Leaning on Each Other

Another parent and I were on our way back to the car after an outdoor adventure with the children (then ages five, four, four and two), when they discovered a big, deep and irresistibly inviting mud puddle. (I had noticed it on the way out, and had carefully not called attention to it, casually steering them in a slightly different direction.) They couldn't resist trying it out just a little bit--and immediately checked us out to see what our response was going to be. Now I try to be relaxed about things like water and dirt, guessing that the pleasure they give the children probably outweighs my desire for cleanliness and order, and I knew that this other dad felt the same. But this was a very big and very muddy puddle. What should we do?

I looked at him and he looked at me. If I had been alone, I know I would have hustled the children away from all that dirt and water and gotten them safely into the car as soon as possible. If he had been alone, he probably would have done the same.

But we had each other. Taking a middle course, we suggested that they wade a little, but try not to get very wet. This invitation to restraint, however, was doomed from the start (as I think we had both secretly known it would be.). Small children, faced with a big puddle and given a little permission, are not likely to exercise moderation. They were in up to their ankles, then the tops of their boots, then above. Once it had gotten that far, and they were already wet, there was no logical place for us to tell them to stop. Soon they were up to their knees. Then, inevitably, one of them fell all the way in. He squealed with pure pleasure and invited the others to join him. They raced and slid and splashed and fell--and howled with delight. My friend and I kept looking at each other as the children got wetter and muddier and happier, both of us counting on the other's support to get us through.

Finally, we came to an ending place. (I don't remember clearly, but I think it started to rain. Though they couldn't have gotten any wetter, we had managed to stay relatively dry up until then.) We stripped the children down to their underwear and popped them into the car, still squealing with delight. Back home, we streaked into the house, headed straight for the bathtub and dry clothes, then made warm drinks and biscuits and had "tea" by candlelight (the children's idea). It was a wonderful ending, for all of us, to one of the best adventures ever-- and one that has certainly never been forgotten.

There were two lessons here for me. I learned--once again--that children deserve a chance to experience the pleasure of play in mud and water (or its equivalent). As parents who hate mess, we can be thoughtful about choosing the time and place and figuring out how to minimize the hardship on us, while not detracting from their pleasure. More important, I saw in action what great use we as parents can be to each other. Just having another adult there made everything seem more possible. I felt stronger, more resilient, more flexible, more tolerant, more loving even. I was leaning on my friend, he was leaning on me--and rather than the drag of dependence, both of us felt only the great gift of support.