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I am a lot of things, but I’m not fastidious. Not by a long shot. More than I’d care to admit, it’s my children
who have ventured out into public with smudged faces, sticky hands, and snack
crumbs decorating their clothes.
Because I never want anyone judging me until they know
exactly what’s on my family’s plate, I reserved judgment the first few times my
kids hung out with the neighbor kids from around the corner. While I may have registered matted hair,
dirty fingernails, and a ripe scent, I honestly thought those were just signs
of kids who were allowed to have a good time and get themselves messy.
But then in every subsequent encounter, the level of hygiene
had slipped a little bit farther away.
Still. I admonished myself to stop being such a judgey
pants. After all, I don’t always bathe
my kids every day, and they get plenty dirty too.
But somewhere it crossed a line in my head from simply letting kids be kids to something more
like neglect. I don’t know their parents well, but I made some assumptions
based on the cars they drive—which are way nicer than mine—and the schools
the kids attend—which are some of the priciest in the city. Neither their mother nor their father has ever
stood out to me for their hygiene practices one way or another, which makes the
kids’ habit of showing up just this side of filthy a little perplexing. And all those assumptions I’ve made confound
the whole situation for me, because, really, what does my superficial
assessment of their financial balance sheet have to do with whatever reasons
they have ignored basic hygiene for their children?
Maybe the kids have a skin condition that requires them to forego bathing but for once in a while.
The answer? I have no idea.
And what about all the facts I’m missing? Maybe one of the
parents is ill and bathing the children isn’t a priority. Maybe they are having a hard time in their
marriage. Maybe the kids have a skin
condition that requires them to forego bathing but for once in a while. Maybe it’s all in my head and I am
irrationally expecting every child to follow my narrow ideas of how dirty a kid
is allowed to be. Without a doubt, none
of that is any of my business.
What I do know is that they are delightful little kids who bring imagination
and joy to our little playgroups. They
aren’t hurting anyone by having a different set of hygiene standards than I
would prefer. I do worry about their future—that
inevitable day when kids take notice and possibly torment them. But I know that’s none of my business either.
If their parents were putting them in physical danger, I
would certainly speak up—loudly—and for as long as it took to get and keep the
kids safe. But cleanliness isn’t really
a safety issue. It’s more like a
preference or a norm, so I keep my mouth shut, which I think is the right
thing. No matter how hard it is.