A Dad's View 20: Creative children = messy
His children's imaginations fills Tom Dunmore with pride, but sometimes he wishes the creative process wasn't quite so messy
'That's for water, that's to chop down baddies, that's for shade, that's where you get cookies, that's to fly away from baddies, that's a picture, that's for power and that's the password.'
Ava is talking me through the latest of her increasingly elaborate drawings – a heart-shaped house with enough weapons and gadgets to make James Bond weep with jealousy. And a rainbow arching over the top of it all, of course: that's her signature touch. It's a truly amazing picture: the problem is that it's the latest in a series of rainbow-crowned, heart-shaped houses that stretches back over 20 drawings, each one just a slight variation on the last.
And, much as I love them, they're not quite as essential as, say, Monet's Rouen Cathedral series or Warhol's many Marilyns. But crumpling even one of them up and throwing it into the recycling seems like an act of unimaginable cruelty.
So I add Ava's latest masterpiece to The Pile. Every couple of months, when parenthood has driven us both to the edge of sanity, my wife and I will ruthlessly purge The Pile: it's a cathartic experience, which ends up with a few delightful keepsakes and an enormous sense of relief that, amid the chaos, we are at least in control of something. We are masters of The Pile.
Except, of course, it's all a lie. We are masters of nothing. The day after a purge of The Pile, the kids come home from nursery with huge envelopes stuffed with new artworks, heavy with daubs of paint and splats of glue that can't begin to hold the piles of smushed rice and glitter that have been dumped on them. Opening these envelopes requires the steady hand of a bomb disposal expert: one wrong move and the entire house – and all of its inhabitants – will be glittering for weeks to come.
Unfortunately, two pairs of tiny, eager, grabbing hands make it all but impossible to defuse these glitterbombs safely. 'This one is for you, Daddy!' cries Ava, pulling a particularly fragile collage out of the envelope and scattering it over a radius of three metres. 'It's... lovely,' I say, staring at an empty glue splodge beneath a rainbow. The cat skitters off with two fuzzy-felt hearts stuck to its back.
As someone who values creativity above almost everything, it's wonderful to see my kids so engaged with making things. But there are times when it would be nice to just be clean – to live in a house that doesn't have scribbles and grubby handprints on every surface. Erik's specialism is micro-graffiti, and seeing an 18-month-old hold a pen so beautifully makes it hard to get angry when he ignores the boundary between paper and tabletop. But it's a slippery slope – my friend Dan has recently bought a house from a family where the parents had let their teenager run riot with a spraycan in their bedroom. The result was
more crack den than art gallery.
It's not that I think we're bringing up our kids wrong – it's just that I'm sometimes hit by waves of jealousy when I see that other parents can not only keep their houses clean, but also dress themselves and their children in clothes that aren't smeared with paint and food. How do they manage it?
Ava wants to cheer me up. 'I'm drew picture of you and me,' she says. There, under her trademark rainbow and surrounded by hearts, I see a tiny princess with hair down to the ground, holding hands with a scarecrow who's fittingly splattered with colours but sporting the biggest smile it's possible to fit on a face.
'It's perfect,' I say.