I Don't Care About Dirty Clothes: In Defense of Letting My Daughter Play in the Mud in Her Easter Dress
Even princesses build sandcastles.
When I was 5, my dad and grandpa built my siblings and me a giant sandbox. My dad recalls that the dimensions were 12 feet by 10 feet, or maybe a little bigger. And it was deep. We could bury my brother in the sand without hitting the bottom. Our sandbox was the toast of the neighborhood kids.
One neighbor girl, Robin, came over to play almost every day after school. And before she entered the backyard, she would change into some of my clothes. Her mom didn’t want her getting messy. Poor, Robin. I don’t want to sound condescending, but we all felt bad for her. She wore great outfits—polka dot leggings, with coordinating applique flowers on the shirt and matching sock ruffles. Her Keds were never smudged. But that perfection came at a cost: fear.
Robin wasn’t the only kid we pitied. There was also a boy, I forget his name, who jumped into the sandbox and began playing, and when his mom saw him, she screamed that he was messing up his new shorts. He had to get out and watch us play from the picnic table. He couldn’t even roll around in the grass with us. We eventually went inside to play with him because he couldn’t do much without his mother yelling for him to protect his clothes.
I’m sure some of those memories are made vivid by my enduring love of a good sandbox. Maybe little whats-his-name didn’t get screamed at, maybe his mom was just exasperated. But Robin did change, she was afraid of her mom’s wrath over her clothes.
I thought of Robin and Whats-his-name when I took my daughter to the park. We brought shovels and pails, ready for some early Spring digging. When she ventured out of the sandbox and into a mud puddle a nearby mother quickly got my attention, “Your daughter is getting her dress dirty.”
“Yes, thank you, it’s okay.” I said. “It’ll wash.”
I can understand the woman’s concern. The dress my daughter was wearing was a flouncy red dress that looked straight out of Gone with the Wind for toddlers. The black sash was caked with mud and so were the pink sparkle shoes she was wearing. My little Scarlet was one with the earth, her own little “Tara.”
My daughter wears Easter dresses, dress up clothes, satin Christmas dresses and flowing knit gowns that spin like you wouldn’t believe. Some are pink, some are white, some have golden tulle and a few are fancy brands. They are an assortment of hand-me downs, Goodwill finds or Target clearance. I buy them cheap and wash them well. They’ve been crusted in mud, paint, marker and Play-Doh. While my daughter looks precious, her clothes aren’t precious. They are just clothes. None of them cost so much that she can’t wade knee-deep in mud.
My patience has been tested. I once bought her a pretty skirt from a department store clearance rack and still spent a little more than usual. The first day she wore it, she walked through a pile of leaves and it got covered in pine needles and the inky stains of black walnuts. When I complained to my husband (probably sounding like Whats-his-name’s mom) my husband said, “Let that be a lesson: Kid’s get messy.”
So here we are, one month until school gets out for the summer and I’m sizing up her wardrobe, gowns, gowns, Easter dresses and gowns (and a few pairs of shorts for underneath). She will probably ruin them. She will probably destroy them. But at least they were worn, they were loved, they made one little girl happy, dirty and glorious.
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