Good, clean fun
It was quite the grimy weekend. I’m told I must get used to being a “boy mom,” and my son certainly has an affinity for filth already. I grew up as one of two sisters who might as well have been wearing frilly lace petticoats, we were so girly; I stayed far away from dust, dirt and “boy things,” whatever that meant from one day to the next.
The only time I touched a G.I. Joe was to have him marry Barbie in a simple, rustic ceremony on the porch of my grandparents’ house. Katie and I went there daily after school and played with the two Matthews (Big Matt and Little Matt, respectively), who also attended Gram’s daycare, but our worlds were often separate.
Unless the sprinkler was involved.
Growing up in Southern Maryland, we all know that sticky summer afternoons turn neighborhoods into wastelands. Humidity thicker than fleece; blazing sun that scorches more than warms. But a gaggle of kids can’t be kept inside all day. Gram would set us up in the shade with kickball, coloring books or bubbles.
And on the hottest afternoons? She’d pull out a yard sprinkler, more commonly used to keep my grandfather’s grass looking immaculate. We’d run around like wild animals. The sprinkler oscillated, so we’d take turns shouting and high-stepping as the water came toward us. Inevitably someone would get pushed, but it was all in good fun. Even the blades of damp grass stuck to our bare feet.
That level of “dirtiness,” if you can even call it that, is about all I’ve ever tolerated. You would never find me flinging mud. My jeans? Impressively neat. I never played long or hard enough to earn rips, tears or stains.
I’ve shared my love of the vast, air-conditioned indoors before. My husband and I make attempts at “getting out in nature” (read: walking wellworn paths in parks) occasionally, but they don’t last long. The most time I ever spend outside happens when I go for a walk around our office park, and that’s about 90 percent concrete. The rest? Dashing in and out of my car for coffee.
That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy being outside — in small bursts. My 2-year-old son has discovered blowing bubbles on the deck and running on sidewalks, his new favorite pastimes, so I’m spending more time in the sunshine than ever before (with sunscreen, of course).
My love/hate relationship with nature is definitely bug-related. It might seem like I’m exaggerating when I talk about my fear of crawly, winged things, but the anxiety is real. I am trying to conquer it. I mean, butterflies and ladybugs — they’re our friends. I guess the bees are, too, but the stinging really puts me off inviting them to the barbecue, you know?
Sunday was nice. After running some errands, we got home with baby Hadley still snoozing in her carseat. That’s a rarity — and an opportunity to do some yard work as a family.
Before kids, my husband and I tackled most chores together. If he was doing laundry, I was separating the whites. If I was chopping vegetables for dinner, he would add them to the skillet. If he was working in the garage, I would be . . . OK, well, not working in the garage. But maybe nearby, offering water or something.
Two babies later, the idea of both of us handling a chore simultaneously is sweet. If we have to coordinate bathroom breaks, I can’t imagine how we could possibly work on painting a spare room or pulling weeds together. I usually commandeer our toddler while Spencer has the baby, and then we switch. When I leave the room for 15 seconds, I tell Oliver “not to do anything crazy.” And you know what he does? Something crazy.
But Ollie has been easygoing recently. It’s awesome, especially given how much we must tend to Hadley — but kind of freaking me out. The head-banging temper tantrums are slowing as his language improves, so he can tell us what he wants instead of making us guess (wrongly, of course). “Apple juice” was his first twoword phrase. Ollie might not eat much, but the kid can drink.
Because he was late to start moving, I think, Oliver is very cautious — especially when walking outside. While he loves the playground, he’s mostly a people-watcher: content to laugh at the antics of bigger kids while keeping a safe distance. I don’t have to worry about him running up a slide or leaping from monkey bars (yet).
Ollie is fine with a little dirt, though. Unlike his mother, sweat and sand and stickiness don’t trouble him.
As Spencer and I were outside cleaning the siding Sunday, Ollie was trying to get into the bucket of soapy water. When that failed, he tried to commandeer the long-handled brush to dip it into the bucket — and drenched himself in the process. He ran through the yard, kicked at the grass. His canvas sneakers aren’t long for this world. And his arms, hair, face — all streaked with sweat and dirt.
He got so grimy that I wanted to wrap the afternoon up and march him straight to the bathtub. But “he’s a boy,” Spencer said. “He’s going to get dirty. It’s OK.”
Girls can get grimy, too, of course; that’s just a concept lost on me. I’ve spent my life trying not to get wet, sticky, sandy or shellacked with filth, so seeing my tiny creature stomp in mud makes me physically recoil.
After yard work, Spencer had the idea to dig out a kiddie pool and let Oliver kick around on the deck. Spence did the heavy lifting while I stayed back with the baby, given that was the splash zone. And the bug zone. (I still managed to earn 10 mosquito bites in the short bursts I was in and out, reinforcing how I like the outdoors: best viewed through a plate glass window.)
With Ollie happily sailing his toy boats through choppy kidmade currents, I couldn’t miss an opportunity to multi-task. I grabbed shampoo while Spencer poured bubble bath under the running hose. Suds went everywhere, overflowing onto the deck — like something out of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Our son was absolutely delighted.
The best of all worlds: splish-splashing Ollie was “making a mess,” so he was having the time of his life. In reality, an hour in the sudsy pool and that kid was so clean he practically squeaked. Two birds, one stone. See? We can be cool parents. Just don’t ask me to run under that hose.