Children love puddles

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 21, 2010

Not too long ago in the aftermath of a sudden thunderstorm, I was driving down a familiar street when I noticed a couple of little boys jumping and splashing in a mud puddle. I couldn’t see the expressions on their faces, but I had no doubt that each registered delight. Aren’t most children attracted to mud puddles? Don’t most love playing in water, whether it’s a vinyl pool in the back yard or squirting each other with a garden hose?

Suddenly a scene came to mind that returns now and then. It was a hot, muggy day at our house on post at Fort Jackson, S.C. We were enjoying snacks and cold soft drinks with our friends who had dropped by with their daughters, 3 and 5 years old. The children were playing in the yard on our 4-year-old son’s swing when a sudden, heavy thunderstorm came up, driving them inside. When the storm passed and the sun came back out, our son and the little girls rushed back outside. As is the nature of children, they headed straight for the three-foot drainage ditch that separated our yard from our neighbors. The ditch was harmless enough most of the time, but when we had a heavy rain, it sometimes filled with water too rapidly and could turn dangerous.

On this day, the water flowing through the ditch swirled with debris. Oh what fun, our carefree boy and girls probably thought. We suddenly noticed that all three of them had stationed themselves on the damp, soft ground so that they were close enough to bend over the ditch. To our horror, they were amusing themselves by snatching leaves, sticks, and other things from the rapid-moving stream of water.

Recognizing the danger of their precarious position beside the drain, we all rushed toward the door to call them back. The girls’ father made it there first. He opened the kitchen door and yelled at them. “Move back and stop grabbing that stuff out of the water,” he had admonished. But at that very moment, the 3-year-old lost her footing and slipped feet first into the ditch. Only her head bobbed above the water as her 200-plus-pound father flew out the back door. He descended the steps of the back stoop two at a time, and raced the few feet to the ditch. He snatched his daughter out of the water by her shoulders and screamed, “I’ll cut the blood out of you.” He then set the wet, startled child back on the ground. As she sobbed and clung to his legs, his anger cooled. He hugged her in relief, while at the same time admonishing her about her carelessness. (Of course, he never really “cut the blood” of one of his children when they misbehaved, but it was a threat he often used.)

Sometimes after a thunderstorm, I wonder if there is a grown-up woman somewhere who remembers a scary plunge she took in a drainage ditch.