My five-year-old was eating Cheez-Its at the park recently when he of course, as all five-year-olds do, dropped the bag and most of them spilled onto the ground. Obviously, he left them there for the birds, as now the entire snack was disgusting and inedible. Hahaha! No he didn’t. That kid isn’t wasting his only park snack! He picked them up, dusted the dirt off a couple, and kept right on chowing down.

I watched this scene from across the playground. I didn’t get up, or say anything to him, as this is a relatively common occurrence in our family. But then I saw the horror on another mom’s face as she saw my child eat food off the ground. She looked at me . . . looked at him . . . looked at me . . . looked at him . . . I know she wanted to snatch that snack out of his hands and save him from all of the fatal ground-at-the-park diseases he’d inevitably succumb to. So I flashed my “It’s OK, he eats dirt sometimes” smile, much to her dismay, and, needless to say, we didn’t become besties that afternoon.

I’m not a germaphobe. Or even someone who really stresses about dirt and germs much at all. I mean, if your family has the stomach flu, then yeah, we probably aren’t coming over for a BBQ, but boogers? A slight fever? Hey, if you’ve got wine, we’re there. We ain’t scared. 

We travel via road-trip A LOT. And what’s the worst part of road-trips? Public bathrooms. Yep, we’ve seen some bad ones. We’ve opted for the old-fashioned “pee by the tree” route over some of the nasty things we’ve seen from time to time. But most places we’ve had to stop in and do our business are fine. Acceptable. Peeable. Poopable. We wash our hands super well and carry on to the next state.

You’d think that as a mom of three who likes to frequent parks (and various states) that I’d have my trusty hand sanitizer on me at all times. But somehow it’s aways in my other purse, or in the car, which is a 20-minute walk away. Sometimes we get dirty. Sometimes we just wrote our names in the sand and then the ice cream truck pulls up. So we brush ourselves off and grab a Bomb Pop for $1 on a hot summer day. 

Because you know what? The world is full of dirt and germs. But the world is also full of adventure and excitement and interesting people. I want my kids to see it and touch it and experience it. And I’m not going to chase them with hand sanitizer and shout “Don’t touch that!” at every bend, because honestly, that sounds like the least fun way to live ever.

Of course I teach them to be cautious—try to avoid dog poop, and rusty nails, and yellow snow. But I cannot tell you how many times my kids have rounded up a pile of rocks and sticks and leaves from who knows where and made a “home” for a caterpillar they found the yard. Or how many times they’ve housed a corndog at the state fair after playing 19 carnival games, desperately trying to win a cheap stuffed animal or plastic sword. 

Obviously if my child has a immune deficiency and could have his health drastically compromised by germs, I’d probably sing a different tune. But my kids are all healthy and honestly, I think a little dirt exposure does them good.

Some days they play outside, building “epic snow forts” or collecting crickets and worms until long after the sun goes down. I bring their snacks outside, and they may come inside and wash their hands before eating. Or rinse them off outside with the hose. Or, they may grab an apple and take off down the street. Honestly, I’m not really worried about it.

And on those long days, if they are too exhausted to have a bath at night, they may go to bed a little grimy. We can always wash up and clean their sheets tomorrow.

If you ever see my kid about to run in the road in front of a bus, please grab his hand. Or if my daughter is about to step barefoot on broken glass, please scoop her up. But if you see my kids pass a water bottle around between the three of them, or drop a piece of popcorn on the ground and pick it up and eat it, don’t worry. They’ll be OK. I mean, I teach them to at least look at the food on the ground before popping it into their mouths. I mean, I do have some standards. 

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Karen Johnson

Karen Johnson is a free-lance writer who blogs at The 21st Century SAHM http://www.the21stcenturysahm.com/ —a cathartic mix of sarcasm, angry Mama Bear rants, and confessions about how she's probably screwing up her kids. She is also assistant editor at Sammiches and Psych Meds and has had work featured on Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, What the Flicka, and Bon Bon Break, among others. Karen is also a contributing writer in Lose the Cape: Never Will I Ever (and then I had kids!) and in What Does It Mean to Be White in America? and she writes monthly for KC Parent magazine. Follow Karen on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/21stcenturysahm/, Twitter https://twitter.com/21stcenturysahm , and Instagram https://www.instagram.com/the21stcenturysahm/