It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Cleanliness is Next to… Of neat freaks and casual mommas…

I am not very concerned with externals. I listen to other mommies… “I left the child with dad, and when I came back, she was wearing odd socks… “Can you believe he took him out in a plaid shirt and striped pants??… “It never fails. If I let dad take her to school, she’ll be wearing the same shirt from yesterday!” (Note how it’s almost always dads who get skewered.) I listen and I just can’t imagine spending all the energy worrying about this stuff. Um, unless it’s a wedding or great-gramma’s 90th birthday, does it really matter?

A while back, when I told a mother that I’d given her son a bath, responded with “Well, if you thought he needed a bath, he must’ve been filthy!”

So, I’m at the casual end of this spectrum. Most moms fall in the middle – they fret a little about tidiness and matching socks and colour-coordination, but they don’t go nuts with it. Then there are those at the other end of the spectrum, the Manic Mommies, the Queens of Clean…

Some years ago, I supervised a program for 4 to 6 year-olds, and typical for the age, the kids were exuberant, good-tempered, loud — and often grubby. Except for two children. Little Sofia was the picture of sweet, pink-and-white girlhood. She always wore a dress, always made of some pale and gauzy fabric. Always the white tights. Always the shiny black mary janes.

Poor Sofia typically sat out through most of activities, her huge brown eyes wistful but resigned. She could read, do puzzles, colour, and sing. She knew better than risk a drop of paint on her dress. Were this to occur, Outraged Mother would appear, shooting flame, the next day.

“Do you know how much that dress cost?” she would roar. When it was suggested that perhaps such valuable items shouldn’t be worn for play, she merely snorted. We were to Keep The Child Clean.

This pattern was well-established when I arrived. Apparently, artist smocks had been attempted, but they were not up to the job of keeping Sofia clean in the sandbox. Previous supervisors had caved to the furor of the Mother. My solution was simple: a t-shirt and a pair of jeans. Sofia was changed the moment she arrived in our program, and changed back again ten minutes before Mother was due. We were never caught out – strange how we all assumed Mother would disapprove – and I can only assume Sofia was canny enough not to mention it at home.

The other child was a boy. He arrived sensibly attired in jeans and t-shirt. He was allowed to play, but he was expected to be Clean when his mother appeared. We did our best: washed his hands and face, brushed his hair before Immaculate Momma appeared. Appeared and Inspected. She would stand back a couple of steps before the boy was allowed to approach. No spontaneous hugs allowed here! She would scan him from top to toe. Generally our efforts passed muster, and she would open her arms to him. Occasionally, she would feel compelled to brush his hair or rub a speck of something from his cheek or tuck his shirt into his pants before doling out the Maternal Affection.

Then there was the day when the head-to-toe scan went well, the hair and clothes check passed, the face was all right, but, but… Her eyes narrowed.

“His nose needs wiping!” she declared, glaring at his primary worker. The worker was justifiably baffled.

“I’m sorry, I don’t see anything.”

Immaculate Momma took her son’s chin in her hand and tipped the boy’s head back. “There! Can’t you SEE it?”

The poor girl! Astonishment struggled with fury, and fury won.

“Mrs. Immaculate.” The words spat out from between clenched teeth. “If I can’t see it from the front, it’s not my problem. I do not get paid NEARLY enough to start picking your son’s nose for you.”

Takes all kinds…
© 2006, Mary P

January 12, 2007 - Posted by | parenting, parents, the dark side


  1. i will admit that i am a total neat freak in some ways. i do NOT like my hands dirty, for example. this, sadly, keeps me away from a lot of good finger foods, and always kept me away from finger painting as a child. the people who know me well and have known this about me for years were shocked when i became a nanny, because how would i ever handle dirty children?

    surprisingly, it never bothered me. dylan (age 2-3 when i worked with him) would come running up to me when i picked him up from school, hands covered with jam from a sandwich or dirt from the sandbox, and i would open my arms to him, the only thing in my mind how happy i was to see him and hold him and find out how his day was. when the kids needed nose wiping, i did it without thinking, even if there was no kleenex around. when they sobbed tears and snot in my hair as they cried on my shoulder, i thought only of comforting them with my hugs.

    it’s funny, the changes loving a child can make in your life.

    Comment by Lara | January 12, 2007 | Reply

  2. Eeeeewwww! I can barely stomach taking care of my own kids’ noses, let alone someone else’s. There just isn’t enough money out there to do that kind of business.

    Comment by Mamacita Tina | January 12, 2007 | Reply

  3. A colleague sent her daughter to a home daycare that somehow managed to send the kids home clean everyday even though they did lots of painting and other grubby stuff. Later on she found out that the caregiver actually laundered all the kids’ clothes every single day! Beyond the call of duty, for sure.

    Comment by Robyn | January 12, 2007 | Reply

  4. Whoa.

    I remember the first time I arrived unexpectedly to pick Diva Girl up at daycare. She was head to toe filth, and the workers were a wee bit nervous as to what my reaction would be (apparently this was a fairly common thing, but they’d always had time to spruce her up in the past).

    I laughed out loud and told them that I though it was great: A dirty daycare kid is a happy daycare kid, so far as I’m concerned.

    Oh, and my mom and I ran into my Grade 1 teacher about 5 years back. I was certain that she wouldn’t remember me after 25 years. Her response: “of course I remember you! I used to feel so awful; your mother would send you to school in such beautiful clothes, and you always went home such a mess!”

    Comment by Kimberly | January 12, 2007 | Reply

  5. OMG. I HATE Mrs. Immaculate! HATE her!

    Comment by Jenorama | January 12, 2007 | Reply

  6. how funny you should write this on the day that I insisted that one of my older charges hopped in the shower after my others as he had been excercising earlier and could do with a freshen up! He wasnt happy about it but as he’s sleeping on my sofa,I am! He’s in for a shock as I intend to throw him in again in the morning…..

    jenny UK

    Comment by Anonymous | January 12, 2007 | Reply

  7. me again, was just thinking back over my years of childcare, the time when a little girl went green and ominous noises came from within, we had just had new carpet and sofas and I didnt want them ruined, so I pulled out my sweater and let her throw up onto me! I caught it all then stripped off in the bath, would do it again to save new carpet! and the time I worked in a playgroup and one little girl had a very upset tummy, it was everywhere, down her legs, urrgghh, but I waded in (almost literally) with some wet paper towels (we were out of wipes-the best thing ever invented) and cleaned her up!All the other playgroup workers were hiding in the kitchen, when the going gets tough….

    jenny UK

    Comment by Anonymous | January 12, 2007 | Reply

  8. Oh, those poor kids. I can’t imagine what problems they will have after they grow up. We just like to let our daughter be our daughter, have fun, and get messy. The only thing that would really tick me off would be if her teachers didn’t use washable paints! (Because sometimes, she comes home covered top to bottom in paint.)

    Comment by abogada | January 12, 2007 | Reply

  9. Ain’t that the truth. Hell, I don’t get paid enough for it either, but I am the mum, so I do it anyhow. I sure don’t expect her caregivers to have at it!

    We’re very much the stretchy comfy pants and long-sleeve T’s types around here – that way, she can choose her own clothes and dress herself, accidents and messes are no big deal, and our budget is reasonable. If it can ‘t be ruined, I say, it has no business in toddlerhood.

    Comment by kittenpie | January 12, 2007 | Reply

  10. I’m still stuck on the dad getting skewered thing.

    Ain’t that the truth!

    I dress my two every day. I choose the outfits they wear, I brush their hair, I wipe their faces before we head out the door to daycare. I know what I’m doing.

    One time, when I took them out together, a woman commented on their cute outfits and said, “Oh, did your wife dress them?”

    Grrrr. No lady, I just got lucky today.

    Comment by Matthew | January 13, 2007 | Reply

  11. When I was on mat leave my clients wreaked havoc on my replacement. Got her to do dozens of favors I would have never done.

    But there were a couple things that were shoe on the other foot and she got them to smarten up about stuff I had been giving them a free pass on. She told me once about one example “I mean we can pick your nose for you. But don’t expect us to eat it too.”

    man that has stayed with me.

    Comment by mo-wo | January 13, 2007 | Reply

  12. I am way towards the messy end of the parental spectrum – although when Mstr A was young my mother used to complain at how many times I changed his clothes during a day. I pointed out it was easier to wash his clothes tha try to keep him clean:-) But now there’s more of them, I just let them stay dirty (unless it’s unclean dirt!)

    But, I am surprised at the eforts the carers put into upholding Mrs Immaculate’s irratonal opinions. My day care school puts on their contract that children should wear old clothes (and have a change with them) as they will be doing messy & strenuous activities. A couple of times clothes have been laundered where the child has thrown a whole pot of paint over them or something, but mostly the kids come home a bit dirty. At least I know they have been doing things:-)

    Comment by Juggling Mother | January 13, 2007 | Reply

  13. Bane of my life. Grandparents and family members who run around the toddler with a face cloth. Drives me IN-SANE!!! !!! !!!

    Comment by Kat O+ | January 13, 2007 | Reply

  14. My SIL was recently told by her GP that she is too clean. My 9 year old nieve is constantly ill and then one day she became covered in odd red sores….it turned out that she had NO immunity to normal everyday bugs because the house was too clean.

    The doctor told SIL to ease off with the constant washing and cleaning…well SIL was outraged and ignored the GP – poor Beccy still suffers all manner of colds and sniffles because she is too well-kept.

    Comment by Wendz | January 13, 2007 | Reply

  15. I have to say that I mostly fall in the middle of the spectrum on this issue. I don’t mind a dirty kid under the right circumstances…however I would prefer they don’t go play in the mud mintues prior to our leaving for church or some other big event that requires them to look neat and tidy.

    I grew up with a mom who is/was a complete neat freak and I don’t know if that turned me off or what but I think that kids need to be kids and getting dirty is part of that.

    The two examples you gave in this post made me laugh. Girlie Girlie rarely wears dresses/skirts and I certainly would never send her to a preschool oriented program you mentioned dressed as such. It’s inappropriate. And as for the wiping of the nose. That mom needs a valium in a big way.

    Comment by Mama of 2 | January 16, 2007 | Reply

  16. I remember looking blankly at our preschool teachers when we were instructed to bring D in “clothes that can get dirty.” I think I actually said, “Are there any other kind?” 🙂

    Comment by stefanierj | January 16, 2007 | Reply

  17. I am trying to comment on your new blog address, after the link at first wouldn`t let me jump here.

    Half the point of daycare and preschool is sending kids to a place where they can do stuff that I might not be organized enough to let them do at home: water play, arts and crafts, etc. If anyone ever returned a clean kid to me, I would have worried.

    Comment by L. | January 18, 2007 | Reply

  18. If I could only find two socks… I wouldn’t mind if they was different colours…

    Comment by maddadsblog | January 28, 2007 | Reply

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