Posted by: Mark Nielsen | October 18, 2007

The Pig Pen Child Cleanliness Scale

Pigpen (closed)

Why are kids so doggone dirty? And messy. And sloppy. If you have kids, you know what I’m talking about. In fact, if you were a kid, you should know what I’m talking about. And yes, I know the basic Child Development 101 answer to my own question above. (Something like “kids will be kids”, but with fancier words.)

Nevertheless, that pat answer doesn’t help me. It doesn’t keep me from screaming an expletive or two when I trip on Graham’s shoes, which he loves to leave in the middle of the room. (Then again, my wife Sue does this sometimes also, so maybe the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree…) It doesn’t keep me from gritting my teeth when he spreads his magnetic refrigerator letters in a funny little line all through the house, like a suburban Hansel and Gretel leaving alphabetic bread crumbs to find his way home. It doesn’t calm me when I go to sit at this computer, only to find that three ounces of playground sand have made the magical journey from school to home to the desk chair. The sand’s method of travel: the cuffs in Graham’s too-long pants. [Meanwhile, somewhere back at school, the Sand Queen is taking a headcount and lamenting the loss of 437 more of her grains today.]

And if you saw the walls of the gymnasium where I teach, you’d wonder if the students were soaking their hands in a soothing warm mudbath before they came to class. Okay, I’m exaggerating. But the walls, just painted this summer, are already so smudged (all at a height of about three feet) that I can probably play connect the dots and get a pretty good likeness of a 50-foot anaconda.

My mother and I had a debate a few months back about bath frequency for children. Graham’s been pretty much an every other day bather ever since he was about a year old. We give ourselves and him a break occasionally, and sometimes he wants to do it every day, so it balances out. But my mother told me that when my sisters and I were young, she got us to take a bath every day. And here I thought that the “once a week” routine that I heard mentioned on Leave It to Beaver had actually made it all the way to the 1970s. Who knew I was such a squeaky clean kid?

And the way my mom said it, it’s obviously some badge of honor with her.  I love ya, Ma, but every day is just nuts. Young kids don’t get b.o. Plus they often get dirty and sweaty again within half an hour of their bath anyway. Who could possibly hope to keep up? And nights are busy enough, what with getting supper together, getting it cleaned up, doing a chore or two, getting my teacher’s prep work done for school tomorrow, and helping kids with homework (yeah, he has homework four nights a week… in kindergarten — a bit extreme, his young idealistic teacher is, but we’ll go along for now since it’s usually just a 3-5 minute worksheet).

So I know better than to hold a high standard of cleanliness, on top of all our other family responsibilities. As for Graham, he likes taking baths for the playtime aspect, but he couldn’t care less if he’s got a week’s worth of dirt on him. So as long as we stay a few levels above “disgusting” on the Pig Pen Child Cleanliness Scale, we’ll be ahead of the game.

Oops, time to go get him out of the bath. Playtime’s over, for him AND for me.



  1. this is a constant battle around our house… as my daughter usually hates baths.

    though, as for the rest of the mess created…. the favorite quote is “Keeping a spotless house with young children makes as much sense as shoveling a sidewalk in a blizzard”.

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