The Red Washcloth

By Carolyn Shearlock © 2014 • all rights reserved

A red washcloth is practical if you're living an active life. But the symbolism is just as important to me.

Do you have a red washcloth?

When I was a kid, there was always a red washcloth hanging on the back of the bathroom door.

You see, my mom realized that if you lead an active life, cuts and scrapes come with the territory. Hence the red washcloth — if there was blood, you were supposed to use the red washcloth and not one of the pretty white or yellow ones. Any stains would just blend in with the red washcloth.

I don’t want to make her out as uncaring (or abusive) but mom believed that a parent’s duty was to raise kids with the necessary skills to be independent — and that happened as early as possible.

And to her (me too!) there are far worse things in life than a few cuts and scrapes or even broken bones.

Being afraid to try something new, being afraid of being hurt, being afraid of failure.

You certainly wouldn’t call her (or my dad, for that matter) overprotective — and I mean that in a good way. Instead, they gave me the skills to cope with problems on my own.

At a very early age — I forget just when but probably around kindergarten age — Mom taught me to treat my own cuts and scrapes as well as how to tell when I needed help. If Mom saw me coming home with a bloody knee or hopping to keep a cut foot out of the dirt (there were lots of clam shells in the lake and small cuts were common) she wouldn’t come running and make a fuss over me. She’d just remind me to go in the back door (where there was linoleum from there to the bathroom) and “use the red washcloth.”

Funny as it sounds, that red washcloth probably plays a big role in my adventurous spirit today. I learned that while you might get injured doing something, it wasn’t necessarily a disaster — Mom’s calm hands-off approach made me realize I could deal with an awful lot on my own. Overwhelmingly, the end result has been worth the risk — or reality — of injury. I’ve had all sort of wonderful experiences that I wouldn’t have had if I wanted to be safe.

And one of the first things that I laid out to take to Barefoot Gal, our new boat?

A red washcloth is practical if you're living an active life. But the symbolism is just as important to me.

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  1. Fantastic idea for the house, especially now with grandkids, but I’ll be sure to bring one to the boat, too! Thanks.

  2. I thought this was going to be some new product that you found (maybe with antibacterial qualities?). Instead, it was a glimpse into something personal about you – something very special. Thank you for sharing this- I still learned something new- but enjoyed the way it was delivered!

  3. Funnily enough, I don’t have a red washcloth, but for similar reasons I grew up with white. Mum’s theory was….use the white ones because they could be bleached! To this day, I have white sheets and shorts etc. And plenty of scars to go with it.

  4. Your Mom was a wise woman.

  5. Thanks or sharing! We will be cruising in Florida next winter on our 26 foot cabin cruiser and I hope that we can meet you. I have read probably 200 of your amazing articles. Thank you thank you!

  6. Love this idea and the symbolism behind it,. Thanks for sharing.

  7. What a great story! I have it on my purchase list along with many things you’ve recommended! 😀

  8. Beautiful post. One of my favorites so far.

  9. Love it!

  10. Good tip!

  11. D and Don svsoutherncross says:

    CAROLYN – thanks so much for giving all of us a glimpse into your childhood , which made up the real you. What a good idea. Makes me wonder why my Mom didn’t think of it. She had all sorts of wise ideas.
    Example: on a clothes line if you hang out any shirts with buttons; hang from the bottom (hem side) up on the line. When attaching the three clothes pins, of course attach two of the pins on either side at the side seam first. Then for the middle pin, take the side of the shirt that has the buttons on it and lap it over the placket side (where the button holes are) so the that pin marks will be hidden when you wear the shirt.

  12. Green would be equally as good for cuts a scrapes..

    After all it is why scrubs are green as blood does not show up as red on green.

    Kind regards

  13. I love this story Carolyn. Mom’s are awesome!
    Thank you in case you did not see my response to you on my site for catching my big typo on Propane. Sometimes my brain and my hands are in two different arenas. Thank you so much for letting me know!

  14. Because of this post, I bought four red washcloths; two for the boat and one for each grand child’s family. Good advice and a good read.

  15. Ruth — how wonderful!

  16. Great idea! My sons are almost grown now, but it’s good tip for me. I am always hurting something at kickball or something. Visiting from the SITS girls.

  17. This is great and I know that you are a tough cookie, so it worked well. What color washcloth do you use for broken bones?

    • Any color. In the freezer to use as an ice pack. Frozen peas also work, or just a cold beer and a roll of duct tape. It’s a good idea to put another cold beer IN the patient, although maybe not for kids!

  18. Too many parents have forgotten that the primary mission of their job is to raise independent and self reliant kids so they are independent and self reliant adults.

  19. Well done Your Mum. I expect she also taught you that clean clothes don’t grow on trees – and that meals don’t appear by magic three times a day. I’m with your mum – helping kids to learn skills so they can cope with life is a great gift that parents can give.

  20. Wonderful idea!

  21. Wonderful idea!

  22. Gee we must be related. 🙂 my mother’s was red also; sometimes navy blue. The lessons were the same as yours and I have tried to pass the legacy to my children. I totally agree with Hazel PetersonPeterson and Diana K Weigel…..must be a generational thing. 🙂

  23. I’m getting one for our daughter, Christine Johnson!!

  24. I love this so much. My was the same way and I learned so much about being a strong, self sufficient woman from her approach to cuts and bruises!

  25. Great story! Love it!

  26. I agree one hundred pecent

  27. I agree one hundred pecent

  28. I like this Levey Peterson.

  29. Nathaniel Mitchell

  30. Needlegirl says:

    I had always heard the reason for a red washcloth was that when washing a minor wound that was oozing blood, the blood wouldn’t show up as much, and the injured child would be less anxious and upset because he/she wouldn’t see all that bright red blood. It could actually be a very caring, sensitive thing to do for a child, not just a concern about blood stains on a light-colored “good” washcloth……

  31. I was a college professor for over 30 years and you could see the difference from when I began teaching to the year I retired. You could also see the difference in those students who were allowed to fail, who when they scrape their knee were told to rub some grass on it and take a lap instead of being rushed to the doctor. I would watch students leave college level classes and call mommy or daddy to say how unfair heir professor was. As a former department chairman I fielded
    calls from angry parents who were just sure heir Timmy or Susie was being treated unfairly. Give me a break, not everyone is an A student and not everyone gets a trophy in the real world; whatever that is.

    It’s hard as a parent to not want to protect your children and fight their battles but you’re setting them up for failur, or worse a life living in your basement.

    Oops sorry went off on a bit of a rant. I guess I deserve a juice box and some gram crackers..

  32. When I was about 10, living in a well-to-do neighbourhood, I used to grab my machete and go off with my chums & siblings for the day to build tunnels & forts in the brambles across the street. Nowadays I’d probably be shot.

  33. Gwendolyn Webster says:

    Thank you, Carolyn! We just got back from that harbor after a 2 week Keys trip. What a blast! And, I’m picking up a red washcloth for my grandkids on the boat 🙂

  34. Love it! We just have a bunch of blood stained light blue towels. Haha! Your mom was very wise in many ways.

  35. Thanks for sharing!! I feel fortunate to have been raised that way too… But we didn’t have a red washcloth…we needed one though… Lol!

  36. Have a red wascloth, hand towel and bath towel from my brother’s

  37. Whoo Hoo! I couldn’t agree more! The adventures that my kids have gotten up to over the years is crazy 🙂 They made it through thus far with only one set of stitches, so we must be doing okay!

  38. This is the perfect article for me this morning. I needed someone to say toughen up and you did it perfectly. Thanks.

  39. I love this idea; we have them on our boat.

  40. Sweet story, Carolyn!

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