Mud, mud, glorious mud,
Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood.
So follow me, follow me,
Down to the hollow,
And there let me wallow in glorious mud.
~ From the hippopotamus song by Flanders and Swann
I imagine this song rolling constantly through the brains of my boys when the snow starts to melt.
We live in Canada so are fortunate to experience four true seasons. While the year can be divided equally into four parts, and the way that the earth and sun dance around the heavens does give us equally spaced days between equinox and solstice, the four seasons are definitely not all the same length. Summer flies by yet hangs out as the dog days for a remarkably long time; autumn just gets here before it turns to frigid waiting; and eagerly-anticipated winter teases us, then offers a treasure of snow and ice and wondrous fun. Then it continues, and continues, and warms up for a bit, then turns cold again. Some years it seems to last forever. Then, finally, comes spring. A chance to run outside without quite so much clothing, without worrying about frozen ears and toes; a chance to shed layers and worries of frozen little bodies, to feel the sun on our backs and faces, and to bid farewell to the much-loved and played with snow and ice as it all melts away. A sad time? Possibly. Canadian kids do love the snow, but saying farewell is okay because with the melting of the snow comes mud. Lots and lots of mud.
It’s not always easy for adults to embrace the squishy, soaking, filthy, get-everywhere reality that is playing in the mud. My boys have taught me that even if I’m not okay with it they are going to do it anyway (I honestly believe they just can’t help themselves!) so I have learned to welcome, plan for, and embrace lots of playing in the mud.
In case you happen to be someone who finds it difficult to embrace the mud, here are a few tricks I’ve learned that make it easier:
Dress for it, you and the kids. Rubber boots on their own don’t provide much insulation on a just above freezing afternoon, so we make sure to wear wool socks inside our wellies. They have the added bonus of maintaining their insulating properties even when wet. Along with boots, we all, even me, sport rain pants and possibly rain jackets, depending on the depth of puddles and the potential for falling over face first, which, let’s face it, is always quite high.
Bring extras of everything. Whether I’m pushing a stroller or wearing a backpack, I always bring along extra socks, pants and sweaters for each of the kids. Yup. That’s three of each, but we have often used up this extra clothing. I often throw in an extra pair of shoes for each of them too. I have learned that although I am willing and able to hand off my woollies to sweet little ones who’ve had a soaker, I would much rather keep wearing them myself. If extra kids are coming along with us, as is often the case, I bring extras for them too.
Plan for getting soaked. With my three boys it is almost inevitable that at least one will end up drenched from head to toe before we head home. The stroller always has a blanket in it so that when this happens, we have an added measure of warmth to hand out. I must admit, I also find it easier to snuggle up with my sad, soaked babe when there is a fuzzy layer of fleece helping to keep us both dry. There have been times (more than one!) when we have gone through all of the extra clothes that we had and we ended up heading home with a half-naked babe swaddled in blankies in the stroller. Of course, the kids thought it was hilarious, and it was much easier for me to enjoy the stroll home since I knew that cold was not an issue.
Be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. As much as I enjoy having a plan and hope for an extended outing, sometimes the wet or muck can be too much for the kids and they just need to get home for the comfort of a warm bath and a rest. We don’t play in the mud at the halfway point of a day-long spring hike, we do it in the forest that is a 15 minute walk from our house.
Be ready to stay as long as possible. We fill our bellies before we head out for serious mudding, and I bring along snacks. Early spring days sometimes surprise us with their warmth, earthy smell, and birdsong. When the kids get tired we need to head home, but if possible I want to do whatever I can to make it easier to stay out until then.
A couple of tools and toys can really help prolong the play and take it to another level. When we’re in the forest or by the river all we need are the sticks and rocks we can find. If we’re mudding in the sand at a nearby playground, my boys really enjoy bringing along their trucks and buckets and shovels. Sometimes we fill up the wagon with as many as it can hold, and we take them all. That way we have enough to share with any friends we may meet along the way. Nothing says ‘let’s be friends’ like sharing toy dump trucks and diggers.
Part of loving a Canadian winter is loving when it comes to an end. When spring is in the air we all want to be outside as much as possible. For my boys, that means splashing around. While I do enjoy puddle jumping, I must admit that I would choose other ways to spend my time than getting soaked and filthy. Sadly, in the blink of an eye, my babes will also be making other choices. In the meantime, in this time that we have, I’ll do what I can to make the springtime mudding possible and pleasant, and enjoy every moment of it right along with my boys.
Mud: there really is nothing quite like it.
Sonja Lukassen used to get paid to bring city-folk into the forest. Now she does it with her family and friends in Ottawa, Canada. She blogs about their exploits and shares ideas at her blog.