I never realized how much of a clean freak I was until I had my daughter. To clarify, I’m not talking about my house (let’s not go there). No, I’m talking about the body cleanliness of my daughter. The first time I noticed my obsession was when I started feeding her solids and would wipe her face every time she would spit up the food. Seriously. I kept a wet washcloth next to me every meal time.
Then she started feeding herself and I found myself reaching over her tray to wipe her mouth every so often. Then when she started baby-style food parties (aka dumping her dinner all over herself, chair, floor, and cats) and I would get so irritated. One time I got so angry I had to leave the room before I blew up. As I tried to calm myself in the bathroom, I remember thinking, this is crazy and I’m acting like a mad woman. Children are dirty and messy, complete with sticky hands and snotty noses.
Eventually I got smart and waited until the meal was over before neurotically cleaning up the disaster. As my daughter got older and gained better motor skills like using utensils, I let go of the irrational urge to constantly make sure my daughter’s face was clean 24/7. At home she could do whatever and just be a kid. One of the driving factors was Montessori preschool. Nine times out of 10 she’d come home covered in dirt, snot, paint, and lord knows what from head to toe. Her hair looked like a rat’s nest. This bothered me at first, almost like her being dirty was a reflection of how well she’d been cared for. Turns out the dirtier she looked the happier she was when I picked her up, and it had nothing to do with the quality of care. Kids get dirty.
But here’s when it got tricky. If I needed to go run errands after I picked her up, I made her change her clothes in the car before I took her inside any store. Same thing if she wanted to go to the park after school, so she wouldn’t scare other kids looking like she’d been rescued from a pack of wolves.
All this changed about a month ago. I stopped caring. Why? Oh, many reasons, but mainly I started full-time school on top of working full-time and being a writer. Something had to give. I wanted to spend that extra five minutes playing with my daughter not wasting it on changing clothes that are only going to get dirty again. But the biggest part of that was I stopped caring about what other people think.
If my kid is covered in filth and she’s running around having the time of her life, then I’m going to let her be. The mud, food, grass, and bark dust on my child and her messy hair isn’t a result of neglect or abuse. She’s dirty because she’s busy discovering life and all the magic that nature brings. That’s what I want for her.
You see, there’s a room in my house called a bathroom, and inside is a cool fixture called a bathtub where we’ll wash it all off before bedtime while we talk about her adventures of the day.
Until then, bring on the dirt.