I was thinking the other day of childhood and what it was like. Being a kid is probably one of the most overrated, underappreciated conditions of life.
One of the reasons it seems like such a golden time to us is because we conveniently forget how we really felt about things back then.
One of the earliest memories I have, is one of total humiliation and frustration.
Not sure how old I was, but probably around four or five. It had been raining all day. Our family consisted of Mom and Dad and I and we lived in a trailer back before trailers became mobile homes. As an adult, I learned that the trailer, which seemed so big to me as a child, was only 25 ft. long, smaller than most modern RVs.
It had been a long rainy day for Mom, cooped up in a tiny trailer with a four-year-old and no TV (yeah, it really was that long ago!).
When Dad came in from work, I recall some low-pitched adult talk and then Dad asking me in a very casual voice if I thought I could handle going to the store for him.
Some perspective here—it was a tiny trailer in a tiny trailer park and the store was the park office in the middle of the park, in full sight of our front door. But at age four, I had never been allowed to go anyplace “all by myself.” This was my big chance. I was excited. I was also, as I always have been and probably always will be, practical.
I parroted the phrase I’d been hearing from Mom all day: “I can’t go outside. It’s raining.”
A man of few words, Dad said, “Is not.”
I looked outside. Sure enough, as if he’d arranged it himself, late afternoon sunlight was pouring from behind the clouds.
This was it, my big chance. I had new boots, those pull on kind that wrap around your ankle and fasten with a small elastic loop over a button. I sat out on my big adventure wearing shorts, a t-shirt and…those boots.
An intoxicating sense of freedom swept over me…not only because I was going to the store by myself for the very first time, but because those new boots were so empowering. I could walk anywhere I wanted and not worry about getting in trouble for getting my feet wet or muddy.
Money in my fist, fully briefed in what to ask for, I crossed the park drive and there encountered—the BIG PUDDLE. To my four-year-old eyes it looked as large as Lake Michigan. On the other side I could see my goal, the brick building that housed the park office. Behind me I could feel the confidence of the parents who thought I could handle adult responsibility (so I thought at the time, but who I now know stood at the window, chuckling at my shuffling, booted, four-year-old swagger).
I hesitated only for the briefest moment. After all, I had my new boots and a mission. What could go wrong? Without a backward look, I marched fearlessly into the puddle.
It was the boots that did me in. They gave me too much confidence—and they were just enough too big that when they sank into the mud and I tried to take my next step, my foot came out of them. And of course, there’s that silly physics rule that says “For every action there is a reaction.” When my foot came up out of my boot the water rushed in. And when in dismay and shock, I crammed my foot back into the water filled boot, water shot up around my little four-year-old behind like a fountain, which is what I must have looked like, standing there in the middle of the BIG PUDDLE, yelling like a banshee for my daddy.
I have to give him credit. He only stood at the edge of the water for the briefest moment laughing and he even tempered my humiliation by sweeping me high in the air, dripping water like a little fish, for a ride to the store in his arms.
This story doesn’t have a moral. There’s no great human truth that I learned here and took with me through life, but I must admit that I do sometimes stop before I plunge into some big undertaking, full of the sort of confidence that comes with new boots and ask myself, “Is this The Big Puddle all over again?”