A parent learns to enjoy getting down and dirty

I'll be the first to admit it. Getting dirty is not a favorite pastime of mine. I don't mind a smudge or two of frosting on my sleeves from preparing a birthday cake, or a few unidentified smears on my pants left by sticky little fingers.

But the mere idea of wearing any portion of Mother Nature on my clothing is unappealing to me (unless, of course, it's a lovely corsage). Earthy, I'm not. My mud-pie-making days have long been over.

That definitely does not stop my two busy little boys, though, from becoming well acquainted with the great outdoors and then trying some of it on for size. I wouldn't have it any other way. It's just not for me.

This past September, my husband and I enrolled our older child in a cooperative (parent-participation) preschool. Not only were we impressed with the overall program, but we also loved the idea that we'd be actively involved in the classroom. In essence, we would occasionally become teachers for the day.

One of the parent assignments is in the yard. The yard includes the large outdoor play equipment located in the sand, or dirt (or mud, in the rainy season), and all the portable accessories that go with it.

Recently, it was my turn to work in the yard.

As the boys and girls ran around, trying the variety of options for developing gross-motor skills, a few of them wanted a go at the monkey bars. Not feeling quite confident enough to try it on their own, they asked me for help. I gladly agreed, and as I started to kneel down in my long, cotton leggings, I noticed that the rubber mat below the bars was covered in mud.

Now, if I had been at home in a similar situation, I would have excused myself, searched for a couple of rags, cleaned off the mud, and placed a fresh rag down to act as a cushion for my knees.

But I didn't feel I could do that now. I would have had to find another parent to watch my area or bring me a rag. In my heart, I felt this wasn't necessary.

Instead, I held my breath and knelt down in the cold, shallow mud puddle. I picked up the first child by the waist and cheered him along as he moved his arms from bar to bar until he reached the end. I did the same for every child who asked.

Soon, we were called inside to wash our hands and get ready for story time and a snack. When everyone was in place, the instructor looked around to make sure no one was missing. She happened to glance in my direction.

She smiled. "Hey, Mama," she said playfully, "I like those knees!"

I returned her grin with a great big one of my own.

At that moment, I was proud of my mud-soaked leggings. I was as proud as if I'd just been presented with a large trophy. I had gotten all dirty and didn't care in the least.

After all, I reasoned, there wasn't a beautiful garden in the world in which someone didn't first get dirty in order to create it - much less maintain it.

So, maybe, in order to fully participate in the joys of childhood - and life in general, for that matter - I shouldn't be afraid of a little dirt.

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