Muddy Jeans

{continued, sort of}

After we moved to the "new house," I had even more room to do kid things.

I played in the woods all the time. I would make up entire adventure stories, usually narrated in an English accent. We'd have to escape dragons and all sorts of bad guys, running, jumping, flying over hill and dale -- which usually meant navigating around pricker bushes and rocky streams.

I would explore my neighborhood with my "new" next-door neighbor, a girl a year older than me, and find endless surprises. We had special trees to climb. We discovered these great, hidden hills, which were steep and loose enough with dirt that you could slide down them without sleds! (I don't think my mom ever got those mud stains out of my jeans.)

In the summer, we'd spend almost the entirety of every sunny day in the pool. My mom supervised to a degree, and checked on us often, but she didn't hover. She never hovered. In fact, I'm hard-pressed to remember my mom being in any of my adventure memories. She was around, somewhere...

But no. I was not supervised constantly. I was given tremendous freedoms as a kid. (Frankly, I was given tremendous freedoms throughout my whole life.) I was never on a short leash. Hell, I was never on a leash. I walked to and from school. I'd spend entire days outside, away from the house, without having explicit times to be home and without anything like a kid-Lojack or cell phone.

This, of course, blows my mind.

Times have changed. The world has changed. We have changed.

I cannot picture saying to my child, "Be home by dark!" and then letting her go run off to God-knows-where for the whole day.

But there's got to be an in-between. And I need to write this, to remember, to remind myself. My parents trusted me a lot, and I (for the most part) deserved to be trusted. They also implicitly trusted the world I lived in.

So just because I cannot trust the world anymore does not mean I can't trust my kids. There must be balance, and I want to strive to find it.

That's Lesson #1 I Hope I Remember

But I was also circling around Lesson #2 yesterday.

Here's another memory I can't shake:

When I was somewhere around 10 years old, I was having a conversation with my uncle -- a man I didn't see very often and whom I didn't know very well. He was talking about his car, which I believe he'd just bought. He told me it had a sunroof. He may have asked if I knew what a sunroof was, thus prompting my response, or maybe I just felt it was appropriate to throw in, but I excitedly announced that our van had a HUGE sunroof!

To which he replied -- and this part I do remember vividly: Always have to be better.

This has stayed with me over the last 25 years for many reasons. First, I tried very hard as a child to never, ever do anything wrong. But I had. I'd clearly been "wrong" in what I'd said, and immediately felt horrible shame and embarrassment. It hadn't occurred to me that I would sound like I was bragging about the sunroof, or that it could even sound that way (especially not to a grown-up). I don't think I apologized. I think I just stewed with mortification.

For years.

Until I was old enough to think, "You know what? I was a child," and to realize that my uncle's issues had little to do with me.

Which is the other point I was just barely touching on yesterday.

For the first five, hopefully ten-plus years of a child's life, it is not about bigger, better, fancy, expensive. Things just sort of are. We had one house and then we had another. My address didn't matter to me. Nor did the color of my room or size of our van except in the context of my child-world.

Looking back, our van was hideous. My dad had gotten it about a year before "mini-vans" hit the market, so it was totally obsolete within months of purchasing it. It was an 80s-ized Volkswagen Vanagon -- like a bad "modern" interpretation of the VW Bus. It drove on diesel fuel, and was super loud, and if you were going uphill on a highway, even with the gas pedal totally depressed, you'd be lucky to hit anything over 30 mph. (I'm not kidding; we were once passed by a cement mixer on I-95.)

It came with an 8-track.

Nothing for a grown adult to be jealous of.

But as kids? Are you kidding? It was HUGE! We could STAND UP in the back! And the sunroof was big enough that if you stood on the backseat, as many as 5 of us could stick our heads out of it. Not that this was condoned while we were in motion on regular streets, but sometimes Dad would let us do it in driveways and private side streets (when Mom wasn't in the car).

I nearly died of shame from the Vanagon by the time I was a freshman in high school. But bouncing around in the back of the van with the sunroof open listening to the Annie soundtrack at full-blast (yes, on the 8-track) was simply divine.

And that's all that the 10-year-old self of mine knew. Meant. Thought of. I wasn't trying to be better than my uncle (or than anyone). I was just excited about our big, slow, stupid fun van.

Kids don't know.

Well, okay. Maybe some do, and maybe some know early and maybe some are malicious. But I didn't know, and I'm also going to assume that mine won't, either.

I had no concept of Darien v. Norwalk. I didn't know that cars are used as status symbols. I didn't know what a status symbol was, except maybe if you were The Queen and had a castle and a crown and a magic pony.

But really. Kids don't know. And I say allllllll this (to myself) for two big reasons.

One, because I want to establish firmly in my mind that our peanut will not know the difference between Napa v. San Francisco v. Connecticut v. Arizona v. the rest of the world. Ish and I absolutely made this home decision (and spent a bloody fortune) with baby in mind, but let's be real: she will not care about her home's resale value. She doesn't care that we decided to buy this place versus, say, a loft apartment in the city. Sure, she may notice if one home has a driveway and one home has an elevator, but one won't be intrinsically better.

And two, because holy shit.


It starts now, and I see no end in sight. The boppy, and slings, and bouncers, and 42 trillion strollers and cribs-bassinets-Pack-n-Plays and bottle sterilizers PLUS a bajillion-and-a-half ways you can do irreperable and LIFELONG harm to your baby that never seemed to exist before. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

So I keep telling myself: The baby just wants to be comfortable. Everything else was designed for me. But gosh, it's all so crazy.

Except it doesn't have to be. Babies care about status symbols even less than kids do. As I sit and stare at these overwhelming baby registry options, I have to repeat: She doesn't care if her stroller costs a mortgage payment -- because if she doesn't like it, she doesn't like it. She doesn't care what color her room is, or if her lampshade matches her curtains...

Babies, kids, do not have any of the perceptions we do about their surroundings or their belongings. They just want to be loved as babies and as kids.

No matter how much you worry or fret or posture or spend, if you're doing it right? It won't matter what you buy, they'll always just want to play with the box. They will squeal with delight about your ugly van with the super-fun sunroof. And if you let them, they will turn your ugly yard into a giant, beloved sandbox.


  1. You're so right. It is a little overwhelming to think about, but kids don't see the status symbols behind some of our "things." (for lack of better word)

    I know I sure didn't think of our house as being less than perfect or compare to the kid's next door. And I had no idea about the status symbols behind cars until I was old enough to drive one.

  2. Great post (and the last one).

    Sometimes I'm blown away at how much more we have as a young family than my parents had when I was a kid. I wonder how it affects kids today - like the elementary school kids who have ipods and cell phones and video games - do they notice "status" more now that they spend more time with stuff than outside exploring? Or am I just old and out of touch for remembering the good old days when catching fish in the pond behind my house was the definition of a fun afternoon? I think you're right though - I just don't think they notice that stuff until they're older. Life is simple when you're young =)

  3. Maybe someone's already pointed it out to you, but if not ... start reading Free Range Kids. It's a refreshing dose of common sense and sounds like it will match up with what you're trying to achieve as a parent.

  4. Amen. My kids wear hand me downs and we live in a tiny house, but they love to have friends over to play. Our yard is rough, but super cook. Sometimes there are lots of leaves to play in.
    I pushed a battered, used stroller for years, and when I bought a new one it was pretty cheap and I bought it because it was more portable than the bohemoth we'd been traveling with for years.
    The kids don't care. They want me to be with them more than they want me working overtime to buy them stuff.

  5. I'd also recommend Last Child in the Woods - it addresses a lot of what you're talking about - the way our childhoods used to be so much more connected to nature and outdoor play and creativity - and how to get that back. It also talks about how we let fear of extremely unlikely things affect the way we parent our children and what we allow them to do. Good stuff.

    I grew up poor, poor, poor, doing the same kinds of things you did - we spent 90 percent of our time outside, and we all have fantastic imaginations to this day. As for material stuff, we were poor, and I didn't realize it when we were younger. I didn't realize it until we moved across town when I was in junior high, to a nicer area, and the differences between our family and everyone else's family became more apparent. I don't think you feel lacking, if everyone else is lacking too. That just makes you normal.

    I do think kids recognize it when they have much less than everyone else. As a junior high schooler I was often self-conscious about how relatively small my wardrobe was, and how unstylish most of it was. I wasn't spoiled, but - when kids make fun of you it's hard not to feel it. For my own little girls, I try to walk a line between keeping them nicely dressed so they don't feel conspicuous or self conscious, and being excessive - making them spoiled, materially oriented little monsters who are overly concerned with their appearance. I do think as girls get older, into junior high years, clothes become more important. At that point it isn't necessarily a materialistic thing, but more a sort of camoflauge - a way to blend in and ward off bullies.

  6. this was my FAVORITE post of yours, and i've read them all!

  7. Great post Kristy. You're going to be a great mom.

  8. Oh, good point. That kind of thing never occurred to me as a kid, either. If i were planning to have kids of my own, i would hope to instill that same sort of thinking into my own kids, too. When one of my parents got a new car (usually a second-hand car from some aunt of uncle) we were always excited because it was new to US, even when it was a 15 year old car.
    I think you guys are going to be great parents. And are going to have great kids. :)

  9. Awesome post(s). I think about these things too, although I'm still a few years from procreation. I am hopeful that if something good comes from our economic crash, maybe it will be some small move towards a simpler, less materialistic way of living.

  10. These last two posts were really stupendous. You write them for your own purposes, but your readers each get something individual from them. Maybe all of us kids from the 70's and early 80's had similar "low-tech" outdoorsy childhoods, regardless of social status. I was similarly trusted and unleashed. Thank you for putting a fresh perspective on my own memories.

  11. I don't have kids, but I teach and I see wanting to keep kids on a short leash and be safe and keep tabs, but like you, I remember my greatest adventures being without parents. If you think about it, you find very few parents present in children's literature, from Cat in the Hat to Narnia. Kids need to be able to slide down hills and climb trees and (in our case) run down hills in order to launch themselves off a big rock. Just...safely. Somehow. Best of luck to you in figuring it out. I'm sure you'll find a balance and your daughter will have memories centered around adventures and not status symbols just like we do.

  12. I COMPLETELY identify with your story about your uncle and the sunroof. I very clearly being 10 or 11 years old and watching my aunt slice cheese and commenting that boy, she sure does slice cheese thin! It was not a criticism AT ALL -- just an observation -- but she totally snapped at me and said that I was always so critical.

    As an adult, I can see how "BOY! You sure do slice your cheese THIN!" could be interpreted as a criticism but GOOD GOD...I was a kid...I didn't have any reason to judge her damn cheese.

  13. Congratulations! I have been following your blog for years, and I look forward to hearing about your baby adventures. Don't worry about all of the stuff. Baby doesn't care about any of that. In fact, my friends and I who have older kids (mine are 10 and 12 now) laugh that we shouldn't have spent ANY money on them before the age of 5 to 6 or so because they don't remember any of it anyway! Just love baby and don't overwhelm him with stuff. He'd much rather play with the box than the expensive present in it. And above all your child would rather have your time and love than anything else. Good luck.

  14. That how childhood should be. I live in a suburban area and I don't see any kids playing outside anymore. I know that the 'fear' is out there unfortunately but I strongly believe that kids are not that must more unsafe than when my daughter was small. I used to play until it started to get dark and I let her play until the street lights came on. And she's only 28 now so it wasn't that long ago. I think kids have to have memories of childhood more like yours than going to structured classes all the time. You'll do fine with your little one because you want to.

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  18. Loved these last two posts. You are so right! And try to remember all of this when planning your daughter's birthday parties -- the pressure to "go big" is enormous, but what they remember is time spent with their friends and family.

  19. Ok, so this is kind of unrelated, but reading your post made me think of it. I guess it was one of those things that no one told me about or something that I never would have thought of. It did not matter what crib or bassinett or whatever we got, ultimately it was whether or not we rotated her day to day when she slept so her head did not face the same direction all the time... she ended up with positional plagiocephaly and torticollus... which meant she had to get a helmet to reshape her head and we had to take her to physical therapy (and do it at home) to get her neck muscles to develop properly on both sides. Who knew? (ok, I bet a bunch of people are going to say they did, but I have made it my mission to tell people that are having kids, cause I was clueless)


  20. I am 10 and 12 years out from where you are right now. My daughters just celebrated their birthday. Their Dad (now out of our lives) bought them spendy presents. I, still relatively poor and struggling, made them their favorite breakfast and spent the whole day devoted only to them. They might be more excited about the presents their Dad got them now, but I hope fervently that my "present" will matter more down the road.

    You'll do fine. Just love that baby with everything you have, that's all that matters.

  21. 1) This baby is in good hands, because not only are you lovely, witty and fabulous, you are wise as well. And not just in a wise-ass sort of way.

    2) Most of what you wrote was lost on me as I was screaming, "DO NOT DISS THE VANAGON!" Um, yeah, I drove one until about a month ago and cried when my husband told me it was beyond repair. I loved my Vanagon almost as much as I loved my kids. And mine wasn't even a pop top. Now I have a stupid, fucking Odyssey that my teenager is delighted with. Sigh.

  22. Werd. It's some of these concerns that make me completely unwilling to consider having children. It's too scary out there for ME to let them be them. Sad. :o(

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  24. Hi Kristy - I'd taken a little "She Just Walks" break and this was the perfect post to get back in to the flow of things on your blog: always such a fun read. :-) Congrats on the family, the baby, the house! So much fun ahead. Yeah, some bleah parts too, but there's a good chance the fun will SO outweigh them. Eventually. ;-)

    This post resonated for me as the mom of a 19 month old. I remember being shocked (SHOCKED) at some of registries I came across when I was pregnant. One had upwards of 200 items on it! I mean: COME ON. There are people in the developing world whose birth gifts include well-wishes, a nice cloth or blanket for the little one, and nourishing food for the mom because just keeping the mom and that kid alive past age 5 is a major accomplishment! I love/coveted the high end strollers myself, but I have yet to see one have an appreciable impact on fetal and maternal health, other than to enable the mom to show off for that other mom who gave her the stink eye once. ;-)

    You two will be awesome parents because you're at least considering how best to do it and realizing that it's not about the stuff, it's about the kid. If you want to be all minimalist about the new baby, especially if you breastfeed, all you really need is as many diapers, wipes and breast pads as possible, lots of sleepers and onesies (long and short sleeve), a big pack of burp cloths, 4-6 swaddling blankets, and lots of yummy food and drink for you. Seriously, that's it. My hospital gave me a Big Gulp-sized thing with a straw and I was like, "WTH?" but a week after delivery, nursing 24/7, I was guzzling water like a frat boy on a beer bong.

    The kid will live in onesies unless visitors are coming, and you'll live in stretchy, comfy, boob-accessible clothes. How's that different from now, you ask? Exactly. Very similar, but with stretch marks and and the ability to spray milk into a bottle from four feet way. Ish will either be suitably amazed or appalled.

    Back to clothes. Beware: there are tons of cute girl outfits with all these pieces (headband/hat, onesie, sweater, pants, ruffled socks, shoe-like blobs, matching bib, etc.) but the minute she has a diaper blow out in a public place with a bathroom that has no horizontal surfaces other than a germ-moistened floor and you have to figure out how to get all that cute stuff off without smearing her and yourself with excrement from head to toe, you may rethink those, as I did. FYI on that: if push comes to shove, you can kneel with your back against a wall and change her on your lap. Been there. :-)

    My favorite outfit for my girl? A onesie under a two-piece outfit that buttoned up the back and had elastic waist pants with feet: no socks or shoes to worry about and easy to get off in the event of a blow out, like this:

    Also, Sleep 'n Plays are great unless you have a long kid that grows out of them fast:

    Best tip of all? Look around for friends or friends of friends with a girl about a year older than yours. They'll probably be more than happy to clear out their storage area by giving you their extra baby/toddler clothes.

    Finally, here's a little perspective: although some kids' nurseries have more furniture than my first apartment, my husband's 92 y.o. great aunt lives with us and reminded us that way, way back when times were tough, the occasion of a new birth meant pulling a drawer out of a dresser and lining it with a nice, new towel or blanket for the new addition. Welcome home! As other have said, you and Ish will be your baby's favorite companions and playthings for a while. At least until they discover cereal boxes. All the best to you both as you count down to the home stretch. :-)


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