Creativity looks like chaos before you see anything worthwhile. Anything from a cake to a newly paved road involves muck, mess, noise and displacement. I think if we want creative kids, we have to let them mess stuff up.
As soon as our twins had learned to walk, they would climb out of their cribs, slither down the stairs on hands, knees and bellies, and toddle into the dining room, where they would purposefully tip over two or three chairs and each dump out a basket of toys. They would survey their work with satisfied expressions, as though they had righted many wrongs.
I had an instinct not to correct them. They were too proud of the accomplishment. I’d let them play in the derbris and picked it up when they had moved on. They eventually grew out of it.
Some of my best memories, the times of most intense joy, took place in a heck of a mess. One time we had another family over, and while the adults grabbed a few minutes of conversation around the table, the kids filled the living room, entry and half the dining room with about 20 of those three-foot nylon pop-up cubes, gifts from a doting grandma.
An old friend from my single days happened to be campaigning for an election in the neighborhood. When I opened the door to his knock, his jaw dropped at the sight of the wall to wall pop-up cubes and the hoard of swarming kids slithering through them. He backed out of the doorway, at a loss for words.
That was nothing. When my nephews came over, I would let them turn my living room into a fort. Furniture would be rearranged and upended, cushions piled high and beds stripped to make roofs and walls out of the blankets. Anyone who entered was caught in the crossfire of countless nerf gun darts. The passion and joy of the battle warranted the inconvenience, and they were so grateful for the freedom that the kids did a pretty good job of cleaning up.
Probably the tackiest thing we ever allowed was an old mattress in the middle of the boys’ bedroom, for three years. My husband put it in their room when we bought a new one for our bed, so our three little boys could have fun ‘for a few days’. They had so much fun, leaping from their beds onto it, rolling around wrestling in its softness, doing flips – we couldn’t bring ourselves to get rid of it until they needed bigger beds.
I could go on and on. The loft of our old barn in the backyard was turned into a bunker, the lower area into a work-out space complete with punching bag suspended from the rafters. The backyard is dominated by a trampoline, the basement by an arsenal of nerf guns, the attic by enough Legos to build a small nation.
I think kids who are given territory upon which to make their mark become confident, creative adults. They can take risks and imagine new realities. They can tolerate the disarray of change. Our house may never be featured in “Better Homes and Gardens”, but I’m still glad we let our kids make messes.