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.