I see you – staring at my kid like he’s a filthy little street urchin – judgy eyes darting from parent to parent, trying to figure out which one of us to convict.

I don’t know you, but I think you’re a mom yourself.  Don’t you understand?

He’s four.  And he loves to play outside – fingers in the dirt, torn kneed pants emblazoned with grass stains, wild blonde curls and pale white nose brown from the earth he’s transferred there.  I love this about my boy.  Right before we left to come to this soccer practice he was rolling down a steep hill, gleefully landing at the bottom with his face in the mud.  It was the first warm day of spring, and his joy was palpable.

No, I didn’t wipe his face or wash his hands before I piled him in the car with his toddler sister and 6-year-old brother, rushing, so that we could enjoy the last bits of this afternoon outside and still make it to soccer on time.  He doesn’t know that his beautiful little face is dirty, or that there is mud caked under his nails.  And he doesn’t care.  He’s 4-years-old.

As you stare down your nose at my precious child, I want to draw your gaze and explain, “He’s actually quite clean.  We bathe him every night.  He just loves to get dirty.”  But you don’t know me, and based on your countenance, I’m pretty sure the conversation wouldn’t go well.

You see, my child is not my trophy.  I don’t shine him up to impress other people, and I don’t expect him to look fancy every day when all the kid wants to wear is “comfy pants – pleeeeease mommy?”  He is 4-years-old and he happily wears his brother’s hand-me-downs “as long as the tags aren’t itchy.”  Sure, I make him put on jeans for preschool and on Sunday he wears church clothes, but I don’t expect my kid to avoid the dirt and forgo the thrill of rolling down grassy hills because he might look unkempt.

After childhood, never again in life is it acceptable to hurl your body down an incline for the rush of it, squish mud between your fingers hoping to catch a worm, and show up to soccer practice with dirt on your nose.

Kids get dirty.  This is good.  This is right.  This is as it should be.

So no, my child does not need your pity (or your disgust) as he sits on the ground, criss-cross apple sauce, laughing with his 2-year-old sister (who is also sporting dirt on her knees).  He’s joyfully engaged in the work of childhood, playing as hard and as fully as he can.

And if I didn’t have better manners or some degree of self-control, I would walk straight up to your judgy face and proclaim, “Yes, that’s my kid with the dirty face.  Isn’t he beautiful?”