It was one of the few beautiful fall hours last weekend, when for a short while the sun came out to illuminate the raindrops still clinging to the autumn-bent grasses in the front yard. I went out to soak up what would become the only rays of the day. Elle, however, was out there for another purpose altogether.
“Puddle!” she screamed, her glee barely contained in the slow-motion somersault of the stomping Velcro shoes and chubby swinging arms of a toddler running.
The puddle was perfectly still, there on the edge of the driveway. Its placid surface was like a frosted cupcake, or a blank sheet of paper. It was so perfectly unblemished, it absolutely had to be disrupted.
Luckily, the Elle somersault had arrived to resolve this problem of orderliness and tranquility. The quick one-two punch of trampling toddler shoes fixed the stillness issue. The resulting mud sprayed airborne did double-duty, solving the other disturbing subject of clean pants and dry shoes. She was thorough, stomping any semblance of calm out of this driveway puddle before moving on to the next – which was, again, too still and immaculate to compel a one-and-a-half-year-old to not disturb it.
I allowed this puddle-splashing to continue because we were in our driveway, just steps from fresh clothes and new shoes; because the sun was out, finally; and because, as a parent, you want to let your kid splash in puddles for the pure and simple fact that it delivers such obvious, pure and simple joy.
Yet herein lies the ongoing parental dilemma: How do I allow puddle-splashing for the sake of joy only sometimes? Because when it rains, toddlers are like bloodhounds chasing rabbits – once in the pursuit of puddles, they cannot be stopped. Yet sadly, there exist situations when splashing in a giant muddy puddle simply won’t do. How can I possibly teach my child the fine distinction of when it’s okay to stomp puddles (driveway, sunshine) and when it’s not (Blues and Brews Festival, raining)?
Unfortunately, in this world run by grown-up people hell bent on keeping their (and their children’s) shoes dry, puddle stomping is not suitable under most circumstances. The examples abound: She’d swing a fast 90 degree off the curb and into Main Street’s oncoming traffic for a puddle stomp – if I weren’t holding her hand that is, callously thwarting her plans. Crossing the street can never be accomplished, without drama that is, if there’s a puddle midway. And just last weekend, while playing at the playset near our house in the Meadows, I turned my head for just a moment (it’s always that moment you’re not paying attention that they get their brightest ideas) only to find Elle had wandered into the parking lot, where she was actually sitting in a pothole puddle. Why simply splash with your feet, when you can make it a whole-body experience? The sleeves of that cute pink sweater, on its first-ever outing, had already turned a sickly brown before I could fish her out.
Then, of course, there was the rainiest Blues and Brews Festival of all time. The rest of the festival-going public was covered in mud; why shouldn’t I just let my child follow suit as well? I tried that tactic Friday night, only to end up with a cold and grumpy child whose third pair of socks had turned to sickly wet growths enveloping her feet – ultimately, sending us home before Joe Cocker had even played “You are so beautiful.” Saturday, I had visions of Blues and Brews of yore, when the autumn sun shone brilliantly on the thousands of jolly folks raising their glasses in celebration of the Town Park’s last hurrah. By the time I had waited out the rain, hail, and wind, dressed Elle in triple layers, and squeezed her feet into the last pair of shoes that weren’t damp (and don’t exactly fit anymore,) my warm and sunny Grand Tasting visions had evaporated into a puff of cold air condensation billowing under Elle’s rosy red nose. When we arrived at the mud pit that had become Town Park, pushing our three-wheeler all-terrain stroller through the beery mire, Elle couldn’t have been happier. What a perfect occasion to paint her sweatpants brown! Again, mud and puddles sent us home, this time before Buddy Guy sang his first note.
After three loads of laundry on Sunday, I kept the faith that we would make it to town for Ryan Shaw. We dressed. We packed our bags, with twice as many extra clothes as our earlier attempts. We stepped outside. It started raining.
I am not a mother who never lets her child get muddy, cold, or wet. I wouldn’t say I’m particularly fastidious about keeping my child, or her clothes, clean or dry. She’s a mountain girl, after all; an evening spent in wet socks and muddy pants will only make her stronger! But, standing in our driveway on Sunday afternoon in the rain, I felt incapable of spending another evening chasing my child out of mud puddles at Town Park – then dealing with the repercussions caused by those nevertheless unpreventable puddle jumps.
I went back inside, where I deposited our bags and brought the radio to the open doorway. I tuned it to 91.7, cranked the volume, and joined Elle in the driveway – where she was free to splash in as many puddles as she wanted, and I was free to sit back, relax (under an umbrella), and enjoy the music.