After my college graduation, I quickly found a job as a preschool teacher at a local daycare center. I loved working with preschoolers, loved planning a curriculum that engaged the children, and loved experiencing their absolute exuberance and eagerness to explore the world they lived in.
My strengths were in planning activities – art, science, cooking, sensory – in which the kids usually wound up getting dirty. They had hands on involvement, got messy, and gained so much in the process. The majority of the parents loved what I did with the children in my care.
But then, there was that one mother…
Her daughter was in my first preschool class. She was adorable little girl with perfect pigtails that cascaded down in ringlets, and a different, seemingly brand-new, flouncy dress every day she attended. Every morning, after helping her daughter out of her coat and tucking her lunch bag snug in her cubby, this mother would lean down, give her daughter a kiss, hug her tight, and then remind her, “Now don’t you get dirty today! That’s a new dress you’re wearing…”
She’d pull a chair over to better see her classmates splashing at the water table, but would recoil in horror if I offered her a smock and encouraged her to join in. She’d carefully color with crayons, but wouldn’t touch paint. She’d sit gingerly on the edge of the sandbox and poke listlessly at the sand with the tip of a plastic shovel. And whenever someone would try to engage her in a potentially messy activity, she’d pull back and insist, “I no get dirdy!”
And this little girl never got dirty. Well, no, that’s a lie. One day while she was quietly watching another child create a vibrant masterpiece at the easel, she must have leaned in too close, and got side-swiped by the paintbrush. And then she wept. Gut-wrenching, heart-breaking sobs as she cried, “ Oh no! Dress dirdy! I no get dirdy!”
She wasn’t with us long. Within just a month’s time her mother pulled her from our center, saying that she decided to enroll her someplace “more academic.” But the shy, wistful gaze this little girl had, as she watched other children laughing, exploring, and getting dirty, haunted me long after she left my classroom.
I don’t want to ever do that to my son. When Shane heads off on a new adventure, I don’t want to hold him back. I hope to always remember to give him a kiss, to hug him tight, and then to remind him to have fun, explore, and not be afraid to get good and dirty…because that’s how you learn, and that’s how you truly live life to the fullest.