She didn't know the word "messy" until I used it. In that tone that meant it was a bad thing.

August 1st, 2014, 10am

I realize this as we sit by the garden, making a mess. This is our second attempt at finger painting and this time I’m not as clumsy. I let her watch—strapped into her high chair a risk-free distance away—while I whisked the flour, salt and water until they reached the consistency of cake icing. I named the colors for her and asked her to point out the other colors she saw around the room, while keeping the vials of food coloring out of reach. I set up a drop cloth and prepared the space before I let her slide open the back door.

This is how I like my chaos. Controlled. Planned out. Within borders. Which is to say, I guess I don’t really like chaos at all.

I hand her the foam brush and tell her she’s free to do what she likes. Dip it, swirl it, smash it on the paper so it sends chunks and splatters on the tile. There’s a spot of teal on my leg and I’m choosing to ignore it. She has a pink dot on her cheek, intentionally placed with a giggle, and I tell her it looks cute. “It’s okay. It’ll wash off.” I’m not sure if I’m talking to her or to myself.

This madness continues for I don’t know how long. Just long enough for her to create three paintings. Just long enough for her to abandon the brush and try, first, a finger, then a fist. Just long enough for her to get over her usual first reaction, which is to ask me to wash her hands and to say, “Eww, messy. Dirty, Mommy.” These are her words, but, I realize, they were first mine: from when she tripped and got dirt on her hands, from when she unscrewed a lotion bottle and liked the smell and the way it smeared, from when we first tried painting and the food coloring wouldn’t come off and I got frazzled and said things I didn’t mean.

I don’t like messy, but it’s the best way for her to learn. They say you first need to learn the rules in order to break them, but when you’re not yet two years old and the rules don’t mean anything to you, maybe you need a mom who’s willing to break her own rules. Over and over again.

Sweetheart, I’d do anything for you.

Sanna and Christine said thanks.

Share this moment

Shiloah Matic-Ma

Life enthusiast. Child-wildlife photographer. Part-time writer. Full-time mom. Amateur everything. Documenting my messes at

Create a free account

Have an account? Sign in.

Sign up with Facebook