Say YES to MESS & Mayhem – the Joy is in the Journey – right?

Is the joy really in the journey?

Photo credit: cogdogblog on VisualHunt / CC BY

What price are you willing to pay for letting creativity flow? In other words, what messes are you willing to put up with?

This is an ode to my mother.

I shared earlier how Mom was gifted in knitting beautiful sweaters, clothing, and afghans. But I don’t know how she found the time.

I think her other main area of creativity was managing everyone’s schedule effectively.  Keeping us on track.

She had four kids to contend with: meals, schedules, piano lessons, sports, groceries, errands, housekeeping, etc. The stuff moms do. In addition, she had a vegetable garden and played the piano and organ for church. When we were older, she worked part-time as a dental hygienist.

She also put up with antics from our 4-H animals: rabbits, goats, dogs, and horses. Plus a million barn cats.

By antics, I mean, one time our horse escaped and ended up walking downtown, seven miles away. When Dad was out of town.

Our busy household didn’t leave her much time for anything else until her later years. Then she took up painting and taught literacy.

But when we were little, every evening, at the end of a day’s work, if she wasn’t knitting, she had a book in her hands. As a reading role model, she loved biographies and the Bible. She also read to us.

But something else Mom did with us kids was KEY. She let us make messes.

For example, my sister and I (from ages 6-11) loved to build dollhouses. We saved every cardboard box. We hoarded Scotch tape, empty spools, toothpicks, ribbons, fabric scraps, matchboxes, toothpaste caps. Anything that could be turned into miniature household items.

Photo credit: 190.arch (aka bymamma190) on VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-ND

We had more fun creating tiny curtains, rugs, and furniture than playing with our Liddle Kiddles and Barbies who occupied them. They each lived in a different scale. So we built shoebox-size rooms for Kiddles–including apartments–and bigger ones for Barbies.

Once we created an entire village, complete with dentist office, park, and library. Later on, my brothers had a train track and countryside village the size of a dining room.

Of course, this all created a mess that spilled into many rooms.

Our three-bedroom ranch house had a huge basement where we played house, store, and school. Full of secondhand furniture, the basement belonged to us kids. And to the neighbors.

We constantly re-arranged furniture depending on our daily activities: hide and seek, magic shows, a spook house, birthday parties, shuffle board, and more. We only had to clean it up twice a year when we begrudgingly let my parents have their grown-up parties downstairs.

We took our domain for granted. But later, when I entered motherhood, I wanted control over my household. Then I realized how difficult it was to give a big space over to the chaotic whims of childhood.

I once read a book about the importance of giving kids space and time. Not structuring all their time or over-doing the rules.

It stressed the importance of letting kids experience things themselves–whether art, work, or play. And how to respond to their efforts. Maybe Mom had been a consultant.

The bottom line: creativity needs space–time and place–to grow. With little adult direction and imposition.

Both Mom and Dad had gardens and beautiful landscaping. But we kids were a garden Mom planted with just the right amount of water and dirt. She pulled weeds now and then, then stepped back to let us bask in the sunshine, come what may.

Which meant that Mom said YES when she saw it was good for us.

“Mom, can we have a pool party with all the neighbors?” YES.

“Mom, can we have a carnival?” YES.

“Mom, can we have a circus?” YES.

Maybe this wasn’t hard to say yes to, considering our family was already a 3-ring circus.

So every summer, my sister and I hosted a backyard carnival with midway-type games and circus acts. We had guest entertainers and barkers, but we didn’t want too many helpers because then we wouldn’t make as much money. Each game and show was a nickel per guest.

Photo credit: atmtx on / CC BY-NC-ND; Photo credit: proteinbiochemist on Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC

On top of saying YES to backyard carnivals, Mom let us have free reign. She didn’t step in and take over, telling us what to do and how. We figured it all out ourselves, from deciding which games to sending out invitations. With patience galore, she was a resource when we needed help. We had no fewer than thirty kids traipsing into our house and yard at any given event.

I would say we had just as much fun planning as we had during the actual event. The joy was definitely in the journey.

But it never would’ve happened if Mom hadn’t been willing to say YES to clutter, confusion, and chaos.

In this way, she, too, was an artist of the highest degree. With graciousness and a certain amount of laissez-faire, she gave us an environment for creativity to thrive. She said YES to mess and mayhem.

“To affect the quality of the day,
that is the highest of arts.” –Thoreau

Let this be an encouragement to all the moms and grandmas out there who think they’re not creative but want to encourage their kids and grandkids. Give room to grow. Say YES to Mess & Mayhem.

Photo credit: Dean Terry on Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-ND

Do you recall times when your own imagination was given free reign, whether at home or school? Or when you’ve given your children that freedom? What happened as a result? When did you (or they) find “joy in the journey”?

I’d love to hear from you!

Ever musing,


P.S. Coming soon: a journalist/food columnist/crafter/Mom who creates and captures memories for friends and family . . . She says YES to Mess & Mayhem!

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25 thoughts on “Say YES to MESS & Mayhem – the Joy is in the Journey – right?

  1. Oh, Laura – I had no idea about the carnivals but I do remember the basement! It was an awesome place to play even though I was quite a bit older than the rest of you. She even had time to have Stef and me visit often and I will never forget those times. Thanks for a great story.

  2. What a great mom! And what a magical childhood! I remember one year my mother let me decorate the house for Christmas in July. It was supremely tacky, looking back on it, and I’m not sure I would have let my boys do the same (not that they ever wanted to). But as I think about it, yes, my parents both let me—with my younger siblings as my grunt labor—give in to creative binges and definitely make messes.

    1. How fun to have Christmas in July! Did you make your own decorations or just pull out all the Christmas ornaments that were tucked away? Convenient that you had younger siblings to pitch in!

  3. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, Laura. We lived just far enough away that we never really got the chance to know this side of your family. I would have loved to come to your circus and carnivals and to build dollhouses with you and Carol. Your Mother was a grand lady and I never really knew these things about her. As you said, she gave you room to grow as it developed your imagination and creativity. As an adult, Laura, you have tapped back into this creativity through your writing today, and it has enriched the person you are now and those around you!! What a wonderful tribute to your Mother✨And a good reminder for parents and grandparents today. It especially reminded me of a few times through the years when a friend of mine who lived an hour or so away got to stay at our house in the summertime for a week. My dad had built a long bench-style couch along one of the walls in our basement. It was a place we kids could play. So my friend and I, with my Barbie doll furniture, created a small household along the bench. And all week long we would sew clothes with leftover material for our dolls. We would spend hours down there and it was so much fun! I still have a couple of the outfits that I had made. Along with all my Barbie dolls still in their case.

    1. That sounds like a great play area. A perfect little get-away. I remember sewing some Barbie clothes, too, but I had better luck making cardboard furniture. Amazing that you still have your original Barbies in their case! Sweet little memories all tucked away.

  4. Your mom was my aunt and she always said yes to us when I would come hang out with all of you! She always made me feel so loved and welcome! Your basement was the best!
    Maybe that is where I learned to say yes to my kids. They would take different things from all over the house to set up Barbies, LEGOs, and whatever else they were into. And then it would stay out for days or at least a week, until cleaning day.
    I did daycare for 10 years and that’s where my creativity came in because we did crafts galore and messes would be everywhere! It was so much fun and I felt satisfied in my soul. Now my 2 granddaughters ages 6 often “set up” different rooms in my house as their imaginations soar- usually it is a schoolroom.
    Thanks for helping me walk down memory lane and be ok with a comfy home not necessarily a clean one.

    1. So glad you’ve been able to let your kids and grandkids experiment with their creative urges in various spots of your house! Sounds like a fun place to be. You’re so right about the idea of being okay with a comfy home not a clean one. At least not immaculate!

  5. I remember your mom’s generosity first-hand. One day three of our cousins were visiting with our two in-town cousins and my brother and me. We were driving down the road on the way to the lake when we came across you riding your bike. You said for all 7 of us to come swim at your house instead of the lake. So we did! When we told my mom the story she was mortified and wondered how we could do that to poor Mrs. DeNooyer. But your mom was so kind and nice to us all. My cousins talked about that adventure for many years! Thank you for sharing these stories of your mom. They illicit memories our own positive experiences with our moms too!

    1. So glad you remember that incident so fondly. That’s one thing I always admired about her–she shined in hospitality and welcomed people into the house at any time, planned or not. She had way more flexibility than I’ve ever had!

  6. As a mom who was good with mess and mayhem, I remember when an older couple suddenly showed up on my doorstep to visit. In their defense, we had scheduled the after-dinner evening ahead of time.
    But in the midst of my letting my kids create all their Christmas gifts for each other, each room of my house had exploded with fabric and glue and paint and glitter. The kids were having a ball, but I totally forgot about the company coming. Unfortunately, as the older couple looked around, it was clear. They were NOT impressed. In fact, the next week, the woman made a completely UNscheduled visit to tell me I needed to get my housekeeping in order to better care for my family.

    Thankfully my kids don’t remember the older couple’s looks. My kids remember the gifts they made for each other. And the fun they had doing it. I’m glad–because I loved seeing them create! And that year’s Christmas gifts were the best.

    1. Oh, my! That’s an awkward situation! I’m glad you still valued the benefit of your kids’ creating rather than succumbing to the notion that good housekeeping is the equivalent of good parenting! Not to say we shouldn’t clean the house now and then 🙂 Just to get rid of the glitter, if nothing else!

  7. Thanks for your insight, Laura. I so enjoy reading your blog and hope I will be a Grandma who encourages mess and mayhem.

  8. Your mother sounds AMAZING! And as a mother who values controlled messes, that gives me a lot of encouragement to be a little more open to my children’s play. My parents were (are) not campers, so we didn’t spend very much time in the wild, but now that I have my own children, we love to take them hiking and camping where they can explore nature and get dirty. And I’ve got to admit that I don’t mind that the dirt gets to be played with outside of my house 😉😋

    1. Yes, camping/outdoor life is a whole other arena for kids to experience and become familiar with. So glad you are having those special times with your family. And leaving the dirt at the door!

  9. In our neighborhood, the kids in three families would get together every summer for several years in row and write plays, have spook houses, do crafts, make up games, all in our basement. My Mom encouraged us to be creative. She loved to sew, experiment with recipes, and do crafts. She did like us to clean up, but only after our projects were complete. When I was older, I found the best tee-shirt with a slogan, “I’m not messy, I’m creative.” I thank my Mom for putting up with the messes for a more noble purpose of encouraging creativity and imagination.

    1. Sounds like the ideal neighborhood with an encouraging mom, numerous friends, and unlimited creative collaboration. They should each have a T-shirt like that!

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