Here in February, the sun’s been pushing a cosmic blob of heat against Wisconsin like a sponge, scrubbing away much of the scuzzy snow and ice we’ve been tiptoeing around for weeks. It’s been melting away our cold wintry scowl, softening our cheeks into a smile.
It’s been 40 degrees. And warmer.
I’m quick to think, “This isn’t Wisconsin. I need more winter. I’m not done hibernating. I’m not done with deep, dark reflection upon my soul and stuff like that.”
But when you step outside beneath a fiery blue sky and you feel the heat soaking straight through your winter coat, right into your chest, it’s hard not to surrender. So I must admit – I’ve been liking this tender February.
Except for one thing. One thing is giving me grief.
There is a mud puddle at the end of my driveway. A big one. It forms whenever it rains or whenever the snow melts in the springtime. The years have not been kind to the end of my driveway – the spot where the concrete meets the street is slowly sinking and water doesn’t drain away as it should. There’s always a buildup of dirt down there, so the meltwater turns milky brown. Beneath the surface is a slick layer of greasy mud.
It’s really hard for me to keep my mouth shut and remember what my son and daughter don’t need. They don’t need to hear me warning them to “be careful” or to “watch it, now.” They don’t need to hear about how we’ll need to change their clothes when they come back inside, about how long it’ll take for their mittens to dry out.
And my kids love it. They’ve probably spent more time in that damn puddle than in the big sand pit we built for them. They run to it, their rubber boots wapping against the ancient cement panels of our driveway. And I bite my lip. I squint. I try not to say anything.
“This is what mud puddles are for,” I say to myself as gunky water explodes into the air. Kids are supposed to get wet and dirty. But it’s really hard for me to keep my mouth shut and remember what my son and daughter don’t need. They don’t need to hear me warning them to “be careful” or to “watch it, now.” They don’t need to hear about how we’ll need to change their clothes when they come back inside, about how long it’ll take for their mittens to dry out.
What do they need? They need me to introduce them to as many mud puddles as humanly possible. All day, every day: mud puddles. They need to feel icy water filling up their shoes, they need to see that water spray across street with each stomp. They need to slip in the muck and fall down. And then get back up.
Who do I think I am, putting evil thoughts into their heads about muddy pant legs and sopping wet mittens? These warnings might make me feel better, but it makes them feel frustrated and resentful. It puts me at odds with what their hearts need.
Dealing with angry kids is the price you might pay while teaching some very important lessons, but in the case of our big, huge mud puddle ... it’s just not worth it. And honestly, when it comes to muddy joy – and the memories it makes – ruined pants seem like a small price to pay.
So there they go. Giggling as they race down the driveway. My son leaps as high as he can, his jacket flying behind him, his boots crashing down. My daughter gallops in and begins a weird dance, clomping side to side like some kind of giddy exotic bird. I watch, not completely OK with it, but doing my best to leave them be. And to just be.
People, across the Chippewa Valley pools of muddy water are out there waiting for us. They are cold and still and they reflect the sky. They are waiting to teach us a lesson.