“Those kids are always dirty.”
“Their kids always seem to get into the dirt.”
“Their hands are always sticky.”
“That kid needs to wash his hands.”
Let me preface this post by saying I am all for hygiene. I believe hands should be washed before eating, after using the toilet and regularly when one is ill.
I think reading the quotes above, we can all think of a child, or a family who they describe. When I was growing up, and even as a young adult, I felt surrounded by these kinds of comments. Teachers, family members, community leaders would all have something to say about grubby kids.
My siblings and I grew up playing in cubbyhouses of questionable engineering and structural integrity. We lived in a farmhouse for a while, playing in the woods on our back doorstep. We had chickens, dogs, and ducks. We played in creeks, rescued turtles and birds from the road (well that was mostly mum), and searched for tadpoles in creeks and streams. We had friends on farms, we helped(?) in the kitchen, and we enjoyed time on our bikes riding through mud. All these things are dirty work. Grubby work.
And yet, I have memories and attitudes I am trying to un-learn about grubby kids. I have a voice in my head that attaches “grubby” with “filthy” and “unclean”. These words carry an unfair weight of neglect, “naughty”, and of being out of control.
But I love a grubby kid.
I want to shout it from the rooftops “I LOVE GRUBBY KIDS!!!”
My almost 10 month old is a grubby kid. He’s an into-everything-eats-the-dirt kind of curious go-getter.
And I love it. So how do I quiet the annoying voice in my head that devalues my parenting when my child is dirty? Replace the narrative with something else; choose to focus on the activity that led to the messy state, from the child’s point of view.
“That child is a sticky mess!” would become “Yes! I just ate an entire pear BY MYSELF.”
“That kid is covered in mud.”
“I’m having so much fun! Did you know that mixing pavlova with dirt tastes bad, but add water and it gets really sticky?!”
“Ugh, he has put mango all over his face.”
“I’m learning to eat new foods, and this one is a definite winner!”
“So much dirt!”
“I’m making friends with the earth.”
The list goes on.
I want my children to be grubby. I want them to jump in puddles, to knock over the dogs water, and to smear their food all over their face while they learn to get it in their mouths. I want them to know that the dirt and the leaves and the sticks are for sticking their hands into and being one with. I want for them to find creeks and taste leaves, and for nature to be a centring and relational place. We’ll never get there without a bit of grub.
After all, you can always mop the floor and chuck the baby in the bathtub.