by Ajike Akande
It’s Earth Day and in honour of Earth Day, I thought I would share a bit about my relationship to my children’s relationship to the earth or the ground or the dirt. Wait, what? *Spring has sprung in this part of the world, and I couldn’t be happier. Winter has been… you probably don’t need me, along with everyone else, to describe exactly how this past winter has been. So while, I am still wandering around in a proper winter scarf and a lighter version of my winter jacket much to my friends and family’s dismay, I am thrilled to be outside with fewer layers and bigger smiles. I am so very glad that snowsuit season is done for one more year, but after a long weekend with several trips to our local park, I just have to get a few things of my scarf-adorned chest.
We live a block away from arguably the best park in our city. It’s sort of famous. People drive from all over to come hang out at our shady, spacious park with its big old-school playground (the kind that celebrates splinters and calculated risk taking), its icy cold wading pool, and awesome sand pit with real metal shovels, plenty of wooden boards and very few rules. Our park has a food stand that serves healthy enough food so that kids never get hungry and adults can, without guilt and too much planning, arrive at the park, find a comfortable bench, release the kids and hang out for the whole day. It’s amazing. On farmers’ market day in the summer, the crowds are heavy until at least 7 pm and Friday night community suppers are all the rage with the regulars. It’s truly a great place to be. And for us, with our large brood and our connections to the park’s “lifers”, everybody knows our names or at least the names of our kids which is super handy when you’ve got so many. We are super lucky to have this park a block away. I love it. For realz.
But…. (you saw the “but” coming, didn’t you?) it is hands down the dirtiest park ever. For most children - most definitely mine, this is a big part of its charm. My get-along gang of Silverman-Akandes fly across the field into the playground area to take their spot at the top of the super fast slide which always has loads of old, dusty sand sprinkled on it to make the end of the slide that much more exciting. Or they dash to the sandpit to find the best shovel and bucket for building a trench – always at the end of the pit where the mud is thickest and darkest. F-Jammie doesn’t even waste time with a shovel and the running water, she prefers to use her hands to collect rocks in the sandpit and lick them clean. True story. I thought that having 2.5 year old park goers meant that I wouldn’t be dealing with the summer butt rash that is a direct result of pooping out sand. Apparently, I am not that lucky.
I love my park community, and I think after seven years of raising little Silverman-Akandes in the park, we’ve grown (literally and figuratively) on the community too, but I think we just have differing feelings about cleanliness. I cringe when I see my kids sit in the wet sand pit in the clothes that I lovingly washed and hung to dry. I prefer to look away when they kick off their shoes and run around and then climb into my lap leaving those disgusting feet dangling over my would-be clean dress.
In my world, cleanliness is, you know, next to Godliness. In the world of the awesome families that hang at our local park, it is possibly the exact opposite. They, like Wife, believe that if the children don’t have dirt smeared across their faces at the end of a park visit, they probably didn’t have a good time or are being parented by me! I hesitate to make any assumptions about race and park cleanliness, but I’ve only ever seen the antiseptic skin cleaner Dettol in black folk’s homes. I’m just saying, that it is possible that in the eyes of my black people, being outside and having fun doesn’t necessarily mean being covered in dirt. Okay fine, this is a ridiculous gross generalization and if any readers have been offended, I do apologize, but my informal research at the local park has revealed a possible correlation between the degree to which parents delight in their kids’ filth and their race!
So there. The truth is out. For me, spring is a time to rejoice and a time to rebuild my tolerance for the dirty, dusty, awesomeness that is our local park. I have replaced the bucket that I leave by the back door that serves as our post park footbath. I am unpacking “park clothes” from the bins in the storage room and preparing my never-convincing speech that I give to Wife and our caregiver about the importance of changing the children into said “park clothes” before they head to the park and removing the aforementioned clothing before coming inside the house upon their return. Listen people, I’m at the park every day. I love it. My kids are happy and I am happy. We make nice with our amazing dirt-loving friends and cherish every last park day until the fall. But my home? It’s my slice of clean. What happens at the park, including the collection of dirt and grime, stays at the park!
Bring on spring. I’m ready!
* If your kiddos have forced you to watch the movie Frozen a bagillion times like mine, you will totally get this reference.