Can of worms or bunch of roses?

Does suggesting an activity to do with your kids quickly become a can of worms? How can you manage it?

What do you do when something you thought would be simple turns into a parenting epic? When ‘baking a cake for morning tea’ becomes creating a ‘realistic or ‘it just won’t do’ Snorlax cake that must have three types of blue coloured icing? Or when ‘let’s do our finger nails’ becomes painting polka dots and needing to use different brushes for different effects, ‘must be toes too and also dad’s fingernails’ for fun? (The prompt for this blog). I never seem to see these epics coming. One minute it’s a quick activity idea, the next minute it’s a full-on project.

Should I indulge them or deny them? It can feel SO frustrating when something ‘easy, quick and fun’ becomes a mammoth draw on parental patience. This is especially so when bedtime is near or we need to leave the house or when the visitors are on their way and we just needed a simple cake… and THE MESS AND THE MADNESS feels suddenly standing inside a writhing can of worms.

What if it’s a just mindset shift that is needed? Or maybe just a simple change of how we see the weight and weirdness of the task? Rather than seeing a can of worms (shouting FFS, watching the clock and feeling stressed by the mess mounting up), what if we take a step backwards and actively look for roses?

A can of worms is a mess of worms. A bunch of roses is also a mess in a prettier way. Roses also have thorns, sticky/twiggy bits and lots of layers of petals that can get everywhere. I’m not saying that the moment can be completely transformed with the ‘rose lens’. It is same, same but also different. One simile is ugly, icky, out of control the other is still thorny, but also beautiful. I don’t ‘have to’ make a mess with the kids, I ‘get to’ make a mess with the kids. ‘We get to’ not ‘we have to’. And we have to see the roses.

‘Activity epics’ can be challenging but messy learning is where the most learning happens. We get to provide kids somewhere they can be themselves. We get to extend them. We get to be their safe place for messy discovery. We get to be their life assistant for creative, experimental, mad and messy things…

But we also get to set boundaries.

Time constraint? Use a timer, set up warning alerts before transitions. Mess anxiety? Use a splat mat. Accountabilty issues? Make ‘one rule’ (for painting – with our kids it is ‘brush care’ so that they wash brushes properly and don’t muddy the pottles – they are allowed to use mum’s ‘proper paint’ so they have to do it responsibly). Make clean up collaboration compulsory. Responsibility risk? Talk about next time how the task might be adapted. Keep your cool. Look for the roses.

When the kids ‘had to’ make the quick morning tea bake into a Snorlax project I had to search deeply for some patience. I added some parameters (it had to stay as a circle so no sculpting and only icing). My friend arrived and found the whole kitchen mess amusing while I was ‘riding the edge’ of the worms vs roses boundary. When the cake was finished, the kids were so proud. Actually the mess didn’t really matter. At first I saw worms, but then I could see the roses.

When last night’s quick nail polish turned into hands, feet, polka dots and even dad’s nails, I first saw worms. But then I watched the happy dance to dry the nails as well as the dad-daughter connection amongst the fray and it had to be roses.

This morning, the polish needs a top coat. Amongst the busy lunch-making, bed-smoothing, clothes-choosing, breakfast-eating, bag-packing and homework-doing those sneaky worms are wriggling at my edges again. But the energy in the room is definitely roses. I just have to choose to see them.

When I taught junior art the clean up part was always interesting as the most challenging part of the lesson. Just before the bell, the mad scurry to wash brushes and wipe tables and move paintings to drying racks, pushing in chairs, trying to be first to finish (etc) was chaos. I could stand at the sink, give orders and micro-manage, or I could set up some systems, step back and see how they do. (I even had a ‘lookout’ where I could climb the stairs and watch them from above. It was an amazing vantage point that I don’t have the luxury of at home unfortunately although metaphorically looking for Rose’s is a bit like rising above the mess). I was always surprised at how well the kids sorted it out for themselves. Kids can do great things when they are given the opportunity to.. And if I never gave them full responsibility of the clean up, they might never have learned how to clean up… Admittedly it was a messy process, but it was also a place to deliberately grow their capability in the chaos. And it was a place to turn worms into roses.

What about you? What messy experience can you facilitate better? Which can of worms could become a bunch of roses for you today?

All the colours, and polka dots. Noisy alphabet placemat illustrations by Tom Gauld.

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