A few days ago, I let my daughter bring real flour into her play kitchen. I naively thought that she would keep it contained to a bowl or two. Ha! She's not quite 4 years old. I constantly amaze myself when it comes to my ability to miscalculate and misjudge the "mess-capacity" of a situation.
I always fly solo when it comes to messy projects and the children. My husband refuses to do anything that will require smocks, paint, glitter, glue, food, or a change of clothes afterward. He's kind of like that Steve Martin character in the movie Parenthood: "I hate messy. It's just so...messy!"
So, the next day, I spread out a huge waterproof play mat and gave her all the fixings a young, inspired cook could desire: flour, water, sugar, salt, pepper grinder filled to the brim, and dried pasta. Then I added an assortment of bowls, pie pans, measuring cups, measuring spoons, and a potato masher.
She set to work. There was pouring, mixing, and spooning. There was also splattering and spilling (more of that than pouring and mixing, actually).
Several times throughout the mad cooking experiment, she asked if she could put her water and sugar/salt/pepper/spaghetti and flour pie in her play kitchen oven upstairs. After countless attempts at negotiation, she accepted that I would most definitely not let her take that mess of a pie up to her wooden play kitchen.
While cleaning her up, I took many deep breaths and reminded myself that being messy is part of her job description as a little one. The flour and water mixture had turned to a glue-like substance and it was everywhere. That play mat is fired for not doing its job.
But, I remained cheerful and I bit my tongue. I did not chastise or lecture her about the mess and being careful. I just happily cleaned her up. While doing so, she said quietly, "I just love you so much, Mommy." I think she was so relieved that I kept a cheerful attitude regarding the mess. Lately, I have struggled to remain cheerful in the face of constant disaster around our house. I am ashamed to admit that she was probably bracing for a lecture about keeping the flour and water on the mat. Instead, she got just the opposite. My positive attitude made her feel so accepted and so safe and so okay to be herself. She is at the age where pleasing me is high on her list. And I hate to think I unconsciously put pressure on her to please me. I never want my kids to feel like they have to struggle to gain my approval. I love them, all sides to them (messy, neat, angry, whiny, happy, affectionate), always.
Then, after a change of clothes and a warm foot bath, she was clean and happy. While I was kneeling in front of her, drying her feet, she patted me on the shoulder and sighed, "You were right...we shouldn't gone upstairs." :) Music to a Mama's ears: "You were right." That phrase is a rarity with the preschooler crowd!