I’ve always been sloppy. However, nothing prepared me for the mess that having a child would cause | Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett

OYour apartment is a mess. I’m writing this while looking at a pile of laundry taller than me, next to it two half-unpacked suitcases, and a Fisher-Price Little Snoopy conspiring to break my neck. Next to me is a used Calpol syringe, an ear thermometer, three mugs, many loose pages from the novel I’m writing, and a multipack of Pom-Bear chips. I’ve always been messy, and having grown up in a house with an autistic brother whose autism manifested itself in disorder, I have a pretty high tolerance for chaos. But nothing prepared me for the mess that having a child would cause.

The problem is less acute with a baby. Granted, a baby comes with a lot of stuff, and you don’t get enough sleep to think straight, let alone do housework, but a small child is at least somewhat composed. The mess a toddler creates is unholy in comparison. If my son doesn’t want something, he just throws it over his shoulder, like a pissed off person would a kebab. A lot of the stuff he throws is sticky. In Nell Frizzell’s book Holding the Baby, she refers to something she calls “toddler cement,” a mix of porridge, snot, vomited milk, hair and something colorful, probably jam. A nightmare to clean, but still not as bad as some of the other fabrics you’ll come across, and we haven’t even started potty training yet.

We’re told it is developmentally important for children to explore different textures, especially as they learn to eat, as it helps them become familiar with different foods and improves their fine motor skills. These activities always involve spaghetti, but it’s hard enough to keep up with existing housework without having to then clean up the spaghetti ball you left on the floor for the child to roll around in. for fun. My son didn’t really like sticking his hands in sticky substances, and I was beating myself up about it. “Well, how would you feel if I stuck your hand in a bowl of cold baked beans?” my mother asked when she visited.

And so we went to Messy Hands, a nearby “messy play” class where all the activities are laid out (and then cleaned up) for you, and each week has a theme (we had red jelly with spiders for Halloween). The babies are encouraged to put their hands in, scoop, pour and explore – or, in my son’s case, get into the hot tub fully clothed. “Children are naturally messy in everything they do. So the idea of ​​creating an activity that is supposed to be messy, on top of the mess they already make, is daunting,” says Maleah Eleder, an educator who specializes in messy play. “But it’s one of those things where you have to get outside your comfort zone and reassess what the kids will enjoy and benefit from the most.”

Clutter isn’t just about food. Eleder tells me it’s also about access to nature, with all its sticky substances and interesting smells, and she emphasizes that indoor activities should not replace outdoor activities; the two can work together. Some parents really don’t want their kids to get dirty or muddy. “It’s not necessarily their fault, but it’s something they might have lost in their youth. They don’t even realize how important it is,” says Eleder. Some neurodivergent children struggle with different textures and can also benefit from messy play, especially because it takes place in a controlled environment where they can participate as little or as much as they want.

When it comes to cleanliness and parenting, you’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. On one hand, you have the cleaning influencers who tout the mental health benefits of a spotless home but are often accused of exposing their children to nasty chemicals or turning them into germophobes. The popularity of the ‘sad beige’ aesthetic, where parents force their children to live in homes without clutter or color, has drawn criticism. I have friends who grew up in homes with mothers who cleaned obsessively so they could never put anything down without it being cleaned up, and it didn’t make for a relaxing childhood environment.

On the other hand, you have the “slummy mummies” (and daddies), who are just as guilty of glorifying a certain lifestyle as the “cleanfluencers,” and who also demonstrably do not prioritize the physical or mental health of their families . Clutter can be extremely stressful, just like E coli or pests.

Most people fall between these two extremes, and probably berate themselves a little for not being more like the other. The balance of housework still falls heavily on women’s shoulders, and while a clean house is less of a sign of a good mother than it used to be, it can be easy to feel like you’re constantly failing. Maybe the solution for us is to hire a cleaner (or a deep cleaning team of the kind that does crime scenes, and a skip), but for now my husband and I just committed to doing 10-20 minutes a night before bed , to ensure that the kitchen is at least presentable and the litter box is empty. It may be the bare minimum, but at least our messy, rambunctious boy is happy.

What works
I’m going to sound like a middle class tosser, but with classical music. My son had Mahler in utero, BBC Radio 3 as a baby, and now a plethora of music books, his current favorite being The Nutcracker. It’s really wonderful to see how much he enjoys listening, especially piano music, and now I try to get him to toddler classes and performances whenever I can. I’m not an expert in it, so I’m learning something too.

What not
Unfortunately, I took out the screw on one of his favorite books, Marion Billets Listen to the Classical Music, while trying to put in new batteries. I considered getting another one, but discovered that the new version only has five, instead of six. , pieces of music. The question that keeps me awake at night is: which one did they throw overboard? I don’t buy it to find out – I can’t face his disappointment – so I have to figure out how to take the thing apart somehow.