One of the most delightful perks of parenting Owen as an almost-two-year-old is that he can now occupy himself for a very long time. We did some gardening together on Sunday and some more this afternoon. Armed with a small plastic shovel and a little encouragement, Owen can be persuaded to spend over an hour in busy happiness… while I get some real gardening done. This is exciting because it’s the first year since he was born that I think I may get to garden as much as I wish.
On Sunday, as I weeded and spread compost, I asked Owen to dig some dirt from one area and to feed the plants with it (his dad was making some political signage and we were trying to keep the child free of spray paint). Owen obliged, quite willingly, and toddled back and forth to give the plants (perennial geraniums, in this case, which look like there never was a winter) their “num-a-num.” He muttered to himself, as he walked to and fro, “Mo’dirt, Mo’dirt.” Of course, because this is Owen, and Owen thinks about food most of the time, he must have decided that if plants found dirt delicious, then he might as well. Picking up a big clod of earth, he bit into it. “Num-a-num?” he said hopefully. When he actually tasted the dirt he must have changed his mind, because his little hand was trying to get as much dirt out of his mouth as possible. Later on, he fell over and rolled in the spread compost and this was so much fun that he continued to fall and roll another 15 or so times. When we finally brought him into the house, he had dirt in his ear, in his hair, and in his diaper, crushed leaves on his shirt and socks (because of course his boots fell off), and even a slight flush from the sun. Silly me – 5 days after the last snowfall and I forgot to put sunscreen on my boy (and myself).
Side note: Though he didn’t eat dirt yesterday, he did take a bite out of a bar of soap. The child does not believe us when we tell him that things like dirt, rocks, and soap are not delicious! I have never seen Owen brush his teeth with so much relish – the fruity toothpaste must have been a welcome change from the soap stuck to his front teeth.
Owen wanted nothing to do with his shovel today (he actually started to have a meltdown that lasted until I put it back in the shed), but he moved rocks around, ate another handful of dirt, and bit into a rock. I had provided him with fish crackers, too, but he seemed to need to taste nature.
On the radio recently, David Suzuki was talking about a new condition called “nature deficiency.” I’m a little suspicious of it, since I can’t imagine a place where people encounter nothing organic, but the idea is that exposure to things like trees and grass reduces anxiety and aggression and pumps up our immune systems. Still, many children are being brought up in sterile environments (because of a societal fear of dirt). I kind of winced when I heard one of the interviewed mothers (a British woman) confess that she kept her son inside sometimes just so she wouldn’t have to wash his clothes. It was more convenient, she admitted, to keep him clean. I so completely know what she means, and have had similar thoughts, but hearing it verbalized made me kind of horrified. David Suzuki’s stories of bringing home frogs and insects most nights to his family home, his free exploration of creeks and woods, also made me remember my own messy childhood, the dirt, the sunburns, the field mice in shoeboxes… and I thought that I have to try to give as much of that freedom as possible to Owen, though he is growing up in a suburb and is still too small to roam free.
So as much as I advise him not to eat dirt (not num-a-num. No no no no no), a big part of me is rooting for him as he explores the textures (and tastes) of the natural world.