odd, isn’t it? That though I’m surrounded by other parents who would supposedly be pearls of wisdom, all of the good parenting advice I’m getting of late is all from strangers.
We were out for ice cream again the other evening and happened to sit next to some older parents about to send their one and only son off to the navy. So, perhaps, seeing us brought a nostalgic tone to their evening. Whatever the case, Joel and Ruth were in the middle of eating their superman ice cream cones and making a royal mess of things when the lady leaned over to me and said, “You know, I was so surprised when your husband handed the ice cream cone to your son.” I nodded, trying to follow her line of thinking. “Because I never did that!” she continued. “Because of the mess?” I asked. “Because of the mess!” she exclaimed, “Isn’t that silly? Now, I wish I would have, ” she said, a wistful gleam in her eye.
This lady highlighted something on my mind of late. And that’s having dirty kids takes balls. I’m talking about stigma (stigma, stigma, always stigma. Well, I guess it’s because I seem to be wading through quagmires of stigma since becoming a parent for one reason or another. Not that I’m alone. We all deal with our own stigma, don’t we?).
Ruth and Joel are often dirty. People talk about dirt as the “uniform of childhood”. But that’s talking the talk. I hear a lot of people claiming that they allow their kids to get dirty and explore. Yet, I rarely encounter these people in public. We all know what walking the walk actually entails. Balls.
The balls to not look like a jc penny catalogue. The balls to accept people’s quizzical, and yes, at times, judgmental looks with a steady gaze in return. Balls even to appear to the general public like we don’t “have it all together”, are possibly even “neglectful”. The balls to resist the temptation to present our kids as extensions of our personal egos. It’s harder than you might think.
Because I’ve been out with my kids when they’ve happened to look ok. Nice, even. Perhaps right after a bath and when each of them randomly chooses an unstained outfit that chances to match (and the more gender-specific, the better to random passers by, for some reason) and I’ve felt that melty feeling inside to have other people ooo and ahhh over my kids, give me, the mother, looks of approval and admiration. It feels damn validating to have others look at me and my kids like I am doing a good job.
I’ve also been (more frequently) in the opposite situation, where they haven’t bathed in a while, have something sticky on their faces, perhaps Joel isn’t even wearing pants, and worst of all, he’s wearing something pink, and Ruth is in stained boys shorts with her hair in her face. Perhaps neither of them are wearing shoes, Joel’s diaper is saturated with pee, and they both have scabbed knees and dirt under their too-long finger nails. The validation from strangers at those times is not so forthcoming.
And after all of the hard work I feel like I’m doing, and all of the abuse in the form of mess-making and screaming my kids dole out, a little validation feels good, doesn’t it? Ice on the wound. A heating pad on the worn muscle of my overused existence. My brain has a repetitive stress injury.
So, though people give plenty of lip service to the idea of letting kids run a bit wild and get dirty, I’m not seeing all that many dirty kids. I’m seeing a lot of pictures that are jc penny, heck, maybe even sears worthy. I’m seeing a lot of stylish and well-dressed “mini-me”s. And I’m feeling the pinch. The pinch to go along with the status quo.
Well, I’m sorry, but I actually not only believe in dirty kids, I am way too disorganized and discombobulated to keep my kids clean and neat anyways. Let’s be honest. I’m actually something of a slob myself. But that doesn’t make me immune to other peoples opinions, communicated through looks or otherwise. Which brings me back to my original thesis: having dirty kids takes balls. But where balls are lacking, sometimes a lack of time and energy can suffice. I’m a lucky one. I have balls and, where my balls would fail me, I have a complete lack of competence.