The truth is, sometimes I think maybe the dirt is coming from the inside.
Like, it’s seeping out of their pores. Like, maybe they sweat actual mud. Try as I might, people, I cannot keep my three kids clean. It’s nothing new: parents have been battling backyard dirt and Fudgsicle war paint since forever. In the moment though, when I’m the parent in charge and staring wide-eyed at my 3-year-old son Charlie, heavily gilded with a thick veneer of the great outdoors and his own lunch, I tend to feel so defeated by it all.
And then I get to wondering: maybe this is how kids are supposed to be? Twigs, leaves, dead bugs, grass, sand, mud, Cheetos. Down the years I’ve found them all in my kids’ hair at various times. It used to drive me nuts, too. How did you get a bit of broken clam shell attached to your scalp with pancake syrup? We live five hours from the nearest beach! I’d feel guilty, like I wasn’t doing it right. Then again, what is it? What, as parents, are we supposed to be doing when it comes to keeping our spawn freshly scrubbed?
Are we supposed to give them a bath every day? And if we are, isn’t that sort of pointless in the grand scheme of things? I mean, the way I see it, if you bathe a young kid at night, you’ve got 12-14 hours of clean time coming your way (at best). And most of that will be slept through. You can’t enjoy it or whatever. You can’t gloat in the glisten of your toddler’s fleeting shine.
Plus, that’s too much work, if I’m being honest. A bath a night for three kids would make me insane. By the time I’m done washing the dinner dishes I usually can’t even focus my eyes anymore. I’m so tired and hangry and over it. My kids could be covered in a layer of sheep poop and I probably wouldn’t even notice … or care. And yet, I’m aware of the unwritten parameters that exist. I’m fully aware of the fact that my kids depend on me to keep them from looking like horrific little Halloween costumes.
A balance, then. I have to find it. We all do. Balance is always the tricky part and the one where we need to tune out the outside world. Mommy and daddy blogs, know-it-all Facebookers, your mother-in-law, the perfect parents of Instagram whose impeccably decked-out tykes glow the glow of what most certainly must be nonstop bathing from dusk till dawn. Damn near every voice in the proverbial parenting wilderness is an expert on how frequently a child needs to be drenched in suds in order to maintain their “clean and innocent” youth. Otherwise, they might be deemed grubby by the ever-judging masses.
Who cares though? Think about it. Kids, by nature, are gross. They exist, quite happily I might add, in a parallel (and better) universe than ours where a scarf snot is high fashion and grass stains are nothing short of solid living that you have earned.
I guess what I’m saying is that it all got to be too much and I think that’s okay. Parenting is hard work. Why make it harder when it’s enough just to give a kid a baby wipe bath and a kiss on the mustard-stained head sometimes? We need to relax. The dirt, the grit, the Dorito dust behind the lobe of the second-grade ear, it’s poetry in a way. Our kids are sporting the wearable poem of their youth when they come in from the yard.
We need to wash it off eventually, but maybe we need to dig it a little more before we do. Summertime is here now. The days are longer and the world is open for business if you’re a kid with access to a playground or a yard or even a patch of concrete and a stub of colored chalk. Before long it’ll all be washed away anyhow, and we’ll be missing it.
Heck, I already am.
My Violet is 8 and she takes her own showers these days. She’s all about privacy and closing the door and blah, blah, blah, and I get it, but it makes me sad. I can’t lie. I miss all three of my kids in the tub at once, not every night — hell, not even every other night. But every couple of nights we had our bath night. Tired dad, I was, always dodging the splashes and dumping shampoo in wee eyes despite my best efforts not to. Violet has graduated from those times and Henry, 6, is right behind her. I try and talk him into bath night with his brother, but I can tell he’s on the fence. I understand. I can’t stop time — none of us can. It sucks. It’s wonderful. And it’s confusing as hell.
My point is, let’s try and soak in all the baths when they happen.
And try and smile at all the filth just as much.
Clean, dirty, it doesn’t matter all that much. We’ll probably remember the purple popsicle lips smiling at us as much as anything … maybe even more. I used to hustle to wipe away the sticky and the dirt. But anymore, I’m letting it hang out a little longer on their faces. It’s part of who they are right now.
So, I guess it’s part of who I am right now, too.
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