I had tidied up. I had set out the toys. I had made their garden nice, enticing even.
It looked appealing and, of course, they wanted to play.
So why was everything that was coming out of my mouth so negative?
I have been through this cycle many times. For the most part, I am fairly chilled. I know that children aren’t deliberately messy just to wind you up, it’s because they’re learning, exploring, it’s what they do.
However, occasionally they do wind me up. And it’s in those instances that I have to take a step back and remind myself exactly what it is that they are doing.
The other day I got everything ready and then told my girls they could play outside. (Which of course they did, no hesitation)
I sat myself down and suddenly hated the idea that they would mess up what I’d prepared. Sounds ridiculous, I know!
“No, please don’t put sand in the water tray”
“Take those dinosaurs off the grass, they were in the sandpit”
“Why are you taking that out of there?”
“Could you leave those on the table, please?”
Even as I write them down I know how silly I sound.
Before you judge me, please remember that I am not usually like this. It happens every so often, but not all the time. I sometimes just feel, in my tired, worn-out self on certain days, that everything I have done is being undone. That everything I have so lovingly prepared for them is being ruined.
Again, I ask you not to judge me, it really doesn’t happen that often, but on this occasion I just wanted them to appreciate what was there.
The whole experience was exhausting!
I felt I couldn’t relax, couldn’t sit still, couldn’t really enjoy anything because I was running around trying to tidy up after them.
In the garden!
I must have sounded like a crazy lady to anyone listening.
My girls are three-years-old and twenty-one-months. They weren’t running around the garden spray painting the fences or smashing things up, they were doing what children do best; playing!
The whole experience was not fun for me and especially not fun for them.
When it was time to tidy up and go inside I felt like that’s all we’d been doing all day anyway and for what?
The day after I tried a new approach; I left them to it. I was there with them but I didn’t interrupt their play. I didn’t constantly ask them to put things back and I wasn’t the miserable old bore that I had been the day before.
They did nothing dangerous or particularly disruptive, they just played, as children do. They investigated, they explored, they took their shoes off, got messy, stuck empty water buckets on their heads that weren’t actually completely empty. They had fun!
So what if I had to tip the water tray back into the sandpit or sweep up the paving stones again. It didn’t take that long. In actual fact, when it was time to tidy up, they both loved it. I’d allowed them to just ‘be’ all afternoon and so they were ready to help out. It only took us ten minutes anyway.
Two different days, two different experiences, and I know which one we all preferred.
Sometimes it’s ok to let things get a little messy. Sometimes it’s ok to not intervene and just watch from the sidelines. Worrying about mess was fruitless and exhausting, I don’t want to spend my days like that, for their sakes more than mine.
Toys are there to be played with. Our garden is ready to be explored. Feeling the difference between wet and dry sand is fun. As long as I remember that, and turn off my ‘panic radar’ when my girls are lost in the land of imagination.
There will always be time at the end of the day for tidying up. But the time for carefree play doesn’t last forever. If I stay in this mindset, our summer will be much more enjoyable.
Now, if only I could convince myself of the same kind of thing when it comes to the mess my husband makes.
(And don’t worry, he said it was ok to write that last line)