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Why I love a filthy child

Forget ribbons and curls. There she is — strikingly beautiful in the deep-down, earthy sense of the word — while sitting in a mud puddle by the lake.

This is my favorite picture of my daughter. She is gritty and wild in it, with her curls masking her eyesight and her cheeks a deep, sweaty crimson. I took the picture at 2 p.m., and she’s still in her pajamas. Her hair isn’t brushed, and her face is smeared with food. You can’t see it in the picture, but we’d recently had an unspoken battle of wills about whether she’d sink her tiny hands into a mixture of mud and gravel. She won.

Dirty child |

Photo credit: Mary McCoy

She won because humanity wins — sweaty, gritty, dirty and beautiful humanity. The kind of humanity that breathes its first breath after a proverbial baptism of blood and water. The kind of humanity that draws its first nourishment from a mother’s breast. The kind of humanity that, like motherhood, is only at its best when it leaves scars and dirt to mark the path of its story.

Yes, the very beautiful and very real humanity that we run from. We spend and waste so much time rejecting it. We agonize over our post-baby bodies. We worry about our graying hair. We lift our breasts and we tuck our tummies and we insist that our babies look presentable, as though the grittiness of our shared humanity isn’t chasing after us. We make sure our children reflect well on us, and they’ll return the favor as we age and decline. A lot of activity, and very little to show for it.

Then, out of the blue, appears the smile of a filthy child in her pajamas at 2 p.m., because I can be a chaotic mother who is just one step ahead of a panic attack and simply cannot stave off the advances of my child’s humanity. And my own.

I freaking love it. Her dirty smile whispers that there’s more to life than appearances, and that our stories are meant to be a little wild and a little unkempt. Maybe I’d enjoy motherhood more if I gave in to what it has been telling me from the get-go and embraced messiness as insight rather than vice.

More about childhood

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Socially horrifying phases kids go through
Mom finds gratitude through childhood leukemia

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