Advice to my granddaughter

I love having a granddaughter – it’s amazing, and she’s gorgeous, even when lying on the floor screaming and kicking.

 Watching her grow and learn, and participating in her childhood, is the greatest privilege I can imagine.

What advice would you want to pass on to a granddaughter? This is the one thing I found myself telling her on my last visit - she’s only 2!

“It’s ok to make a mess. We’ll clear it up afterwards.”

And I repeated it as we cleared up after painting and after eating ice cream.


I’m sure there will be lots of other pieces of advice I want to pass on as she grows up – meanwhile, I was wondering why that one came first. And realised that, of course, it was also advice for myself, for the child I once was and for the adult I am now.

As a child, it felt like I was always making a mess – dripping ice cream, breaking cups when drying up, spilling things, leaving stains. I can still hear my mother’s words as she saw the latest mess I’d made: “Trust you!”  I even remember letting myself cry when I broke that cup so that I wouldn’t get told off.

I have to tell you that my parents were kind and gentle. I don’t think they did actually tell me off much. Even so, something developed in me that was scared of making a mess or mistake, and that converted quickly and reliably into shame. And it continued as I grew older. Back then,the messes, leaks, and stains particular to being a woman were never talked about, and my fear of messing up had plenty to work with as I grew older.

Becoming a painter changed that shameful feeling into something much healthier. Now I have to make a mess in order to paint. And I’ve learned that there is no living without mess, and further that working with mess is often the way to create beauty. I’ve also learned that most of the spills and drips and mistakes that we make are easily cleared, cleaned, or sorted.

I am grateful that my parents taught me how to be tidy and clean and honest. And that I learned that a rich life sometimes requires a mess to be made.

I wonder, is there anything that needs doing right now that I’m putting off in case it makes a mess?



PS I am intrigued about why this idea feels so important and works so well at the level of individual lives and daily activities, and yet doesn’t work at all well for the level of the planet’s ecology. The climate mess we’ve made certainly needs clearing up but it also wasn’t OK to make it in the first place…

I’ll be coming back to this conundrum soon. Meanwhile I’m listening to a new-to-me philosopher with interesting things to say:

Why we need to rethink climate change, with Timothy Morton – Guardian books podcast

Lynne CameronComment