A few years ago, our pediatrician walked into the examination room, took one look at my three boys and said, “They are filthy!” I blushed deeply and took them in through a stranger’s eyes. Their knees were dirty with backyard dirt, their nails had traces of brightly colored paint, and their hair could use a trim. And the thing is, I hadn’t even noticed. She laughed at my mortified look and added, “I love to see dirt on boys. It’s the sign of a great childhood!”
Too often these days, childhood seems to be a prep stage—a time spent getting “ready” for preschool, kindergarten, sleep away camp, high school, college, the workforce, the music/theater/sports career. So what defines a great childhood? I’m betting it’s not the constant prepping and competition we go through to get to the next “stage.” I think Dr. Arnold hit it on the head. It just might be dirt.
I do not and have never carried hand sanitizer. Also, I do not use Lysol or bleach.
I let the boys play—outside—in the rain.
I have never forced them to practice their musical instrument. Sorry, Tiger Mom, but if they’re old enough to play, they should be old enough to realize that the more they practice, the better they’ll be. And who really believes people who lament, “I could have been a great trombone player, if only my mom had made me practice.”
I have sent my two older boys to an outdoor survival camp run by a man who lived alone in the woods for ten years, foraging, fishing, and trapping his own food. They learned to catch their own food. I learned to pick off ticks.
We’ve never waited until they were “old enough” to travel because, guess what?, people of all ages live all over the world. And they find things to do, and they find things to eat. Plus, there’s no greater regret than the trip-not-taken.
I have lied about my children’s height, weight, and age so they could ride the most exciting rides, go on the highest zip line, and slide down the fastest water slide.
When we paint, we use real paint. When we cut, we use real scissors. When we get stains on the walls, they are real stains. And our four-year old’s self-styled haircuts cause really weird-looking bangs.
I refuse to dress them up for picture day because I want them to look like they always do, although their hair always ends up looking like Willard Scott’s, as some well-meaning teacher or parent volunteer tries to paste it down into a side part. Also, it’s a shame to try to comb it out when they’ve worked so hard on getting the perfect cut (see above).
I stopped carrying baby wipes when my children stopped wearing diapers. You can’t miss us at the farmer’s market. We’re the ones using free samples of apple cider to try to wipe off the blackberry pulp oozing down our chins.
I hope that my husband and I have succeeded in giving our boys the freedom to play freely, to be loud, and to be dirty. I hope we’ve helped give them a well-lived childhood. Thank you, Dr. Arnold, for putting us on the right track.