I was at a barbeque last week with my husband and his car club friends. They were surprised when we told them our oldest daughter graduated from high school the week before. Although they are long-time friends of my husband’s, they only see our kids once a year at his club’s car show.
We were reminiscing about my daughter’s toddler years, when one of the wives remembered the time my daughter was running through a mud puddle after the club’s car show dinner. There had been ice in garbage cans keeping sodas and waters cold. When the cans were dumped, the melted ice pushed the gravel away, creating a couple great puddles. My daughter thought it was great fun. She was fully clothed, but it didn’t matter to me; it kept her entertained for a good hour while the adults finished cleaning up. Besides, kids are washable.
I feel the need to give a little backstory at this point: My husband was the youngest club member when he joined at 19 years old. By the time he met me, married me and we had children, he was in his early 40s. We had missed the prime family years of the other club members. So when our children were young, their kids were already grown up. I had no comparison to how the other club parents raised their children.
I remember the day of the car show very well. Several of the club members and their wives had gathered in the vicinity of my daughter’s unbridled glee splashing through the puddles. The other adults could not believe we would let our daughter run through mud puddles. I could not believe they never let their kids run through mud puddles.
Mud puddles run in my family. My mother was a believer in kids getting wet and dirty. When we were little, our backyard had plenty of opportunities to get dirty: sandboxes, hose water, sprinklers, balls, bikes, jump ropes, swing sets, play houses, trees. If we came in too clean, she sent us back outside to try again. When she took us camping or to the beach, she expected us to get wet, dirty, sandy and exhausted. My mother believed we were having fun only if it showed on the outside.
I approached raising my children in a similar way. When I began to plan a front garden, I hauled in topsoil and started deciding what to plant; then I waited five more years. My kids discovered that the rain and then later the hose water in all that fresh dirt made the best mud a kid could ever find. I left it unplanted until my kids had outgrown their mud years.
Along with the mud years were the puddle jumping years. I spent many an hour in a patio chair at the end of my driveway by a huge nature-made puddle watching my kids. They filled their rubber rain boots with puddle water by running in and out and doing 10-point landings as they jumped into the middle.
But the most spectacular times were when the puddles and mud mixed, like the day of that car show. As I stood there with the adults watching my little girl, one of the club members said, “If my kids had done that, they would’ve been in a lot of trouble.” Then, after a long pause while observing my daughter, he said, “But I don’t know why.”
I didn’t know why either. I think children grow best when left to play in the mud and run through puddles. And for every mud puddle they’ve conquered, I believe my now grown puddle jumpers have learned there is nothing in life that can’t be cleaned up and reconquered.
Gretchen Leigh is a stay-at-home mom who lives in Covington. She is committed to preserving the rights of puddle jumpers. You can also read more of her writing and her daily blog on her website livingwithgleigh.com or on Facebook at “Living with Gleigh.” Her column is available every week at maplevalleyreporter.com under the Lifestyles section.