Saturday, July 01, 2006


When I was little, my grandparents lived on a farm about twenty miles from town. We spent hours there, as kids, playing in the barn, exploring the creek, chasing frogs and lightning bugs and squirrels, mucking out the stalls for the horses, and seeding, weeding and picking the numerous vegetables and fruits that grew there.

We got pretty dirty, doing that. We got scratched by thorns, and stung by bees, and bitten by ticks. We bruised our legs and got dirt under our fingernails. Splinters found their way into our arms and legs on a regular basis. Our faces were smeared with blueberry juice, dust and scabbed mosquito bites. But we loved it, every minute of it.

My siblings, my cousins and I would roam the twenty acres, building tree-forts, pretending to be Lewis and Clark, or Laura from Little House in the Prairie, creating elaborate games of hide and seek, fighting and making up and fighting some more. Then Grandma would call us in, to help Geedaddy cut the grass on one of the tractors, or to pick the berries for that night's dessert, or to snap beans by the pool.

I've been thinking about this lately, since it seems that wherever I go, people around me are afraid to get dirty. Afraid of bees, and mosquitos, and ticks. Afraid of germs and bugs and any kind of mess. Don't get me wrong, I'm older now, and it's not as if I'm out there digging in the dirt every day, but I don't have the same kind of visceral reaction to the . . .earth (because that's what it is, isn't it?) that other people seem to.

It started on vacation, when Lance discovered a tic. OH MY GOD, the freak-out that followed. It was as if an alien had latched onto his thigh, and was injecting him with some kind of high-potency cocaine. Turns out, he'd never had a tick bite before. I realize, of course, that ticks are slightly more nefarious these days, what with Lyme's disease and all, but I mean, really. It was a tick, not a skinhead wielding brass knuckles and a Swiss army knife.

Then, a mother complained at school, because when we leave, the kids love to run behind the little hedge and squeak by the Cyprus trees, which sometimes leaves old spider webs or dust on their shirts. "It's filthy back there!" she practically screamed, dragging her startled 3 year old away, while the other kids (including Vivian) giggled and pushed themselves through the "filthy" spot.

And our neighbors asked if we'd been to the carnival, and when I answered yes, seemed incredulous that we had stayed, despite the carneys' lack of teeth and the general dinginess of the rides.

That's not all. Everyday friends or acquaintances comment about dirt, relate stories of horror because they saw an ant near their food, or jump back in fright if nearby child sneezes in their general vicinity.

Childhood is meant to be dirty, that's the way I look at it. Hell, life is dirty; you can't sanitize everything.

Not to mention, who wants to live a sanitized life? You know how you get your heart broken, and you cry every day in the shower, and you don't know how you are going to keep getting up in the morning? How you call your old lover and hang up, just because you want to hear his voice? How you promise all sorts of things if he will just take you back? And then later, oh, you are so ashamed? What a mess you were! What a mess that was! That's my equivalent to the childhood practice of having your mother check your hair for ticks every summer night. It's dirty. It's messy. But it's life. And the dirty stuff--the mosquitos, the sand in your underwear, the drunk-dialing--only comes after some really good livin. (Yes, that's livin, L-I-V-I-N.)

I'm not sure if growing up the way I did has anything to do with my current tolerance for dirt, in many of its forms. It surprises me to think that other kids didn't do this kind of thing. I mean, even if you didn't have a farm to play on, any kind of child play--in a park, in the backyard, in the alley--gets you dirty, right? As kids, did we all just sit on the sidelines, afraid to get our Mary Janes scuffed?

What do you think? Are we, as a culture, just too damn obsessed with cleanliness? Or am I just an unapologetic slob?

Also, if the soles of your kids' feet are black from playing outside barefoot, is it okay to put them to bed without a bath? Just askin'.

Update: I should also add here that I am similarly blase about germs. I hate those anti-bacterial wipes. My kids get sick, and then they get well again. I don't want them growing up afraid of a cold. I don't want them afraid to touch the door knob at a public restroom (well, most public restrooms). I know I'm in the minority here, but so far, Vivian and Isaac have been sick no more or no less than your average germophobic kid. Yes, we wash hands, but that's about the extent of it.

In the spirit of full disclosure, my husband says I should admit that mice and other rodents freak me the fuck out. My tolerance level for the animal kingdom stops around spider size.

1 comment:

isimsiz kahraman said...
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