It is my firmly held belief that children should be dirty in the summer.
Lips should boast the stains of berries stolen from bushes, and the juices of watermelons must drip down chins onto bare bellies. Sandal clad feet should sport tan lines made of sun and dirt, and sweaty hair should cling to the back of necks. Knees must always colored as green as the grass they tumble upon. Garden dirt should take up residence under fingernails. Summer, if done properly, will involve fingers sticky with melting ice cream on at least one occasion.
We went to the playground one summer day, nothing more planned than a few trips down the slide and a turn on the swings. Children, being the original masters at deceit and deception, found the solitary puddle on the otherwise arid landscape. They ran, they splashed. They felt the mud seep between their toes, mix with their hair, and fill them with joy. By a picnic table, I stripped my son down to his diaper and gave him a makeshift bath with the sun warmed water from my bottle. He walked back to the car naked but his diaper, sunhat and shoes, returning stranger’s confused glances with his beaming smile.
Children should be dirty in the summer. How else will they meet a frog who lives in a muddy pond, know the taste berries that have only just left their branches, or see the view from the top of a sap covered tree? With the possible exception of watching the newest animation in a movie theater on a hot afternoon, a child’s memory of summer is formed outdoors.
There are metaphors I could make here. That childhood is a time to get dirty, to make and learn from mistakes. I could say that children are born innocently wild and should be left as such for as long as possible, or wonder how they will learn about a world they have not experienced firsthand.
But I will leave such ruminations for drearier months.
Summer’s children should live outdoors, and we with them, dirtying our feet and rinsing off with garden hoses, alongside these experts in adventure. And at the end of the day, when we slip sweet smelling babes into their beds, clean and cool, we will know that we have lived, and lived well.
Dirt does not last for ever, nor does summer.
And neither do we.