Dear Onlookers and Other Parents:
My children are probably the ones you see at the supermarket whose neglectful mother had the gall to bring them in public with muddy pant legs, weather-inappropriate clothing, dirt under their nails, leaves in their hair, bumps and scrapes on their legs, earth streaked on their faces.
They're probably the ones you yell at to stop swordfighting with sticks at the park, or the ones who are wrestling with their siblings when you step in to remind them, "play nice!" or scold them, "that's not how you play with others!" when they're screaming... with laughter.
Maybe they're the ones bouncing on their toes, fidgeting, fooling around at the market rather than looking straight ahead and walking robotically next to the cart, or who can't seem to sit still and focus on menial, boring tasks for very long. You may think to yourself or even whisper not-so-sublty to your SO, friend or another stranger, "That kid sure forgot their meds today," or "I feel sorry for their teacher!"
My children may be the ones you spot from your little fortress of safety against the "mean world." While you lock yourself in and stay tuned to the TV, obsessing over kidnappings and rapes and animal attacks and gruesome TV dramas, it might horrify you to look out and see my little ones: climbing trees, investigating the pond and streams, jumping off large rocks, playing with various animals large & small, and even getting filthy dirty on a daily basis... all without an adult standing over them and telling them how to play, swooping in after every boo-boo, or mediating the inevitable squabbles of siblings.
Let me tell you a few things:
Dirt is good for a child. GERMS are good for a child. Not just good, necessary. If they stay indoors with constantly-washed hands, sanitized toys and cleaned-daily furnishings and surfaces, their immune system never builds itself up, which is probably why illness spreads through your squeaky-clean family 4, 5, 6 or more times a year. Your immune systems are weak because they do not get enough practice! As for why they are in public all dirty, you honestly expect me to either keep them in until we go to the store so they look like little dollies, or to bathe and change them beforehand, when the moment we get home they're going to go get filthy again?
Sticks are the original 100% natural wood toy, excellent for imaginative play independently or in groups. They are not made in China, they do not contain lead paint, and they do not have 23 built in apps. They are as versatile as toys come: one moment an art tool, the next, a sword, a walking stick, a magic wand, or a teacher's pointer. And they're completely free. They're no more dangerous than that Lego you stepped on this morning, or the plastic parent-approved baby genius keyboard your 2 year old was smashing over his brother's head the other day.
My children play rough. It builds strength, it's FUN, it develops their social and emotional skills and knowledge of boundaries and empathy. They're wrestling -- not victimizing each other, not beating each other up, not training to become the bullies of tomorrow. Unless someone is screaming, "NO, DON'T! PLEASE HELP ME!", please do not interfere or tell my children they aren't playing correctly.
My children have energy. This is not a problem. They do not have disorders, they do not need meds, and there is no developmentally appropriate scenario in which a prepubescent child should be expected to sit still and focus on incredibly boring and repetitive tasks for hours at a time, with few to no outlets for their nautral energy and curiosity. I would be worried if they could, not that they cannot!
If you can manage to step away from your television, phone, computer and any other form of always-on media, and go outside for a few minutes, you may find that the world is not that scary. Boo-boos blow over fast when nobody makes a big deal about it. No child will freeze themselves to the point of frostbite just because they don't want to wear a winter coat. Chances are that that goat is playing with that child, not viciously trying to trample her to death. Chances are that nobody's going to drown in a foot or two of water in that pond or stream. They climb, jump, run, and just like all normal kids do (if allowed), they sometimes fall, get hurt, or overdo it. That's okay. A skinned knee, a fat lip, or even a broken arm is not a death sentence.
It's all part of CHILDHOOD. Maybe you didn't have one, or you forgot, or you think the world has gotten too mean and scary to allow yours to have one. But please don't tell MY kids that, or undermine me in front of them by telling me how weird, dangerous or gross all these things are, or tell them that they should be on sports teams or in organized "play groups" instead.
Get out of their way and let them be little.