When I was four or five years old, I was playing with my best friend outside in the mud. We didn’t just get a little bit muddy — we literally played, dug, rolled in, and threw mud at each other for the better part of an afternoon during a rainstorm. He had the perfect yard for such an endeavor: 30% of his yard was made up of loose dirt. That loose dirt, mixed with crazy amounts of rain, resulted in a little slice of soppy paradise. We kept playing in that mud until there was no chance of sneaking back into my parents’ house unnoticed.
When it came time to go home, I was dreading what my parents would say. I knew they didn’t like it when I played in the mud, and I also knew they had somewhere to go that night and my being muddy would delay their trip. So when my friend eventually got called inside by his mother, I quietly and slowly walked home with mud dripping off my clothes. My mom spotted me before I got into the house, and she was furious. She shuffled me, mud and all, inside and into her bathroom.
Her bathroom floor happened to already be wet on account of my dad having showered to get ready to go out. Consequently, as my mom turned on the shower to clean me off, I slipped on the linoleum and fell backwards and smacked my head on the bottom of the shower. A few hours later with about six new stitches in my head, I was finally clean and in bed.
That was the end of me and mud.
I could never be sure what frustrated them more that night, the fact that I had been covered in mud, or the fact that I made them late to their engagement that night. Regardless, I avoided the stuff for the rest of my childhood. The message from my parents — both of them — seemed pretty clear to me. No playing in the rain. No playing in the mud. Period.
The first time my wife Casey sent Addie out to play in the rain, my knee-jerk reaction was to put a stop to the rain playing. When I told Casey Addie shouldn’t be allowed to play in the rain, Casey gave me the simplest explanation: kids dry.
Such an obvious answer, and it really is that simple. After Addie played in the rain that day, she came in and toweled off, changed into her nighttime clothes, and went on about her day as if the earth was still round and the sun still rose in the east. Nobody turned into any kind of mud creature. No furniture was ruined. Addie’s clothes were washed and dried without incident. Consequently, Addie and Vivi have spent lots of time out in the rain splashing in the puddles and dancing in the rain.
Enter my mom.
She came to visit a few weeks ago. Now, I’m always a little concerned when my mom comes — not because she’s a bad grandmother — quite the contrary — but because Casey and I have a different style of parenting than she and my father did when I was little. I worry that her style will clash with ours, and Addie and Vivi will be the ones to feel the reverberations.
However, one thing my mom has become aware of since our little family moved to Indiana is that the Midwest gets a lot of rain in the springtime. My biggest fears had to do with that rain and the mud that results. My kids have come to treasure playing in both, and they have no inkling that anyone in the world would dislike mud. How could they?
On this recent visit, I was surprised to catch my kids and my mom out playing in the rain together. They easily spent an hour together out splashing in the rain. What’s more, when it stopped raining, my mom found a bucket of dirt that had turned to mud from all the rain. She gathered a few garden shovels and other toys, and next thing I knew, my kids were playing in a bucket of mud! About 20 minutes later, a few neighborhood kids had joined in, and they were all playing in the mud.
I thought, is this the same woman I grew up with?
When Addie and Vivi came in to start getting cleaned up, my mom said, “Kids dry and they can be cleaned.”
Huh. Turns out I unnecessarily missed out on a lot of mud playing when I was kid.
More on Babble Dad:More On