A few years ago, when my son was about five years old, we were late to drop his older sister off at a birthday party. The party was in the beautiful Edwardian Herbert Park in Dublin. It was warm, and I was sweaty…and stressed. I was pushing an empty buggy with as much speed as I could possibly muster while an unnaturally hefty two-month-old lay strapped to my chest. All the while I was coaxing the other two kids along as fast as I could.
I decided that I’d had enough of my son’s rough-shamble appearance. It seemed that other parents could turn kids of a similar age out at parties clean, neat and well-dressed, so why couldn’t I? I put the effort in. I got the nice, neat, stiff clothes on. I put him in a headlock and managed to get the face actually clean. I won the argument about shoes, and off we went. We were a little late, but I was covered for this by the wide-reaching small baby excuse.
Out of puff, and now just about 5 minutes from arriving finally presentable, disaster struck. As we passed a mound of mulch and muck, about 10 feet high, my son broke ranks. He peeled off and reached the top of the mulch mountain in what felt like a second. Before I could process what was happening, he announced clearly, and with startling conviction to all around “I AM A GIANT DIRT-BAT!” before tumbling and rolling his way down to the muddy puddle below. He arrived at the party looking like he had stopped at Woodstock for a weekend of debauchery on the way. I was not pleased.
He’s still the dirtiest child I know. There are no knees in his uniform trousers. I have to force hair cuts on him by stealth, threat and bribe. And the hair cuts are necessary, because, try as I might, he resists any sort of brushing of his tangled birds-nest like he would an attempt on his life. I’m sure his teacher can see exactly what he has for breakfast every morning. I know when he’s lying about brushing his teeth, the evidence is all over his chin and jumper if he really has.
I’m sure this can’t last forever. I’m at the end of my tether, washing-wise, for one thing. I need him to cut me a break from the ruining two or three outfits a day.
One day he might be standing in front of me in a tie, with an immaculate white shirt, tucked in. There may even be product of some sort in his clean and styled hair. Maybe he’s going for a big interview, maybe he’s going on a big date, or maybe he’s even getting married. He’ll be looking sharp and clean, and I’ll be bursting with mortifying maternal pride. And at that point I’ll squeeze his hand and lean in close to whisper an important message. “Don’t forget, you are a giant dirt-bat.”