From clean to dirty in two generations

Two generations ago, my grandparents prided themselves on how clean their girls were in public. Ten girls, below-poverty, farming country… clean equalled good parenting.

Last week I took my son to the store and let him play in the wet, muddy grass on the way from the car. I made a few quick swipes of his cheeks with my shirt sleeve but left him pretty much as he was – muddy knees, dirty face, grimy nails. While in the checkout line, the man behind me tapped me on the shoulder. “Ma’am, I just wanted to tell you how happy it makes me that your son is covered in dirt. Too many kids these days don’t get to get dirty, and I’m sure he’ll appreciate it later that you let him.”
One boy, semi-affluent, suburbia… dirty equals good parenting.
I hear the man’s comment each time the weather is beautiful and I find myself headed to some suburban store of some sort. “Get outside,” I think. “Let him get dirty.” On the way to the car from school, when my son wants to stomp in puddles (in the wrong shoes) or run through the muddy grass (when we need to go run errands), I remember.
And when I take my dirty kid out, forgetting to bring wet wipes or change his shirt with the grimy sleeves, I remember. My grandparents would be proud, I suppose, that I no longer have to keep my kid clean to prove I can parent him. Back then, dirty was the default for people who worked in the fields by day (and often into the night). Now, dirty is a privilege, most often enjoyed when I drive to a park or some other such suburban space.
So I’m trying to get my kiddo out in the real dirt, the stuff that surrounds the trees in our yard and lives under the leaves by the fence. Today, instead of driving to a park, we raked the side yard. Part of me cringed at the unknown-ness of the dirty (we have dogs and cats and I’m sure other animals traipse through our yard), but the other part wanted Javi to be able to play and not be afraid of the gross dirt. What better time than now to teach him to keep his hands out of his mouth, right?
(We washed our hands as soon as we walked in the door.)

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