As I carried a large plastic bin filled to the top with water through my hallway, drops splashed around my feet. I made a mental note to wipe it up when I came back through—my thousandth mental note of the morning—and I continued toward the towel I'd spread out on the kitchen floor.
The towel was there to contain some of the mess I knew was coming. I carefully set the bin on the towel, and immediately it transformed into a large lake teeming with sea creatures thanks to the imagination of a little boy.
In went toy boats and toy animals, toy villains and toy heroes, and they all made quite a splash. My son chattered on as he acted out the scene, and water soon soaked the towel and seeped onto the floor all around the bin. Something beautiful was happening on this very ordinary day on my wet kitchen floor as the sound of play echoed through my home.
A happy memory was being made. Joy was present, as it often is, alongside the messes our children make.
I can recall many such instances that I now look back on fondly. Cloud dough tracks across our tables, piles of Lego bricks dumped on the floor, paint that missed the paper it was intended for, and so many other messes actually were evidence of creativity and happiness. Of course, I didn't always see them that way, though I did try to often.
There were times when the messes made me feel irritated or anxious, but all in all, the benefits of the messes far outweighed the trouble of cleaning them up. Many of my fondest memories were made amongst the mess.
So, to the mama who feels exasperated by another mess your little one has made today, I want to offer you this perspective from a mom who misses it now: try to pause and see the magic in the mess.
Note the joy on their faces and really hear the sound of their laughter. Watch in awe as their imaginations run wild and their creativity unfolds. They aren't little for long, though it may seem to be dragging on slowly now. My mother-in-law always told me that she'd trade her now clean and quiet house for the loud and messy chaos of little children any day. And now I completely understand why.
This is not to say that it isn't difficult, mama. I know you're exhausted. You're tired of cleaning up. You're longing for some quiet order. I also know that sometimes a small shift in perspective is all it takes to get through one more day or to feel a little more joy. A change in how you see your circumstances can allow you to fully embrace the beautiful season that you are in because soon, a new season will come. That is motherhood.
Our favorite messy play activities
Messy play is good for a child's development—it helps them express themselves in new ways. It allows them to use their imaginations, be creative, explore their senses, build problem-solving skills, work on fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination, and so much more! Messy play can also help calm anxiety in some children and help regulate their emotions, building confidence along the way.
With magical messes in mind, I'd like to share with a few of our favorite messy activities:
1. Sky's the limit with cloud dough
They loved to use their construction vehicles to scoop, dump, and move it around, and they enjoyed using various molds to make people, animals, and bricks. I used this two-ingredient recipe from Happy Hooligans. Mix eight cups of flour with one cup of baby oil and mix with a whisk or spoon.
2. Tap your inner artist with colored shaving cream
My boys painted with shaving cream in the tub for a little creative play that was easy to wash away! I simply filled a muffin tin with shaving cream (I used the kind for sensitive skin) and added a couple drops of food coloring. They could paint on the tub and shower tiles to their heart's content, and then we just washed it down the drain. (And it didn't stain which is always a plus!)
3. Ooey gooey slime
In one container, mix 4-ounces of white glue with one-half cup of water. Add food coloring if desired. In a separate container, mix one cup of water with one teaspoon of Borax powder. Slowly stir glue mixture into the Borax solution. Knead to a proper consistency.
4. Edible homemade finger-paint (love this recipe from Momtastic)
Put two tablespoons of sugar into a saucepan, add one-third cup of flour and two cups of water. Whisk until smooth and stir until mixture thickens. Pour into small cups and mix in food coloring as desired. Let it cool completely!
5. There's magic in a simple bin of rice or beans
As toddlers, my boys used to love to play in a big bin of uncooked beans or rice. I'd give them plenty of large spoons, cups, and bowls for scooping and pouring—favorite toddler activities—and they'd play for quite a long time. Thankfully, both are easy to sweep up!