a kill-joy, a control freak, a neatnik. Turns up my blood pressure, wrinkles my forehead, changes my epidermal electrical differential, when my kid wants to make another mess. I mean…do another hands-on, open-ended creative project. In the old days I was always delighted to pull out the art supplies, offer ingredients for the meal or chemical assay, and let the fun begin, forgetting to have the kids clean up as they went, and it would be me cleaning up in the end. Now I’m more organized, keep on top of things, but the flip side is this–in trying to prevent messes, I am tempted to squelch creativity and learning. He announces, “Mom, I’m going to make some soup!” or asks if he can paint with the acrylics, or do an experiment with sugar crystals. I think, the cut vegetables always end up in the drawers and mashed against the toe kick. Acrylics won’t wash off clothes. Spilled sugar is so sticky and has to be wiped with three or four wet cloths–is it really worth it?
Now, he wants to draw with ink and a feather pen, and I blanch. We have a real wood table now, a newly refinished wood floor, and then there are the clothes that will stain. Still, I talk myself into it, stand on principle, Please Touch, Hands on, Experiential Education, and the way, deep down, how children really need to learn and develop their creativity. I’m just tired of messes. I want to make my own messes and have someone else clean them up. I suppose that time is over, since I moved out of my parents’ house almost thirty years ago. I owe them, so I guess I can pay some of it forward. Yes, I owe them. Frogs (and genuine pond rocks and plants) in the bathtub, aluminum foil and pretty chocolate wrappers stapled over the wallpaper,nails hammered into the lath and plaster walls (I could hear the plaster crumble and fall into the inner wall cavity) sewing scraps and thread on the kitchen floor, fishing worms left in the sun porch to rot. Mom’s burden, really. Yet I don’t remember a frown, a scolding, a lecture from her lips over any of these messes. Her rule being if things were left out, they would get dealt with any way she saw fit. Eventually, when several of us were off to college and still leaving messes and belongings behind, she posted a warning:
Not Responsible for Goods Left Longer Than 30 Years
This was shortened at intervals:
Not Responsible for Goods Left Longer
Not Responsible for Goods Left
Not Responsible for Goods
Now the sign reads simply:
In a different sense, the opposite is true: She is responsible. My mother had such a free hand with her home spaces and belongings, and both she and Dad set an example of creativity and productivity–Dad with his art, garden, and writing, Mom with her cooking, baking, rug and quilt making, and garden, that we couldn’t help but pick up a good number of skills.
Now I see the point of this, which is what I wanted–a way to turn my will priorities back in the right direction. I will continue to keep the paper and art supplies handy the kitchen, relax when my son wants to use up more nails and wood scraps, relinquish my possessive hold in my unused skeins of yarn, leave the sewing machine up and point out the fabric scrap bin. Even if it means a lap supper tonight and refinishing the table in a few years.