My dogs have a spark in their eyes when they are running through mud. The spark is gone when they are lying on the carpet in the living room.

Get dirty

Everyone knows what getting dirty means, right? It means sand in the ear, dried mud under the nails, spaghetti sauce in the hair, bruises on the knees, snow in the boots, holes in the pants. What is often ignored and forgotten, however, that all of the above also comes with a great big smile on the face! I haven't seen a diry and sad child, only a clean and sad child. (that is until the dirty kid is punished for getting dirty)

Now, some of you will say, that one can smile and be clean at the same time, so why not stay clean then? Sounds like a reasonalbe argument but here's what I think: I think that staying clean at all cost diverts attention away from doing whatever it is kids are doing. Getting dirty means that kids can focus all their energy and their curiosity on poking, scraping, rubbing, touching, grabbing and squeezing things without constantly having to worry about getting dirty. Yet, a whole lot of emphasis is put on keeping clean at all costs.

Why? What does it matter? Isn't, by any chance, our obsession with staying clean is just another way to quench our thirst for control? Or here's another possibility: Maybe, we care way too much about what others think of us. Because we care so much about what others say or think, we dress our kids in new, clean, fashionable clothes all the time and then two things happen: First, when the clothes get dirty we damn near lose our minds because these new, clean and fashionable clothes are expensive (I saw a sweater for 12-18 month old babies going for $40!) and now they may be permanently stained so we need to buy more clothes. And second, what will everybody think and say now that they see our kids wearing stained clothing? So we make our kids stay clean because of money and pride. For money, there is a simple solution: get a bunch of used clothing from second-hand stores that cost $5 a piece and put that on kids when they go outside so if the clothes get wrecked it's not a big financial loss. As for pride, I can't think of a good solution other than "get over it".

Do you want your child to be tidy and clean for other reasons other than money and pride? Perhaps teach him to be responsible and keep his clothes clean? Of course you do. There is a place and time to be clean and there is a place and time to be dirty. It's perfectly OK to be near black from dirt on weekends running around outside. Then in the house and at school, let's be very clean and tidy.

Dirty house, clean house

At our previous house, the floors were in bad shape; the hardwood floor old and scratched and the carpets worn and stained. So we didn't need to worry about dirt in the house. At our current house the floors are nice and clean with new carpets and shiny hardwood floors. This clean setup very quickly created a whole bunch of issues: I'm no longer allowed to drink coffee or wine over the carpets, my wife religiously vacuums and whenever our daughter makes a mess (play-doh, crayon marks, apple juice, etc) we frantically clean the area and try hard to avoid another mess again. In the winter there is only so much time we can spend in -10C outdoors so things were always about how clean we can keep the new carpet. The carpet started to matter more than having fun. So I made one end of the kitchen the "dirty corner" - put down 20 sq ft of rubber-backed carpeting on top of the hardwood floor and our daughter is free to play with her markers and play-doh in that area, we can bake and cook there and don't need to worry about spills and stains! What a change! The nice carpet stays nice and the dirty corner gets messy. Everyone happy! Another great place to get messy at our house is the dining table. It's from IKEA and it cost $40 about five years ago. No amount of honey, apple juice, paint, milk, crayons, stickers, etc. can possibly make that table any uglier than it is when it's clean. When our kids get old enough to really focus on not spilling stuff then maybe we buy a nicer table. Until then we have fun at this one and don't worry about every little stain and scratch. The kids understand it's not OK to damage something on purpuse and that's what matters. I don't think anyone can really enjoy working with glue and markers if they need to constantly worry about keeping the working area clean.