I was engrossed in hanging out the laundry when the bus arrived home. After a couple of minutes, my daughter joined me on the back deck. “Mummy, why aren’t we allowed to play in the mud at school?” I looked over at her: she was wearing navy pants and a brown hoodie with nothing underneath it. I hadn’t seen either of these pieces of clothing before. I immediately guessed that it wasn’t a hypothetical question. For a moment, I thought that there was a punchline coming. “Is this a joke?” I asked.
“No.” She looked at me with wide eyes, genuinely asking. “Why aren’t we allowed to play in the mud?”
My first three thoughts:
- Don’t laugh!
- I own clothing that is Teflon coated specifically so that the mud will wash off, so my credibility level here is going to be low. I entertain a very brief memory of falling off a log into some kind of spiky swamp plant in the wilds of northern Ontario. Oh, yeah. I’ve got no cred on this one. Also, we let her spend about an hour rolling down the compost pile on the weekend.
- See? This is exactly why your snowpants are brown!
She looked at me earnestly. I asked her, “Do you really not know?” “No!” she insisted. (Now, in case anybody is going to labour under the misapprehension that I figured this one out on the fly, allow me to inform you that the ensuing conversation took place in fits and starts over the next hour, between points where I had to remove myself to behind closed doors for moments of giggling.)
I managed to come up with this: Your teacher doesn’t have time to clean you up after you are playing in the mud. Also, you have no spare clothes there. Phew. I thought I was done.
Then she handed me the note from the teacher. The note included the words, “inappropriate and unacceptable for a seven-year old” and “as I mentioned on her report card.” I had a moment of pique, as I felt that my parenting was under attack here. I pulled out the report card, and noted a mild reference to having to speak to her repeatedly about following rules. So I asked, “Did you know that you weren’t allowed to play in the mud?” “Um… sort of yes, sort of no.” I suspected that “sort of yes” is more accurate, but I was still on the investigation front. I looked at the note again. It said that she decided that it “would be fun to sit in puddles.” So I asked her what seems the obvious question. “Was it?” (Apparently it was.) Also, when she was scolded by the teacher, apparently her reply was that she, “didn’t mind being wet.”
She said that she had asked her brother why the rule was there, and he said it was a bad rule. He’s 11 and has never been scolded for playing in the mud, so I was surprised to hear that he didn’t get it either. I asked what they thought a better rule would be, and she suggested that they should have to bring spare clothing. I pointed out that, while that had merit as an alternative, it still meant that they would have to take an extra 15 minutes to get the children changed after recess, and that it probably wouldn’t fit with the school’s plans, and that I was sorry that they thought it was a bad rule, but I was going to support the school on this one.
So, there was a pause. Later, when considering the position that this was somehow out-of-the ordinary for a child her age, I asked, “Were you the only one sitting in the puddles?” She told me that there were 3 of them sitting in the puddles after a period of 7 of them jumping in them. (I get the impression that the jumping was somebody else’s idea, but the sitting rested squarely on my child’s shoulders.) And I was torn. I was so sorry for the poor teacher, having to find clothing for a third of her class after first recess. It seemed like the kind of situation that might lead a teacher to question her choice of career, and I could completely understand the frustration in the note. But at the same time, I desperately wanted to laugh until the tears were streaming down my face… only later, maybe. When my daughter wouldn’t catch me at it. Because this is not the sort of thing we want to encourage… certainly not when she is wearing white leggings.