Friday, March 22, 2013

besmirched...and also why I love our urban hardware store

oh, mud season in Maine.

When we were at out most recent parent teacher conferences I got the distinct impression that I was being tested when our son's teacher mentioned the condition of the students as they were released to their families each day.

Well, the kids have certainly been enjoying the warm weather at recess, she said.
Yes they have!  we both agreed.
It is causing quite a bit of mud on the playground.
Oh yes!  we said.  We are washing the outerwear almost every night.  
Um hmmm.  

Oh.  I get it.  We were having a standoff.  She was employing my therapeutic technique of meeting someone with silence...making them just uncomfortable enough, for just long enough...that they...spill their beans (or deepest darkest secrets in my former line of work).  She was probing how we felt about their lack of rules about playing in the mud during recess.  Were we of the pro or con parent group of getting messy.

Now, let me be clear.  I am a firm believer in messy play.  But she does not know this about me.  Clearly this teacher does not know what is going on at home right now.

Because we here at ye olde homestead?  We are maine mud season dirty.  We are, as they say here, wicked dirty.  And happily so...well, mostly.

So how do I know it is mud season here?

Well, let's see.  So far, on two separate nights, we have left the dogs out in the yard a bit too long.  Long enough for them to get into trouble.  With a white striped stinker.  And both times, because apparently we have trouble learning from past mistakes, we have let our dogs come in to the kitchen without assessing their...aroma.  Now, have you ever smelled fresh...truly fresh, like just sprayed right outside the back door fresh skunk?  It is not the smell that I would expect.  And it takes me several moments to identify it.  Apparently it needs to breathe, waft, and aromatically ooze for a bit before it takes on that odor that we all can identify.  And both times, moments after letting the dogs in for the night, noticing a smell, wondering, denying, getting angry, and accepting that they did get sprayed process occurred right in our kitchen as they wiggled their happy greeting to us in front of the kids' prepared back packs, lunch bags, and outerwear.  By the time they were rushed back outside and a temporary home had been prepared for them in the barn for the night, the smell was everywhere in the house.

Speaking from experience, there is such as thing as growing used to the smell of skunk, despite how terrible and strong it is.  The first night we were skunkified, we did our best to deodorize and fret. But it was late and we went to bed soon after, hoping that the smell would lessen...disappear during the night.  And when we woke up, it seemed it had done just that.  Poof!  Like magic.  How did we get so lucky?  So we happily went about our morning routine, took a few extra sniffs of our parkas and backpacks, loaded into the car, and headed to school.

And then it started.  Standing next to Julia as she took off her parka and stuffed it into her locker I heard it.

Ew.  What't that smell?

Oh dear.

And I must say that nothing makes you feel like a fabulous mommy more than sending your three delightful children off to school, well breakfasted and prepared for almost any kind of springishly unpredictable weather, smelling bad.   And having them return to you telling you all the ways in which the kids at school told them that they were sporting a disgusting smell.

Another sign of mud season in Maine?  How many dustpans of dirt I fill up each time I sweep the kitchen.  Yesterday's count, if you exclude the wood stove area which created one pan full of ash, was 3.  Three dustpans full of dried mud.  Also known as dirt.  In my kitchen.

A few weeks ago, I noticed that our clothes washer was stopping mid cycle, which I did my best to ignore, but sadly it began to happen more and more frequently.  Having rooted around in the coat closet for that bin that holds all of our appliance manuals, I eventually found it (but aren't you impressed that I have said bin?), and I looked up the error message we were getting.  Blocked drain.  Hmm.  So I used the machine for a few more days of course.  Denial is a very good strategy.  And then one night I went to open the machine's front loader door.  And out gushed a wave of dirty, soapy, and COLD water.  OK.  Time to get serious.

The next day I stopped by the hardware store after dropping the kids at school.  I love this place.  Their service is amazing, as for example it includes strolls out into the parking lot together to see how a paint color looks in the sunlight, and many times we leave with advice that works, without having spent anything.  I mosied about the plumbing section for a bit, looking at snakes and other things to declog, having really no idea what I was doing.  Eventually the very knowledgeable employee found me and came to my rescue.  After an amazing series of questions that helped him determine what our problem was, what he needed to know about our washer, and timing of our kitchen's most recent renovation, he took me to the piping section and told me just what we were dealing with in terms of equipment and just why what I planned was not going to fix my problem.  He sent me home with advice, suggestions...and kindly suggested that if it was easier, I could just snap a picture on my cell phone and bring it back to show him.

The advice I was given was a bit daunting.  It included a garden hose, baking soda, vinegar and a rag.  And I was to be sure I really had a good seal on the garden hose/drain hose connection.  I did what any competent and intelligent woman would do.  I decided to wait until Jonathan got home.

After the kids went to bed, I finally had a chance to tell Jonathan about the chemistry experiment we were about to undertake.  I started to dig around for a large bucket and some towels.  Jonathan, looking tired and overwhelmed suggested we try the hardware stores's first piece of advice before we undertook anything quite so...explosive.  He headed to the basement.  There were some unexplained noises for a bit.  And then, well, look at that!  He had found a carefully installed drain catch valve, meant to actually be opened and cleaned out!  Well.  Wonders never cease.

A bucket full of a terrifying ooze of dog hair, filth, and sludge later and the machine was back in business.  For now.

A few days ago we had a particularly warm day and the river bank was sunny and dripping with the melting run off.  Julia and Elliott came running to ask, can we play in the mud?  As I have said, I am a strong supporter of the messy play. I aim my children toward puddles instead of around them.  So I said sure!  

A few minutes later I wandered down the hill toward the sound of giggling.  And found them in a patch of mud created by one of the areas into which water collects and then runs in little rivulets down to the river.  They were completely covered in mud, top of head to Bog covered toes, and Elliott was sitting in a hole, filled with muddy cold water that their splashing, jumping, and kicking had created.  They were having a very good time.  And I smiled.  They looked, as Elliott's teacher had described the children at school, chocolate dipped.

I said little, and exaggerated my smile, because I could tell they were watching my face to see just how serious I had been about it being ok to get messy.  I headed back to the house to make dinner, and they followed a few moments later, not so smiley, the cold having finally reached their senses.  They sat on the back step and pulled off their wonderful and completely waterproof boots.  And poured muddy water out of them onto the ground.  Apparently they are waterproof from the outside in and from the inside out.  Good to know.

I wished for a laundry sink in the basement as I rinsed out their Bogs and placed them upside down on the woodstove's hearth.  I sent the kids, their hair and faces speckled with some really rich and lovely colored mud, up to the bathtub.  I squeezed their clothes into the kitchen sink and rinsed them and popped them straight into the washer.  I pressed the power button and wondered how long it was going to be until we needed to empty the basement drain again.

So, how do we feel about messes in our house?  Afraid of mud, things that smell now, or even things that may smell later (because believe me, those boots?  Two weeks later? They were the source of a very foul stench)?  Not us.

Despite the dripping backpacks, the torn snowpants knees, and the incessant washing and resulting clothes washer damage, I must admit.  I like my kids chocolate dipped.

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