Tales From the Trenches

Skunks and Pre-Programmed Puddle Jumpers

by brenda maas

Driving to school in early March, my kindergartner piped up from the back seat, “Who skunked? Did Daddy skunk?”

Now, before you think he’s referring to an occurrence of odious flatulence, you must know that he associates skunk smell—of the black-and-white striped variety—with his father being sprayed while bird hunting last fall. Thus his vein of questioning. I, on the other hand, associate the smell of skunk with spring. In fact, I welcome it as a sign that many mammals, humans included, are awaking and becoming energized by the warmer, lengthening days. What a relief!

Spring has that effect on many people, but perhaps none more than kids; especially young, uninhibited children. Warm sunny days give them permission to run, unrestricted outdoors. Jackets and shoes are often left by the wayside. Rainy days provide puddles—and an opportunity to jump; and, jump, and jump.

I truly believe that my boys are pre-programmed puddle jumpers. In fact, I think all kids are. From the first time my oldest son saw a puddle; he toddled over and, without any hesitation, jumped in. As he discovered the wonderful results—splashes, sounds, ripples and bubbles—he jumped again, and again, and again. His laughter was highly contagious and thus began a favored family activity—puddle jumping.

Back in March, after a wet snowstorm, I sent the kids out to play. “It’s probably the last sledding snow you’ll have until next year,” I reminded them as they groused.

“I sure hope so,” grumbled my middle, who would much rather play video games. I dragged the sleds out of storage yet again and located my somehow tighter-fitting snow pants.

Turns out that we spent nearly two hours sledding, building jumps, eating snow and talking smart; especially Mr. Video-boy. The combination of sunshine, fresh air and freedom was intoxicating. All the sibling bickering that frustrated me during the dreary late-winter weeks was replaced by sheer nature-induced happiness.

It’s one of Mother Nature’s lessons that I, as a parent, have to repeatedly learn: get out, get active and keep it simple.

Now, I always make sure my boys have puddle boots—or whatever outdoor attire the season dictates—so that we don’t miss an opportunity. Maybe I’m finally learning what generations of parents before me can’t really teach: no book, no amount of advice, no warning labels can prepare a parent for pre-programmed puddle jumper moments. They just simply happen. All you can do is watch, smile and enjoy.

And maybe, do a little puddle jumping of your own. Just watch out for skunks.

Brenda Maas, a transplant from Wisconsin, has been writing since she covered her high school basketball team for the local paper. She and her husband Brett sent the youngest of their three boys off to kindergarten this fall.