I spend many hours every day cleaning up after my kids. This is not a moan, just a fact. When my resilience is low and my hormones have taken hostage of my reason, the weight of these cleaning hours, past, present and future, can seem debilitating.
I know that most parents lament the burden of cleaning and tidying, but my children take messy to a new and exciting level. Their extremely sensory natures compel them to sprinkle, flood, smear, rub-in and scatter. They are artists in their own way, their materials being whatever is to hand; wood-shavings, pet-food, corn-flakes, flour, sugar, earth, sand, shampoo, water, foam and anything within reach of their lighting fast little hands. Their canvas; the carpet, the walls, the smooth, curved interior of the bathtub. The very air itself, as it reflects magically floating dust-motes in shards of brilliant light.
As with so many other aspects of our life, the children have forced me to a new understanding. Peeking at the world through their artist’s eyes, I often glimpse chaotic beauty in their creations.
From a very early age we are conditioned to associate order, tidiness and cleanliness with goodness. Their evil opposites, dirt, mess and disorder, are frowned upon in our society. Pity or disgust are metered out liberally to their orchestrators. But what if it’s all a con? What if it really doesn’t matter if there is dust on our surfaces or cornflakes on our carpet? These are the little glimpses of a bright new, guilt-free world that my children are able to provide. Through the kaleidoscope of their artisan vision, I often see chaos and am thrilled, inspired, and (best of all) freed of the restrictive burden of conditioning.
Once, Lenny nicked a box of icing sugar from the pantry. We fitted the kitchen door with a bolt when he was three, but he soon cracked that. Now a number combination lock (the code for which is changed each week) bars him from the goody-laden haven of the kitchen. In theory, only someone with highly developed mathematical skills or a Sonic Screwdriver could regularly decode this lock, but my son, with his ‘severe learning disability’ and without the help of Doctor Who’s gadgets, somehow manages.
We found him in the dining room with his ethereal prize. Not only was every surface covered with the fine, sweet dust, but so was the air itself. A haze of soft sugar made each breath a sweet sensation. I was at first despairing, then captivated. Just as a gentle snowfall reinvents the natural world, the icing-sugar transformed my conventional dining room into a fairytale wonderland. I quickly arrived at the decision that I would let Lenny enjoy his creation for a few hours before the intensive clean-up operation. By early evening there was hardly a trace of the icing-sugar, and the dining room had been treated to the type of deep-clean that I otherwise would never have summoned the energy up to organise. We found Lens in his bedroom, licking his sweet-coated limbs like a very contented cat.
Recognising Daisy and Lenny’s absolute need to explore the world in this fashion, I now take control of messy time. I decide when I am in the right frame of mind to let the chaos commence. I decide which areas the children can use to scatter, and I make sure that the materials they use are ones that will only create a temporary work of art. To try to teach-out this behaviour would be futile, and (I honestly believe) cruel. A bag of uncooked rice scattered on a laminate floor can make for an hour of sensory thrill, and will take approximately the same time to clear up. If I weigh up this investment of time and expenditure against the pleasure derived from the experience the deal seems fair enough.
I’ve not come across many children quite as sensory as my younger two, but I am sure there are some out there. My advice to any parent who recognises this need in their children would be to follow my lead; allow for messy time. Go nuts, join in!