My children are filthy. Their shoes smell through the closed closet. Their pants have dust and dirt covering their bottoms. There are leaves in my daughter’s hair, my son has mud sprinkled across his nose. Their shirts are wet from the creek, and mud is streaked across their arms and legs.
My children are also happy, healthy and brilliant.
My children love to wade through creeks on slippery rocks as they cup the water with eager hands trying to catch tadpoles and minnows. My children learned to count with rocks and learned letters by manipulating twigs. My 1-year-old can identify robins from blue jays from finches. My 3-year-old can tell you north from south and east from west.
I watch as they climb branches, jump in puddles, sculpt with mud, and collect flowers. They balance on logs and memorize the patterns of butterfly wings. They have watched their seedlings grow and learned that plants need sun, water and good dirt. They know that the compost they helped make with their food scraps will help their fruits and veggies grow.
Today we decided to have a picnic because our strawberries are ready to pick. They climb up their step-stool and wash dirty bubbles down the drain. My daughter spreads peanut butter on the bread with her knife and tries to cut the sandwiches into squares, not triangles! My son counts out enough bananas for us all to eat and places them in our basket. Our sandwiches are wrapped up like gifts in cloth wraps, homemade jelly seeping through the sides.
I hold their hands as we walk through the garden and search for ripe berries. Red juice dribbles down their chins from the strawberries that they planted just a few weeks ago. Their tiny bodies smell of grass and sweat while they sit on my lap and we read the Very Hungry Caterpillar for the hundredth time and enjoy our picnic.
When their bellies are full, they pick up their shovels and dig through our tilled garden bed. They squeal with delight when they find earthworms as long as a small snake. They giggle as they watch rolly pollies tuck into small balls in the palms of their hands. Their fingernails, which were clean before our picnic, have dirt under them once again.
They are being raised in the wild of the suburbs, away from screens and noise. My children don’t know what a Nintendo Switch is but they can tell you all about xylems and the water cycle. They don’t know the difference between Mario and Minecraft but my 3-year-old can tell you the difference between a cocoon and a chrysalis. They have never eaten a Happy Meal but they will pick spinach and eat it fresh from the garden. They are on an endless search for play and knowledge and the earth provides it for them.
I relish my children’s dirty toes and sweaty foreheads because I know I am giving them the most innocent childhood I can.