The dirt

~~ Originally printed in Carrboro (NC) Free Press, April 2009 ~~

There is a lot of dirt in my life. And I’m OK with that. Really. I’m OK.

Let me clarify. If someone in a white starched apron arrived at my door to vacuum up glitter and grit and mop up maple syrup and dried melted ice cream spills and clean the bathrooms and do eight loads of laundry and take out the trash and organize school papers and mail, I would welcome him with sobs of joy, hand over the shopping list, ask for a solid dinner plan and tell him I’d be back so he could do my toes around noon.

I have fantasies of living in a clean house.

But dirt is OK. We have one of those canister vacs, and you should see what three pairs of kidfeet and four little dogfeet can track in. I had to empty the vacuum cleaner twice before I could finish the other day, and I only tackled about 700 square feet of main living space. Of course, half of the detritus was insidious Easter grass, the kudzu of the holiday seasons, but still. There was a lot of playground mulch, forest soil, and a sizeable collection of little twigs.

I used to beat myself up for not having a clean enough house. But not anymore. OK. Every once in a while.

It occurred to me many years ago that dirty kids were actually an indicator of good enough parenting. I had this aha! moment when I was beating myself up because my children were, well, dirty. I’m talking dirt under their toenails, dirt rings around their mouths dirty. I was sure that people whose kids had clean faces and matching outfits that harmonized with their siblings clothes and even coordinated with the calendar date—much like the Google homepage—I was sure that those people were far better than I. If my children’s clothing reflected any deliberate planning it was only because everything they wore eventually became a nice dingy reddish shade of Orange County dirt.

I decided way back when that dirty kids are happy kids. So I think it’s only fair that I be allowed to declare a dirty home a happy home. Dammit.

I’m not just saying that because we’ve had the windows open and some small person drew a heart in the thick layer of pollen on top of the coffeemaker.

And I’m not just saying it because I want to assuage my guilt for having a sorry set of housekeeping skills and a desire to do just about anything but dust. I’m mostly over that by now. But there is research to back me up. Thank god.

Instances of childhood asthma and allergies have gone up with the advent of newly-constructed hermetically-sealed houses where there are two seasons, heating and air-conditioning, and windows are never opened. Sure, the home stay cleaner, but kids are not exposed to the dirt and organisms that are actually beneficial to immune system development. And the prevalence of anti-bacterial hand sanitizer and quick wipes foisted upon children makes me very wary.

Kids should, of course, wash their hands before eating and after using the bathroom and before touching my computer, but they should not be taught to live life as if they were always prepping for surgery. Besides, no one can be truly emotionally well if they are always afraid of contamination.

I’m not a complete libertine. I freaked out every time my baby girl grinned at me through a mouthful of the dirt and gravel that she seemed to find irresistibly delicious. And I was greatly displeased when I was responsible for delivering five beautiful Christmas-card-portrait-ready children to Thanksgiving dinner and two glamour pusses “fell” into Bolin Creek just before the big party. I was more upset about the mud tracked through the house and the burden of extra laundry than I was about the dirty kids, though.

But I say, let the kids make mud pies and roll down the hill and climb a tree and play in the creek and dig in the sand. Then teach them to do laundry. And vacuum. And to take their shoes off on the porch. Dammit.

The house still won’t be clean, though. I’m OK with that. Really. I’m OK.

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