I've seen two patterns emerge at this sandbox, especially around the water. The most common one is the Forbidden Zone pattern. Toddlers and babies, in particular, are shuttled away from this Forbidden Zone of sand and water. Many of them never get a chance to touch either one. Some brave, well-meaning parents let their little ones explore a few moments, until the first splash of water gets on those oh-so-cute clothes. Then the game is over in a split second, ending with cries of defeat, loss, and frustration. From expressions on the parents' faces, I'm guessing they feel pretty deflated, too.
The other pattern I've seen is one of Oh Well, Here We Go. Parents remove their child's shoes gently and sometimes pant legs get rolled up. Often these kids are accompanied by a few sand toys to share. They make their mess and when it's time to go, they use the running water to rinse off the sand. Some just play in the water the whole time, getting soaked to varying degrees. The only remorseful parting cries are those from the kid who wants to play longer.
Today I met one of these mothers who admitted to having once been a Forbidden Zone mom. I never would have guessed, watching her 3 year-old daughter romp in the wet sand, caked up to the knees. She didn't even bother taking off shoes or rolling up her pants. Instead, her mom helped fill the bucket with water over and over again. Munchkin and the little girl took turns pouring water through a funnel. Some of the water spilled all around them, some splashed in the sand, and a good portion splattered all over Munchkin and the little girl. The girl and her mother just kept filling the bucket for us. Eventually Munchkin and the little girl were wading ankle deep in sand and water, stomping, splashing, kicking.
"Wow, that's cool that you let her get all messy," I remarked to the girl's mom.
"Well, you know, if you'd talked to me 3 years ago, it'd be different. But eventually I thought, you know, why fight it? She loves getting messy!" the girl's mom explained.
I smiled deeply. I recognized the personal evolution. From Blech! What a mess! I don't want to clean that up! to What's wrong with messy? While I don't enjoy cleaning up Munchkin's relentless messes (spilled milk, pee on the floor, crushed cereal under foot, etc., etc.), I have gotten better at dealing with them. Thanks to a suggestion from Hobo Mama, I now exaggerate any annoyance to a point that just makes us both laugh. I also allow Munchkin ample opportunity to get messy within safe boundaries, like this park with the awesome sandbox.
Watching this woman and her sand-covered daughter reminded me of something else about messes and children: acceptance. It's amazing what a little acceptance will do for a mother. Of course, having a spare change of clothes handy helps, too.
What are your views on letting kids get messy? Please do tell, I'd love to hear from you!