Muddy mo­ments

Maryland Independent - - Southern Maryland Classified - Twit­ter: @right­meg

I’m still get­ting com­fort­able with dirt. It’s been a process. I knew chil­dren would chal­lenge my ideas of clean­li­ness and pro­pri­ety, but I didn’t nec­es­sar­ily re­al­ize how quickly that would hap­pen.

I come by this dis­like nat­u­rally. Grow­ing up as one of two daugh­ters with a very sweet, gen­tle mother, we might as well have been raised with our pinkies out. This was the Wash­ing­ton sub­urbs, not a manor held by the aris­toc­racy, but my sis­ter and I knew our clothes should be clean, our hair brushed and neat. My dad would con­duct a “tan­gle test” be­fore school (quite the chal­lenge for a curly top like me).

If we played out­side, it was to kick a ball around the yard or hop on a swing. I didn’t run. Or sweat. Katie and I much pre­ferred to play in the vast world of our Bar­bies, set­ting up elab­o­rate scenes in the air-con­di­tioned liv­ing room. And mud? That’s a no.

One of my par­ents’ fa­vorite Meg­gie sto­ries in­volves go­ing to the beach as a tod­dler. My mom can mimic my ab­so­lute dis­gust at the sand — much of it creep­ing onto my beach blan­ket. “Dirty,” I re­peated, hands up as if un­der ar­rest. “Dirty. Dirty.”

By com­par­i­son, my hus­band’s par­ents still chuckle when re­call­ing the time young Spencer dove into a mud pud­dle at an event. My mother-in-law even snapped a photo: Spence with sandy hair, waist-deep in filth. His dad had to lift him up by his over­alls, mud drip­ping from his lit­tle legs.

That wasn’t an iso­lated in­ci­dent. He was “such a boy,” as they say — loved play­ing in the creek be­hind the house, dig­ging holes for his mother’s gar­den, work­ing with his dad on all sorts of projects in the garage.

Three-year-old Oliver is start­ing to take an in­ter­est in the nat­u­ral world, ask­ing ques­tions as we walk out­side. A break in the rain Satur­day meant Spencer and I had to scurry out to get some yard work done, the kids bounc­ing along at our sides. That was the first time we’d brought one-year-old Hadley out in her new pink sneak­ers, and it was adorable. (Very slow progress. But adorable.)

Hadley doesn’t mind some mess. The grass was still damp in the af­ter­noon, and the bare patches of lawn were sticky with mud. I did my best not to po­lice her ev­ery move­ment, but it was phys­i­cally painful for me to see her headed for a pud­dle and do noth­ing to stop it. So I stopped it. Would I have di­verted Oliver in the same way? Maybe. Eh, prob­a­bly. I won­der these things, given we’re rais­ing both a son and a daugh­ter. I’m con­scious of how I might in­stinc­tively treat them dif­fer­ently, en­cour­ag­ing them in dif­fer­ent ways based on gen­der, and try to neu­tral­ize that.

Hadley might be the messier one, any­way — who knows? Oliver’s pock­ets are al­ways stuffed with rocks and acorns he’s col­lected, but he tends to squint with dis­gust as soon as his hands get gunky. I keep baby wipes on me at all times (good par­ent prac­tice in gen­eral), and we burn through them as Ol­lie con­tin­u­ously asks for “a nap­kin, Mommy. Need a nap­kin!”

By con­trast, at the county fair a few weeks back, the muddy stretches were no chal­lenge for Ol­lie. He was so dis­tracted and wide-eyed at the sight of the car­ni­val rides, games and prizes, he was prac­ti­cally run­ning into walls.

The morn­ing went a lit­tle some­thing like this:

“Ol­lie! Watch out for the … mud.”

“Hey! Stop, Ol­lie. There’s … mud.”

“Oliver, look out, bud! That’s … mud.” And so on. You never re­al­ize how of­ten you sigh heav­ily un­til your tod­dler per­fectly im­i­tates that frus­tra­tion. Cue the baby wipes when we got back to the car, used not only to wipe down his sneak­ers but also his legs, hands, arms, neck . . . a bath on the run, ba­si­cally.

Lit­tle Hadley seems to be less averse to mess than her brother. I’ll be in­ter­ested to see how she han­dles it as time goes on. Right now, any­way, she is happy as a clam when cov­ered in yo­gurt or shak­ing milk from her bot­tle all over her­self (and the kitchen).

When I tell my friends these sto­ries, groan­ing at the idea of Oliver and Hadley get­ting soiled and di­sheveled, I’m al­most uni­lat­er­ally met with hu­mor. Maybe a lit­tle out­rage.

“Me­gan! They’re kids. That’s what they do. Let them be kids!”

I hear this. In­ter­nal­ize it. Ab­sorb it. Try to live it.

But when faced with a messy sit­u­a­tion, it is phys­i­cally painful for me to sit on my hands and let them get filthy.

I know that, to some ex­tent, I should. It’s good for devel­op­ment. I can’t fol­low them around with pa­per tow­els and hand san­i­tizer. I’m ul­ti­mately do­ing them (and my­self) a dis­ser­vice by wor­ry­ing too much about these things.

But fight­ing my nat­u­ral in­stincts is . . . chal­leng­ing. I’m try­ing, though! I am try­ing.

In the mean­time, let me just grab a baby wipe.

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