Kids Are Gross

"What?! Do I have something stuck in my teeth?"

I Love You, But Yuck!

Let me start with this disclaimer: I adore my kids. They are delightful creatures: sweet, charming, and downright loveable. When I hug them, I bury my nose in the soft folds of their necks and try to breathe them right in. I would step in front of a double-decker bus for them.

But let’s be frank: most of the time, kids are just plain gross. And I’m not even going to risk offending your delicate sensibilities by discussing the repellent topics of barf and poop. Not going there. The following top-ten list (in reverse order, a la David Letterman) will simply cover the everyday garden-variety revolting behavior of children.

10. One Trashy Mother

After my daughter eats a cupcake, she chews on the little cupcake wrapper for a while then spits it out and hands it to me. I unwittingly take it before I realize what it is. For years my kids had been handing me their trash. And I was taking it. Then one day I overheard my friend Linda say, “Hey, I’m not the trash.” In that Eureka moment, it occurred to me that I am not the trash! Now when the kids try to hand me a sticky bar wrapper or a used tissue or a half-eaten piece of ham, I tell them to go find a garbage can. But every now and then, when I’m not paying attention, I’ll get one of those chewed-up cupcake wrappers in my palm.

9. Beware the Backwash

Never, ever let a kid drink from your water bottle. This should be a firm rule, unless you have a very high tolerance for nastiness. When kids drink from bottles, they invariably redeposit a tremendous amount of backwash. And if they happen to be eating, say Ritz crackers, while drinking, little hunks of food will end up floating around in your beverage.

8. Gum: Sticky Situation

First a confession: In my youth, my elementary chum and I would use butter knives to scrape gum off the sidewalk until we had a big old wad of ABC gum (already been chewed). It was sort of gritty with dirt, but once you worked it for a while, it wasn’t half bad. Thankfully I’ve never seen my own kids do this. What they do is leave their ABC gum wherever they happen to be when it goes stale in their mouths. I’ve found wads on the coffee table, the carpet in the basement, and matted in the back of my Anya’s hair. I guess I should be grateful when they hand me a sticky wad of gum and say, “Here Mom.” At least they aren’t sticking it under the furniture.

7. Crumbs in the Minivan

We are always on our way somewhere—soccer, lacrosse, piano, gymnastics—so snacking in the car is an inevitability of our overscheduled lives. The kids drop bits of chips, crackers, cereal, apples, grapes, and bacon on the floor with reckless abandon. When they eat bananas or clementines, they simply drop the peels on the floor without a care. This is explains the serious funk coming from my minivan.

6. Jock Straps and Dirty Socks

My kids come home from lacrosse practice and put their jock straps right smack on the kitchen table. Thankfully, they are young enough that their undergarments don’t stink after practice. At this stage, we call their jock straps “nut huts,” which makes the whole think kind of adorable. (The boys like to knock on their nut huts and say, “Hello? Hello? Anybody home?” But I can tell you, if they’re still flinging jock straps on my kitchen counter in high school, I will no longer consider this behavior endearing.

There are also dirty socks everywhere in my house. I spend the day bending over and picking them up. It’s my stretching routine. It is also worth pointing out that my husband is as bad as the children in the dirty sock department. His socks are littered around the house, like little cotton love bombs.

Precisely the same release mechanism used with banana peels seems to be at work with dirty clothes in general. Kids strip off their clothes and drop them wherever they happen to be at the moment, whether it’s the kitchen, their room, or the park.

5. Toothpaste Glops

Kids are capable of making the most mundane of daily routines gross. I know this is a function of their height, but even when they’re standing on stools, they still spit big gobs of toothpaste on the beach of the sink. Even when I run the faucet, they won’t spit in the water. I swear they are doing this on purpose just to make me crazy.

4. Table Manners, or Lack Thereof

The open mouthful: The funniest joke my kids know is “Do you like Seafood?” When you say, “Sure!” They open up their mouths to show you a saliva-coated gob of half-masticated chicken. “See Food. Get it? Hahahaha.”

"No, mom! I was not licking the cake batter. I swear!"

Messy Faces: Evidently children have no feeling whatsoever in the skin around their mouths. This is the only explanation for why they walk around for hours after eating with chocolate or ketchup congealed at the corner of their mouths.

Crumbs: I know some day my children will get better with practice, but at this time, my kids only get 61% of their food in their mouths. The rest ends up on the floor. After every meal at our house, the floor is covered with an inordinate amount crumbs, from rice and corn kernels to bagel hunks and cheese shreds. I sweep on average twice a day.  (I should borrow a page from my sister in law, who waits until the kids are in bed to sweep up. “That way,” she wisely says, “the food is all dried up and it’s easier to sweep.”)

3. Snot-Nosed Kids

Little kids don’t seem to notice when their noses are clogged with snot. Perhaps this is related to the chocolate-and-ketchup around the mouth phenomenon. They must also have no sensation in their nostrils. My daughter had a pal over recently and I overheard them talking about sharing water. The pal’s nose was jammed full of nasty green mucous.

“Let’s not share drinks today,” I intervened.

The pal: “Why? Is Anya sick?”

In an episode of Seinfeld, George Costanza says, “I guarantee you that Moses was a picker. You wander through the desert for forty years with that dry air. Are you telling me you’re not going to have occasion to clean house a little bit?” Most adults will take care of an itchy proboscis discreetly. Not kids. They’ll ram a whole finger up their nose, any time any place.

And seriously, people, what is with kids and eating boogers? It must be the salt or something. I was at a chocolate shop not so long ago and couldn’t help noticing a little boy with a big old nasty booger on his fingertip, and I thought, Please, no. Don’t do it! Don’t… And you know he did. Ate it right up. BLECH! I completely lost my appetite. Forget Jenny Craig. Just think about a kid eating a booger, and you won’t be hungry for hours.

To be fair, there are plenty of adults out there who can’t help themselves either. In January 2011, Jets Jets QB Mark Sanchez was busted by CBS cameras for not only picking his nose, but then wiping the booger on teammate Mark Brunell. Even the former Prime Minister of Britain, Gordon Brown was caught on tape repeatedly picking his nose and, it would appear, bulking it. If sports stars and politicians well aware that they’re on national TV can’t help themselves, then there’s really no hope for a 5 year olds, is there?

2. Breaking Wind

Eddie Murphy was onto something with standup riff on The Fart Game. (“You’ll play it one day, son.”) There are elements of blame and denial and a whole series of rhymes that span generations. When somebody drops a stink bomb in our car, I hear the same phrases coming from the backseat that my brothers and sisters and I used when we were kids: “He who denied it, supplied it…” Countered with: “He who made the rhyme did the crime.” Our kids call them nukes. (Which is also used as a verb. As in, “Aaack! Who nuked?” Universally, kids think farts are funny. My kids like to press their butts up on my leg and fart. They think that’s extra hilarious.

Here’s a recent nighttime moment.

Me:  “Good night honey” (lovingly, to my son, who is all cuddled in his bed)

Son: Pfffffffftt. (loud, long passing of gas)

Me: “Come again?”

Son: “Hehehehehehehehe. (uncontrollable giggle)

1. Potty Problems

Now for the Number One reason kids are gross. Their deplorable potty habits. First, let’s discuss the toilet seat. In one of the greater mysteries of the universe, my boys seem incapable of lifting the seat up when they pee and my husband never puts the seat down when he’s done. Surely there’s some synergy here that I haven’t been able to harness. Both situations are equally vexing.

And here’s another thing. Kids never wash their hands after going to the bathroom. Seriously, I have totally failed as a parent. Every time my kids use the bathroom since they’ve been potty-trained, I tell them to wash their hands. So if each kids (ages 6, 8, and 11) goes to the bathroom let’s say—and this is probably a conservative estimate—three times a day, 365 days a year, that means I’ve mentioned this hand-washing thing some 20,805 times now. And we’re at maybe a 50% compliance rate. That’s astonishing.

No wonder how few adults wash hands. In a study by the American Society of Microbiology, 58% of men washed their hands after using the bathroom (the women were better, at 75%). Interestingly, 97% of the females said they washed their hands and 92% of the males reported they did. This also reflects childhood behavior. Kids universally lie about having washed their hands. If I suspect they are not being entirely forthcoming about having washed up, I asked to smell their hands for the scent of soap. That’s when they turn tail and head back to the bathroom to wash their hands.

Lastly, there’s the issue of flushing. I know I said I wouldn’t touch the subject of poop, and I’m going to here, but only in an oblique sort of way. Like with hand-washing, I’ve reminded my kids some thousands of times to flush the potty after they’ve gone to the bathroom. Especially when they’ve just dropped a deuce. Still, they forget about 42% of the time.

So, here’s a plea to little people everywhere: Please, please, wipe your mouth and nose, pick up your socks, chew with your mouth closed, eat over your plate, spit your gum in the trash, drop your peels in the compost, and for the Love of Sam Hill, Flush the Potty!!!!!



  1. Helen Olsson says:

    Over spring break, we were playing a game with another family and their kids. One of the kids started laughing so hard that root beer came out his nose…and landed on his dad’s bare foot. Kids are Gross.

  2. Oh my Gosh, I’m rolling out of my chair! So funny (or perhaps made funnier because my baby sneezed half eaten sweet potatoes and snot onto my burrito during dinner tonight).

    So glad I found your blog and I just ordered your book. Can’t wait to check it out!

    • Helen Olsson says:

      Rebecca, Glad you laughed. Nothing funnier than the raw truth. My daughter made a big deal of farting on my leg tonight after her bath. A full-on, bare-assed attack, it was. Gross, indeed. Though I’ll admit I did chuckle. She was in hysterics.

  3. Captain_Abigail says:

    Wow, you are so right! I’m so happy there are mothers out here, who just accept the fact, that kids behavior is gross. Most mothers I know idealise their kids way too much. It’s like their dirt is amazing, their farts are lovely as the smell of flowers, their spits are cool etc. I’m tired over this. They don’t watch they kids and won’t give them tips about hygiene etc. That’s why I avoid being near the small kids.
    But you seem like a very cool mother who tries to do best:)
    I don’t know how will I be able to have my own kids, how to overcome this gross stuff?:) It’s seems like an endless routine to pick up their socks, food, poop… etc.

    • Helen Olsson says:

      It’s human nature for parental love to transcend all the chewed up gum you find stuck to the coffee table and the pee on the seat. If we couldn’t get past the nasties, we’d probably eat our young for breakfast and be done with it. I can say, with some confidence, that your own kids’ gross behavior won’t bother you near as much as the same of a stranger’s kid.

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