Puddle jumper

What is it about little children and puddles?

Recent rains have produced a profusion of the latter, making for a number of messy interactions with the former.

Walking back to my apartment the other day, I came upon a small class of young children, bookended by their teachers as they toddled along in a straight line down the sidewalk. The sidewalks of Cambridge being what they are, opportunities for splashing abounded, and the children were taking full advantage of them (much to the chagrin of their much more serious teachers). Luckily, the children were well clad for the excursion, complete with rain jackets and little rain boots, but water seems to have a way of finding its way through even the most impervious of attire.

Needless to say, the poor teachers soon had some very wet children on their hands.

As I crossed to the other side of the street to avoid being splashed upon, I had to smile to myself at the obvious delight these children found in hopping through the wet streets without a care in the world. They weren’t exactly singing in the rain, but they might as well have been. They were puddle jumpers, and nothing was stopping them.

My own case is somewhat different.

My roommate has told me that I’m not much better than a cat—I just hate to get wet. Certainly, there are appropriate times; in fact, I can think of two: showering and swimming. (My very funny grandfather, however, was inclined to disagree with that last one—whenever we went swimming, he would always tell us not to get wet!) The rest of the time, I can’t think of any good reason not to be dry. Natasha Bedingfield has that song about feeling the rain on your skin, but I can’t think of anything less enjoyable.

My umbrella would put most PGA golf enthusiasts to shame, and has been known to cover a family of four in extreme circumstances. I was thrilled to find that all of the buildings at my law school are connected by tunnels, so on rainy days I can remain completely dry until I go home. When absolutely forced to walk in the rain, I tread carefully between puddles and walk in such a way that I don’t kick up water from my heels.

It’s not that I hate the rain per se—not at all. I love it when it rains. I like to sit inside and listen to the rain beat against the windowpanes; nothing feels cozier than that. I love the special color that everything acquires when saturated with water. If you think that flowers are beautiful in the sunlight, you should see them dripping with rain! And I know that rain is necessary to water the earth.

It’s just that I don’t want to be out in it myself.

For this reason, it mystifies me that kids enjoy splashing around in puddles left over from the last rain. It may be fun to make a splash, I think, but then you’ll be a complete mess! You’ll be cold, and wet, and you may even catch cold… Don’t you think of any of that?

But of course, that’s just the point: they don’t think of any of that.

For a child of that age, the consequences of jumping in a puddle are quickly remedied. Someone who loves you may be temporarily exasperated, but then will take you home, get you out of your wet clothes, towel you off, and dress you again in warm, dry clothes. Where’s the harm in any of that? Truth be told, most children probably don’t even think that far down the line. They see the puddle, think it would be great fun to make a giant splash, and jump right in—consequences be… darned.

What’s more, I know that I was that way once, too. If I really put myself to it, I can recall a time when a big puddle seemed very tempting indeed. I don’t exactly remember why, but I know there wasn’t much consideration of consequences going on.

And on a recent rainy evening, I once again had the chance to experience what that sort of abandon was like. I had been at a friend’s party but had not brought an umbrella when I went, thinking that the rain was over for the day. As I stepped out the door to return home, I saw that I had been seriously wrong. Another friend offered me her umbrella, but that would have left her without one, so I decided to go it alone.

It was about a twenty-minute walk back to my apartment, and I had nothing to my advantage except a somewhat waterproof jacket. The rain did anything but slow down as I proceeded home; in fact, it rather picked up—as if to spite me for all the times I had successfully held it at bay. You’ve managed to stay dry for years, it seemed to say. But where’s your umbrella now, tough guy?

At first, my usual habits asserted themselves. I tried to step gingerly around puddles and avoid kicking up water as I walked. But this was somewhat difficult to do, not only because puddles were everywhere, but also because I was trying to make my way home with all possible speed.

By five minutes into my walk, the rain was really running down my face. After ten minutes, everything I was wearing was soaked, and I could feel the water building up inside my shoes. Soon, I could barely see through my rain-speckled glasses, and any attempt to avoid the puddles beneath my feet would have been a joke.

That’s when I decided to give up—or, rather, give in.

I decided that I couldn’t get any wetter no matter how long it took me to reach home, so I slowed my pace. I decided that since the whole street seemed to be a puddle, I might as well forge ahead in a straight line. Since I could hardly see, I had to let my feet lead me home. And since I was already soaked to the bone, I raised my face and really did give myself the chance to feel the rain on my skin.

It felt… wet.

Lest you think that this story ends with me rediscovering the childhood pleasure of jumping through puddles, allow me to spare you some disappointment by correcting you now. I was cold, wet, and still only halfway home. I did not throw off my shoes and start splashing around in the middle of the street. I simply got myself home, peeled off all my wet clothes, took a hot shower, and went to bed.

But I did learn something, there in the rainy streets of Cambridge.

What I learned was this: whatever happens to you in the rain is not something that a good towel and some warm clothes can’t remedy in a matter of minutes. The worst that can happen is that you get wet, and this is not the end of the world.

In fact, there was something incredibly freeing about knowing that I couldn’t get any more soaked—that the damage was done, that home was waiting for me, and that the rain was simply a reminder that I was… alive.

Which, sometimes, turns out to be a reminder we need more than we think.

In closing, I’ll leave you with this question, which has been on my mind ever since that night: Why do we change from children who enjoy splashing through puddles to adults who will cross the street just to avoid one? And not only why, but… when?

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