MaryAnn has been watching me very closely. She's noticed that I rummage through kitchen cupboards...a lot. She's also paid very close attention to how her older siblings and I enjoy caring for babies...like her.
So my Baby came up with the perfect place to put her babies down for a nap:
A few minutes later, her mind had wondered on to some other adventure and her "nursery" was left looking like this:
It would have been super convenient for me if she'd independently noticed that being mindful of her 'messes' makes for a much more tidy living space, but her brain isn't wired for that yet...at least not consistently. Lessons on cleanliness are secondary anyways and at her age will center around what her brain IS wired for: attachment and following.
With that in mind, I intentionally refrained from scolding MaryAnn for leaving a mess (though the thought did cross my mind...and probably would have made me feel more in control momentarily). I also used my prefrontal cortex to dismiss the haunting thought that MaryAnn would grow up to be a perpetual, careless mess-maker...forever. Such final judgments make us both miserable. Nor did I expect her to clean up her mess all by herself even though I know for a fact that her brain already associates the words 'clean up' with putting things away. (If she knows the meaning of something, she also has the brain connections to apply it 100% of the time, right? Wrong. All I have to do is look through my own bag full of weaknesses to see that that's not true.)
Instead, I'm comfortable that MaryAnn will choose to clean up more consistently on her own in a bunch of years when her brain switches into 'Accountability' mode (closer to age 8). For now, she and I are partners. Because we hang out so much, there's plenty of time for me to show her how fun cleaning is. She just follows my lead (whether I'm in a pleasant mood...or not).
So, I left the mess there momentarily. When I walked past it, it reminded me of MaryAnn's sweet care for her babes. I smiled several times.
About 20 minutes later, when she came wondering back to my side, I said, "MaryAnn, did your babies have a good nap?" She nodded and smiled and glowed. Then I leaned over and picked up a sandwich container and said, "Where does this go?" MaryAnn was proud to show me its spot on the shelf.
"All clean," I said eventually (after doing most of the rest of it myself).
"Yeah!" said MaryAnn.
"Taking care of babies and cleaning up are happy tasks, aren't they, my Dear?"
We both agreed: Mothering is fun.