Kids and Dirt: The Case for Raising Feral Children

I like to think I give my children enough space to get dirty, run wild, and enjoy their childhoods. I know that kids and dirt are supposed to go together.

Yes, I make them hold my hand in parking lots and frequently yell things like, “be careful”, “please be safe,” and “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, GET DOWN FROM THERE”, but much of the time, I exercise restraint. As a mom, I feel that my role is to keep them safe within reason – to let them fall and learn, but not crash completely – and most of the time, I do an okay job.

My kids are four and six years old, and while I feel compelled to helicopter them sometimes, I try not to hover over them with a roll of bubble wrap. Kids and dirt are supposed to go together!

I let them hang upside-down from the monkey bars, climb to the top of the rope spider web at the playground, and generally toss their bodies around with reckless abandon. My son is generally covered in bumps and scratches that he has earned at recess, and my daughter’s shins are perpetually black and blue. They start each day clean and neatly groomed, and end it mud-stained, sweaty, and bruised. Their hair is usually a tangled mess with streaks of food and paint in it, and occasionally, one of them will casually mention that they’re bleeding. It’s rarely serious, but still – blood should stay in your body, ideally.

My kids are wild at heart.

When we go hiking, they pick up bugs and toads while I take a lot of deep breaths and remain in a perpetual state of cringing. They’re bold, fearless, and sort of gross. It’s the magic that childhood should be made of, but essentially, they are feral children. I am forever amazed by and terrified of their choices. They would have loved being raised in the ‘80s.

Despite their shared propensity for dirt and chaos, my daughter seems to know her physical limits. She’ll climb to the top of a structure but not jump from it. She understands that diving headfirst into a sandbox would be painful, and therefore avoids such things. My son, however, has no such internal monitor telling him to stop. He might acknowledge that falling out of a tall tree would hurt, but it would never occur to him that HE could fall out of the tree. He’s invincible in his own mind, and as his mother, it’s horrifying. When I look into our future, I see broken bones and stitches. More stitches, to put it more accurately.

Yes, my sweet four year old boy has been stitched up twice – both times on his tiny, handsome face and both times before age three. The first time, he flew off a wheeled toy and went head-first into the metal track of our sliding glass doors. The second time, he climbed carefully out of his crib at 3:00 a.m., lowered himself safely to the floor, and immediately ran head-first into his toy box.

For the record, the ER is not a fun place to take a toddler at 3:00 a.m.

So far, the monkey bars and rocky hiking trails haven’t notably injured my children – that honour goes to the toy box and our boring old door. I guess if I decide to bubble wrap them anywhere, it should be in my own house, where most of their injuries happen.

The worst thing that has come out of their adventures in the wild and on the playground has been mosquito bites – hardly a problem when you compare it to glued-up wounds and goose eggs on foreheads.

So I’ll keep on cringing and shouting out warnings as they hurl themselves around the playground, but I’ll also let them run wild and be kids. Kids and dirt are supposed to go together!

My fingers are crossed for no more stitches and a life without broken bones, but I can handle the skinned knees and banged up shins. Their childhoods will be fun and carefree because later, their lives won’t be. They’ll learn to fall and they’ll learn to pick themselves back up, and eventually, they’ll both know when to be gentle with themselves.

Until then, I’ve got a first aid kit in my car.


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