*it’s now 2013. I originally wrote this in about 1996. The two wonderful boys in this story are now 20 and 18.
The world’s best mud puddle forms at the end of our driveway, every time it rains. I’m not talking about a collection of rainwater that just hasn’t drained off; I’m talking mud. I’m talking about rainwater and dirt carefully formulated by nature to form a thick, gooey, mushy sludge that you can actually hold. If your lucky, nature will add in a bit of cut grass, for added texture and fun, of course. My boys have been dubbed “the Mud Brothers” in our neighborhood because that is their favorite place to play.
One afternoon we stopped at Publix on the way home from school. Living at the end of a dead end street, I have no insecurities about letting Curry and Cheyne play in the yard and the driveway while I carry the groceries in from the car. On this particular day, the rain left a terrific, deep puddle in the driveway. The mud had settled in a thick layer under the three or four inches of clear water.
I let the boys out of the car. Silly me, I thought they were actually going to stay on the porch while I emptied the car. By the time I put the first arm load of those annoying plastic grocery bags in the kitchen, and got back out to the car: curry was (pardon the pun) happy as a pig in mud, sitting in the puddle, playing with a toy boat. Cheyne was being mom’s little helper by “painting” my car with fists full of mud. His shoes and socks were a glorious shade of grayish-brown, as were his arms – up to his elbows. He found is necessary to advise me of his newest revelation: “mud is squishy!”
At this point, I could have reacted in one of two ways. I could have screamed and yelled, lost my temper, lectured, punished and scolded, and dragged them inside for a bath. That is a normal parental reaction when one child is found hip-deep in mud and the other is transforming the family car into the mud mobile.
I chose the other option. I politely commented that Curry looked like he was having fun, and asked him to remove his shoes and socks so I could wash them. Then I acknowledged Cheyne’s new found wisdom. “Yes, Cheyne, mud is squishy; but I don’t think the car really needs a mud bath.” I proceeded to take off his shoes and socks, and suggested he get his boat from the porch and join his brother in the puddle. I finished taking in the groceries while they continued to enjoy the mud. Fortunately, I don’t dress my children in their Sunday Best for school. I expect them to get a little messy – a little messy. I did ponder for quite a while, though, if that gunk would ever come out of their clothes, which it actually did.
Honestly, I am usually not that understanding, or calm. So many times I’ve heard parents reprimand children for getting dirty at school or at the park. Realistically, what more can we expect from preschoolers? They learn from hands-on experiences. Cheyne learned that “mud is squishy” by touching it. I could tell him every known fact about mud until he graduates from high school, but he is not going to understand how mud feels until he experiences it.
So it goes; every afternoon we pick up our dirty faced, sandy haired, lunch-on-their-shirts kids, and we have a choice as to how to react. We can scold and lecture them about getting their clothes (and themselves) dirty, or, we can praise them for learning about the world around them, and expanding their imaginations. After all, kids are washable.