Childhood Family

Because little boys are grubby creatures

It’s not the kind of phone call you like to get. When I answered, I heard, “Is this Parker Gibbons’ dad?”

I had the typical parent reaction when I heard this, which was to assume that my son had either found a cure for cancer, saved a teacher from a bear attack or successfully created a perpetual motion machine.

Ha! Kidding of course. I immediately went to extreme panic mode assuming he had either cut off his arm or somehow been directly responsible for an earthquake.

And it’s not that I actually expect my son to cause an earthquake. For one thing, he’s 70 pounds soaking wet. It’s just the parent reaction to assume the worst when the school contacts you during the day. Should I get a call from my daughter’s school, I would immediately assume that my extremely rule-following daughter let a cafeteria revolt.

“Um, yes,” I tentatively said.

The caller identified herself as one of Parker’s teachers and said, “There’s no emergency.”

Whew. His arm was still attached.

She proceeded to tell me that during class, they had been making plaster casts of footprints to study as part of a forensics lab. My first thought was that I did not get to do crime scene investigation in middle school, and that is really not fair.

She said that Parker had been doing quite well with the casts, and she had asked him to help with some other students. This was sounding curiously like good news, which as we have already established does not get delivered this way, so I waited for the boom.

She told me that, in the process of making multiple casts, he kinda got covered from head to toe in plaster of Paris. The teacher told me that they did their best to get him cleaned up and got most of it off of him, but wanted us to be aware in case we saw any white specks on him or his clothes when he got home.

“So,” I said,  “you’re calling to me that my 11-year-old son may come home from school dirty?”

“Yes, but we did try to clean him up.”

“You have met Parker, right? He only comes home dirty.”

“That’s what he said. He even said there was no reason to call you.”

He was right, although I did appreciate the teacher calling and giving me the heads up. For one thing, the attempted cleanup could have sent him home shiny and new, and that could have caused concern when he walked in the door. “Why are you so clean!?!?!?”

It’s not that my son is any dirtier than any other 11-year-old boy. Most every 11-year-old boys is a nasty creature comprised mostly of dirt, filth and gunk. Source: I was once an 11-year-old boy.

And add to that the fact that my son’s bus stop is right at a pond, so it’s pretty miraculous if he doesn’t come with the regular school funk that he accumulates, but also some mud and pond stains and perhaps a turtle or fish or something.

I have explained to my wife that trying to get a boy to stay clean at school is a fool’s errand. They are dirt magnets. And sometimes they even smell. There is a reason that, hundreds of years ago, a nursery rhyme was written suggesting that little boys are made of snails and dog tales. For generations, it has been clear that little boys are not, in fact, made of sugar or spice.

I assure my wife that he will in fact grow out of it. I am an exceptionally clean person, and feel that Purell stations should be placed every 10-15 feet and that all public doors should automatically open so that I never, ever have to touch a door knob or handle.

But he won’t grow out of it for a while. I remind my wife that when she met me,  I was living in a fraternity house, which is really the peak of nastiness and filth.

So for now, we will just expect him to come home dirty, as that’s what boys do. And that’s better than causing an earthquake.
Mike Gibbons was born and raised in Aiken, S.C., and now lives in Charleston. A graduate of the University of Alabama, you can e-mail him at or follow him on Twitter @StandardMike.

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