Making a Mess


Date of Original Post: December 12, 2012

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Yesterday Emilio was outside working on the patio, something was getting his attention long enough for him to be playing for half an hour by himself, which is a rare occurrence, but it happens. When I saw him working, before I said anything, I just observed for a minute and noticed that his blackboard easel was covered in a thin layer of mud. I also noticed that there were piles of dirt all over the patio floor. I watched him take the black board eraser, dip it in a bucket of muddy water, and then rub it carefully all over the blackboard. He was, in a sense, cleaning the chalkboard--he was erasing chalk with mud. After a minute of working, Emilio suddenly became aware of my presence, he instantly became nervous and said with great concern: “Mamma, don’t mess this up. This is a project I’m working on and I’m not done yet.” He was clearly working hard, because with children, play is work. And yes, he was making an incredible mess of a place that I had been in the process of cleaning and clearing, and the sink in the bathroom was covered in dirt, the soap was encrusted in small rocks and dirt, but I didn’t say anything because I could tell how meaningful his project was to him. And I’ve got to have respect for people’s projects even if they do make a mess--what kind of creativity teacher would I be if I told my students it wasn’t okay to make a mess. Making a mess--whether physical or emotional--is an integral part of creativity. “I said okay, I won’t “mess it up,” (meaning: ‘clean it up.’) “I won’t do anything to until you’re done.” He said “okay, thanks,” and seemed relieved.

Ten minutes later he decided he wanted to go inside, and do something else, so he went to the sink to wash his hands, and when I tried to wash his hands with the soap that he had encrusted, outraged, he said: “No! That soap’s dirty! I don’t want to wash my hands with that soap.” I threw my hands up and sighed. What else could I do but laugh?

The next day, he continued with his project, and warned me still not to clean it up. And I obliged, until Lucas intervened on behalf of the sink. If he got anymore dirt in it it would start to clog. I still hadn’t quite had the heart to clean it up. Instead I took another photo of it today. I also feel I can’t really blame him for thinking it’s okay to make a mess in this room: it’s part pretty bathroom, with a 1920’s porcelain sink, painted mirror and stacking wooden shelves wrapped in chinese newspaper, and part ugly bodega: unpainted cement walls, rough cement floors, with a metal bodega door.


After the mud project outside, I gave Emilio a project inside: to erase my dry erase board with spray bottle and paper towels which he took to with great concentration.