Beautiful Messes

mess 1

From the time she was little, my daughter (like most kids, I think) loved nothing more than a big mess.   Now, I’ve mentioned I am a bit of a perfectionist–which I once defined as someone who thinks they’re ALREADY perfect…I’ve learned that instead, I’m someone who always  WANTS things to be perfect, or in their right spot, or “just so,” which is a constant feeling of internal frustration since things NEVER EVER ARE.

I have a problem with that.  I’m working on it.

But since I wanted my daughter to be a fearless mud puddle-splashing, bug-loving kid, I make a point to allow her to be messy and try my best not to worry about it.  That mud on the patio?  Calm down, mama…I can hose it off.  Sand in her hair?  That’s what bathtime’s for.  Doodles all over her skin?  Well, that’s why you get washable markers.

mess 2

I let her cover her arms in stick-on tattoos, paint her hair with temporary pink mousse, and make magical messes experimenting with food coloring, baking soda & vinegar.  The way I see it, childhood is the BEST time for messes!  The BEST time to color your hair and marker your skin, when the responsibilities of the world and work and jobs and life don’t interfere.

Well.  That’s all well & good in theory…until she started asking ME to join in.

As a kid, I was a mess-lover, dirt-digger, and bug-catcher.  But something changed as I grew up (as I’m sure it does in us all) that made me not WANT to lie down in the grass anymore (it’s itchy!  There are bugs!)  or splash in the puddles (my pants will get soaked!  I’ll ruin my shoes!) or catch a bug (I don’t WANT to touch a mealworm!).  I started realizing, though, that unless I joined in, all my talk to her about having fun and making messes would be just talk.  My kid learns more from what I DO than from what I say, and unless I joined in, she might feel that the beautiful messes were somehow wrong.  So I did.

mess 3

I let her paint on me.  I let her polish my nails.  I get down in the grass and get dirty.  Not every day.  Not always.  But when the opportunity presents itself and the only thing stopping me is my own discomfort.

The main key to it all is preparation.  Painting outside, or with a mat down, or in a cruddy shirt, and ALWAYS with washable, skin-friendly, or water-based supplies.  Have a towel ready.

It was difficult at first, ignoring the inner “irk,” but I told my inner voice the same things I’d say about her:  “it’s washable.  I can take a bath later.  It’ll come off.”   And the fun we have doing it is always worth the cleaning up.  I can’t say that afterward I don’t run immediately to the shower & laundry to clean everything off, but I try my best to wait til we’re all done to internally freak.  I can’t say it’s not a challenge sometimes, but I try my best to enjoy it IN THE MOMENT.

Because I allow the messes, you’d think that nothing would be off limits.  But she is VERY sincere about knowing what’s okay and what isn’t.  She knows not to paint on the walls in house, and respects that story books are for reading.  Thankfully, she asks before she doodles on things.   Because I allow the messes, she doesn’t seem to feel the need to go crazy elsewhere.  It seems with her that giving her the opportunity to go wild sometimes keeps her calm in other places.

We have a world full of no.  Every day of her little life is full of boundaries and structure, struggle, conflict and organization.  There are rules and manners and courtesies, permissions and consequences.  These are good things.  These are necessary.   But there are moments you can let go of your hangups and just enjoy the feeling of paint slopping around and mud between your toes, for no other reason than that it’s fun.

You forget those things when you’re older, and you’d be surprised how quickly and fiercely that happens.  So why not cram your childhood full of them?

mess 4

So, kids or no, artistic or not….when’s the last time you made a beautiful mess?

24 responses

  1. Such beautiful messes! I loved making mud pies on the patio when I was little. 🙂

  2. Oh, I remember playing with big bowls of cornflour with my little girl, and finger (and foot) painting. Sadly, she’s 15 now and far more particular about ‘dirt’ than I am! (Though she’s far far messier!) I’ll have to borrow some small children, I think…

  3. Fabulous messes…though I have to say I never felt comfortable doing this when my kids were little. Our messes were usually of lego bricks and bits of motorbikes (!) and dress-up clothes…

  4. I also allow my daughter to make messes! Great post!

  5. thid reminds me of when i was painitng with my niece and I ended up with a “half sleeve”, it was fun to see how careful she was and she was so focused doing a great job.

    One can always (hopfully) wash the mess off,

  6. Some of the best advice I was ever given was from my aunt, a mom of four boys, and that was to say YES as often as you can because there will be times when you have to say no and because life will tell them no far too often.

    I love this post because of the fact that you say yes, even if your first instinct is to say no because of the mess, the clean up, your comfort zone, etc. I’m the same way. I’m almost always happy when I say yes and jump right in, but my inner perfectionist still needs some coaxing from time to time.

  7. I love your blog it reminds me of how I want to be a mother to my daughter and to take a step back and enjoy things like getting messy!!!

  8. You and I share the internal freak about making a mess, but this essay of photos and words shows how fulfilling a little self-control can be. Thanks for sharing.

  9. I most certainly can relate. I have the same inner turmoil during the making of messes. But, the same joy in watching them and joining in with out ruining the fun, even if I am dying inside. Afterwards, I feel like an accomplished teacher and awesome mom. Well worth the stress.

  10. I am so enjoying this blog.

  11. I so relate to this! I continue to work on embracing the beautiful messes–taking a very similar approach. That darn “Do as I SAY not as I DO!” always gets us parents ; ) Important reminder–thanks for sharing your reflection and your strategy.

  12. I cannot “do” anything hands on without making a mess. I am just that way. So stir cookie dough with my hands, get paint, charcoal, marker, pastels, and clay all over myself when I’m working on a project. I guess I never grew up. 🙂

  13. I work in a nursery and it’s great for learning to relinquish control. Playing with cornflour is my favourite, so is painting. I love it, because I don’t have kids or know anyone with kids, it’s always fun to just play and have pure creative fun. I borrow some of their enthusiasm when things are feeling a bit poopy in my own life. (I also hang on to words like ‘poopy’ from my own childhood!)

  14. | Reply

    I. Love. Your. Blog.

  15. deweydecimalsbutler | Reply

    Love it! The last beautiful mess my daughter and I made was while making cookies. I gave her a small pile of flour to play in and spread around. It was everywhere, but so was the wet rag afterwards. No big deal. I remember that day well because while I was enjoying the moment with her, the Newtown events were playing out.

  16. Love it,
    You made come up to my mind an old episode…I was babysitting my neighbours child…I knew the kids, under their mother influence, had some serious issues with dirt…they always had to wash their hands obsessively
    We were painting some wooden sticks, pretending we were native americans…so I thought of a trick to see whether they would loosen up a bit…
    I dug a finger in the paint and drew a straight line on my nose, then under my eyes
    They were mesmerised!
    They wanted to have their faces painted too, and so I did paint their faces…having their hands dirty with paint didn’t seem a problem to them anymore and we played and had fun
    Until the afternoon…mum came back to collect them…they ran at her showing her their painted hands and faces, all happy
    What did she say?
    Ooooooh nice!!!! Let’s go home and get cleaned!
    I would have strangled her…
    Kids must be free to get dirty and play with mud, colours, whatever…
    You are a great mum, keep up the amazing job 😉
    Have a lovely day

  17. andthisiswhyiwilldiealonesurroundedbycats | Reply

    This is wonderful.

  18. We would love to post a picture or two and an excerpt of your text at toemail if you do not mind?

    1. I think that would be okay! If you don’t mind, please link to the blog at and the print site at And please send me a link when it publishes! Thank you so much!

      1. No problem, thanks! We will let you know when it is posted for sure.

      2. It’s posted now. Thanks so much, we really appreciate it! 🙂

  19. Reblogged this on Dej Tulayadhan and commented:
    That’s truly a beauty.

  20. […] paint around, not caring if his shoes got splattered or if he got dirt in the paint.  He made beautiful messes.  For me, Pollock was more about the experience of moving with the paint, not so much about the […]

  21. […] long long time ago on the blog, I wrote about making beautiful messes.  When I was a kid, I loved to make a mess, and I wasn’t afraid of things like dirt, muddy […]

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