Making mud pies: Joy in the dirt

Mar 11, 2008 at 3:00 a.m. ET

When I picked up Sunshine from preschool today, she was in her spare clothes.

Huh, I thought, I hope she didn't have an accident, it's been a while since that happened. Sunshine gave me a huge hug and kiss then went back to the "pirate ship" while I gathered her things. Usually she informs me of things like this as soon as I see her, but nary a word today. Huh, I thought again.

I greeted the teacher and turned toward Sunshine's cubby to retrieve her belongings. Oh, I thought as I saw her coat. And pants. And gloves. And hat. Someone made mud pies on the playground. Judging from how deeply the mud was ground into her corduroys, she had a really, really good time doing so.

I smiled and turned back to look at the teacher, holding up the pants. The teacher chuckled, "Yes, she did find the mud today." I couldn't help but chuckle, too.

I asked Sunshine about it on the way to the car. "Did you make mud pies today?" I asked, tickling her behind the ear.

"Yup, I did," she said with a huge smile and complete satisfaction on her face, "They were really yummy!" She didn't need to say another thing; the smug grin said it all. I could see that she experienced pure joy in those moments, entranced by the feel of the wet dirt in her hands and the completeness of her imagination. And I don't think her brothers ever brought home clothing that was quite so dirty.

I thought to myself as I strapped her into the car seat, I need to let go more. That free experience with mud certainly wouldn't have happened on my watch. I'd be too concerned with the clean up and saying things like, "Yuck," or "Don't." Just because I don't like to play in the mud quite like that doesn't mean she shouldn't experience it with me as well as at preschool. I should be more careful about not letting my laundry concerns cloud her play.

Or maybe that's what preschool is for.

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