My children do plenty of annoying things, but perhaps the one that quickens my pulse the most is playing in dirt. I have no idea why this is. On its face, it is a relatively benign activity. No one is in danger of getting hurt (for the most part, more on that later) and I don’t have to do anything until the fun is over. They have never once asked me to join them in their filthy games, which is a true blessing.
It is inexplicable why this mundane activity is my parenting kryptonite, yet here we are.
And so it was one recent afternoon. The kids and I were wiling away the sleepy hours between school dismissal and dinner time. It was a Wednesday, early dismissal day at the elementary school, so there was that extra hour that never seems to pass by without a fight. I mean that literally as well as figuratively. The more time the boys have together, the more opportunities they have to grate on each other’s nerves.
We’d had a rough morning. I had feuded with the four-year-old over breakfast. I usually skip breakfast these days; the tears are more than enough to sustain me. This particular battle ended with him managing to open his car door while we were pulling out of the parking lot at the elementary school. That was an exhilarating few seconds to say the least. In the intervening hours, however, I had read several inspirational Facebook posts about not sweating the small things because before you know it your kids will be off to college or some such garbage, so I was in a pretty zen state of mind as we meandered around in the back yard under a hot sun and a cloudless blue sky.
Surprisingly, the kids were playing together nicely. The toddler was climbing around on our wooden playground while the boys scampered around by the edge of the porch wielding rather menacing sticks. I made a mental note to keep an eye on that situation, but they weren’t actively maiming each other, so all was well for the moment. Things were going so smoothly, I decided to grab a book and read a few pages. My four-year-old had brought home a random romance novel with mountains on the cover from the little free library at our local park and I decided to read it in my free time because it beat doing anything productive.
I was sitting contentedly on our freshly rescreened back porch reading my book when, without warning, the vein in my neck started to bulge and my jaw tightened. I didn’t need to look up because I already knew: those little scoundrels were at it again. They had gone feral.
I sighed heavily and ran my hand through my hair in a preemptive gesture of exasperation before finally looking to my left. Yep, there they were. It had only been a few seconds, but all three of them looked like they’d been in a tussle with a chimney sweep and lost. Frank McCourt had nothing on them.
“Don’t sweat the small stuff,” I said to myself before immediately returning to my book. The protagonist, a tragically disillusioned physical therapist who had relocated from LA to a small Colorado town to escape her ghosts, had just started working with the daughter of a brooding (and gorgeous) rich guy. The daughter had survived a terrible car accident and the sexual tension between her father and the semi-retired physical therapist was palpable. Things were getting good.
But the thing about my kids and playing in the dirt is that it’s never just playing. No, they can’t just run their hands through the gray Florida sand for a few minutes and call it good. Rather, there is a lot of wallowing and dirt throwing and pouring sand on each other’s heads and burying each other in the sand like they’re at the beach and whining. Oh, is there whining.
“STOP!” I said firmly, looking up from my book. “You’re going to get sand in your sister’s eyes.”
Did I mention that both boys like to spread their feet apart, bend over, and shovel dirt backwards between their legs with their paws like a dog searching for a buried bone? Yes, that’s what was happening and their sister was directly in the path of the arcing cascade of sand.
The tears came next. Everyone else’s and eventually mine after I had to wrestle the six-year-old into the shower and force him to wash off the seven layers of grime. Oh, the humanity.
But, before we could get to the exciting conclusion of the day’s activities, we had to pass through the sand angel portion of the proceedings. And the spiteful self-burial ceremony.
Don’t think things could get any worse? What if I told you there was an outdoor spigot on the wall where they were playing and one of them just figured out how to turn it on? I’m going to need more romance novels.