Parenting columnist Nicki Gilbert's son getting dirty at summer camp (Photo/Courtesy Nicki Gilbert)
Parenting columnist Nicki Gilbert's son getting dirty at summer camp (Photo/Courtesy Nicki Gilbert)

One dirty boy, one happy camper

He hadn’t showered in three days, he said. Or rather, he announced it. Very clearly. And quite loudly. To all the Southwest passengers standing in line about to board flight 4117 from Burbank to Oakland. Maybe not all the passengers, but those standing in front and behind us definitely shuffled more than a few inches away.

“Three days?!” My first instinct was to drop the little hand I was holding. His hand. Suddenly I noticed how grimy his thin fingers felt as they wiggled between mine.

I ignored the urge to let go of his hand, and tried not to wrinkle my nose as I looked at him. He grinned up at me, and I couldn’t ignore the twinkle in his brown eyes. “Yep. I forgot.” He was very matter-of-fact. Like it was no big deal. “Actually, maybe it was two days.”

“But didn’t your counselors tell you to shower?” He didn’t look like he hadn’t showered in three days, although his T-shirt was streaked with mud and there was a faint smudge of something on his suntanned cheek.

I noticed the woman in line behind us starting to pay close attention to our conversation. A faint smile played on her lips.

“We won’t sit anywhere near you,” I assured her as we waited for the flight to start boarding. She laughed softly. “He’s around 8, isn’t he?” she asked.

Oy. Was she going to explain how important it was for young children to bathe every day, and point out how negligent I had been in not ensuring this was happening? I was all ready to explain that he’d been at sleep-away camp with no parental supervision for two weeks, and that really his sudden lack of personal hygiene was not my fault, and usually I insist that my children shower at least once a day, and if there was one thing I said to him before he left for camp, it was “Remember to shower every day.”

But in the next second, I decided I shouldn’t say anything at all, because what kind of person sends their just-turned 8-year-old off to camp for two whole weeks? Even if I packed his Shabbat clothes into Ziploc bags labeled “For Shabbat” and separated his underwear and socks into similarly labeled bags so he’d know exactly where to find them, he is only 8 after all. He likes to climb onto my lap when he’s tired and he has trouble lifting the jug of milk if it’s too full. He’s still little. My baby.

And clearly it was not clean socks and a nice outfit for Shabbat that I needed to worry about. I should have kept him home (and clean) for one more year. At least. I swallowed, nervously, and nodded. “Yes, he’s 8.”

“Isn’t it a lovely age?” she replied benignly, almost wistfully. “And it goes so fast.” For a moment, she was lost in her own memories of twinkling 8-year-olds, and didn’t appear at all concerned about how dirty or clean they were.

I felt a tug on my arm. I swear I could feel grains of sand stuck to his fingers. “Mom, actually it was only one day, I remember.” I couldn’t tell if he was joking or not, and felt more than just a little bamboozled by his quick thinking and happy (dirty) face.

He chatted excitedly on the flight to Oakland. He told me about his new friends, and that their bunk mascot was an inflatable flamingo named Leslie. He showed me his bug bites, and the scrape on his knee, and asked if we had a pack of cards at home because he learned two new games. His stories were sprinkled with new Hebrew words he had learned at Camp Ramah, and he sang a few bars of the camp song.

He took a long bath as soon as we got home. I helped him wash his hair, and scrubbed the dirt from under his fingernails. If the bathwater was any indication, it had definitely been about three days since his last shower.

Clean and tired, he climbed onto my lap and put his head on my shoulder. “Should I go for two weeks or a month next year, Mom?”

A dirty kid is a happy kid after Camp Ramah.

Nicki Gilbert

Nicki Gilbert is a writer, Alcatraz swimmer and country music lover who lives in Piedmont with her husband, four kids and dachshund puppy. Her blog is