January 15, 2018

Embrace the Mess. How Not to Stress When Your Kid Wants to Play Dirty


What many of you may not know is that I cannot stand a mess. Messes. Any kind. Anywhere. I hate messes. They overwhelm me. They freak me out. They feel out of control. The external mess makes my internal peace less, well, peace-y. More spirally. More tumultuous and humming without anywhere for the hum to go. So it stays boxed inside my body, humming. And that can be terribly uncomfortable if I allow it to be.
Paint mess. Rice mess. Mud mess. Kitchen baking mess. Normal, every day, play mess. Whatever kind of mess it is, greets me just the same – internal humming without anywhere to go…. the hum starts out quietly enough and then, having nowhere to go, it bouncing off one wall inside my brain, my body, and back to the other wall – where it begins to collide with the hum from the other side. Rippling. Overlapping. Hums. Competing for space. Without anywhere to go. And when it’s so noisy inside; if I’m not careful to somehow release the hum, everything, inside and out, starts to feel really out of control. And when my inside is out of control, watch out because
I. Need. To. Find. My. Center.
I think it’s human nature to want to kind of box things up and put things neatly together. That internal hum is not neatly boxed up. Or organized. Or convenient. And it directly correlates to external messes. External messes are outside my control. I cannot control the external mess or chaos. So I have two choices.
Constantly say NO. Run around, trying to control the messes that are outside my control. Humming from one mess to the other, trying to tidy it, control it, put it back together …. but can you imagine what this does to the hum inside me? The hum noise that’s already bouncing off the inside corners of my body and brain. They do not quiet when I flit and flow from one mess to another. No. No. No. it exaggerates the hum inside. I can try to control it with more Nos. No. No. No. Not now. Don’t do that. Put this away. Clean that up. Don’t TRY that (that milk could spill everywhere). Do not jump in that mud puddle. Do not get your hands dirty. Do not try. Just stay relatively put together, without the ooey gooey sticky mess. Maybe wear some bubble wrap to keep safe.
But what do my littles learn from that? Stay safe. Play it small. Do. Not. Get. Dirty. Do not TRY. I’ll do it for you (unspoken message: you can’t do it yourself).
Or I can take care of my inner hum.

How can I give my yes without feeling so out of control? Boundaries. Guidelines. It is a Process. And I continue to increase my Mess Tolerance; not by controlling the actually messes outside. But by figuring out which part of the messes grow my inner hum. And how to take care of myself so the inner mess quiets. I practice breathing deeply as a way of releasing some of the ricocheting noise inside. And the mess outside can be messy….. without being chaotic. Because my internal hum is quiet when I care for it. The external mess doesn’t change my internal mess. When I allow, manage, care for the hum inside, the world outside can be utter chaos—-and I can still appreciate the gifts of the chaos. Kind of counterintuitive, right? Controlling it, doesn’t help. Calming my inner hum doesn’t make the external mess any smaller …. but it grants me permission to embrace it with a new perspective. And I actually perceive the external mess differently because my internal hum is being acknowledged, seen, cared for.
If I have an important meeting to get to, it’s not the time to give my yes to Messy muddle puddle play.
If I’m having a house showing, it’s not the time to experiment with ingredients and concoctions in the kitchen.
Right before bed is not the time to get out the rice bin.
I have to learn where my own edges are. When does my YES to them feel extra hummy to me? And is it because I’m trying to control, tidy, or box up the mess? Or is it because it’s too much for me right now? Is it a boundary I need to enforce? Or is it a block I need to work on from within? If it’s a legitimate reason, I offer myself grace and compassion for saying no. And I stick to it. Distract. Move on. Move away. But I’m finding, Most often, it’s ME, just trying to control the mess. Micromanage the mess. Which never works – it just creates more hum.
Muddy, messy, outdoor play. Ugh. Germs. Dirt. Clothes that may be impossible to get clean. But the happiness – and their joy filled vibration. The laughter. The squeals Of delight. Sometimes I just have to walk away. And listen to the joy. Close my eyes. Tap into that sound to truly embrace the mess. And I practice my breathing. Extra clothes certainly help. And a hose. For sure. And, if all else fails…. littles walking home in their undies or a hoodie or …. gasp …. barefoot. I know, it’s terrifying. But yesterday, it happened. And, at the end of the day —— it didn’t matter. Embracing the mess (external and my internal hum) meant also embracing their joy and exuberance —- and some meltdowns, too. But when I look at cost:benefit ratio I see the cost of me stretching outside my comfort zone- my control zone…. me being a little uncomfortable and feeling some hum … for the benefit? A sensory play day. A time of messy connection. Pure joy. Friendly bliss. The mess was worth my discomfort. Was worth leaning away from my need to control the chaos and box up the mess (which doesn’t work anyway—- it just causes stress.)
Things that help me release my internal, chaotic hum (allowing for the mess instead of trying to control it).
Breathing. It sounds too simple. And kind of silly. But when I’m overwhelmed and I’m in “control the mess” mode, my chest is tight, my breathing rhythm is off, I may be breathing LESS, my face feels more clenchy and it feels like I’m on a mission. So, I slow down. I breath. Literally. Breathe. Easy peasy. Breathe. In through my nose, fill up my belly as if it’s rising up like a tummy mountain, and then release, letting my tummy mountain fall. And, repeat. With every exhale, the hum moves from the confines of my internal brain walls, out into the universe…. where the hum can breathe and spread out and eventually, disappear into the air.
I find a way to give my Yes…. a way for it to feel more comfortable to me. Lincoln loves to play kinetic sand, sand, water beads, water, slime, play dough, dirt. That kind of play is great for the kitchen table. Where there is tile floor (no carpet to eat the playdough). And sand, I have a splat mat in a drawer. If he wants to do rice or sand inside, he knows to take out a splat mat, spread it on the floor, put the bin on tap of the splat mat. That way I can give my yes. I know it will be a mess to clean up. But it will be a somewhat contained to the splat mat mess. Somewhat. So, when he’s done, we put all the pieces back, fold the mat and pour the remnants back in the bin.
Realize my own discomfort. Recognize it. Acknowledge it. If it’s a boundary, gently enforce my needs. If it’s just a block, with the story of a chaos to control, lean into the discomfort and remind myself I’m okay. They are okay. Breathe some more. And
Recognize the cost:benefit ratio of the experience. Remind myself of the experience. The joy it brings. The learning that’s being done. The connection that’s being strengthened when i show them I recognize the benefit of the experience, instead of focusing on the Messy cost. The connection made when I choose to PLAY with the situation and Embrace the Mess. When the mess is met with approval and they can lean into their own Messy JOY more fully. Without feeling bad for exploring their world in such a natural, Messy, and playful way. That feeling of being seen in playFULL bliss … radiates. And that’s what they will remember. That feeling of trying. Doing. Seeing. Being seen.
Life IS messy. If I think of the things worth doing, the MAGIC of living, usually a mess is involved. Art. Cooking. Sex. Birth. Dance. Baking. Experimenting.
You kind of have to move through the mess to get to the magic of life. I think we forget that when we get older. We focus more on the end product (often so perfectly put together) and not the process it takes to get there. There is so so much value in the PROCESS.
Embrace the Mess.
XOXO – Jessica

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