Rolling in the Mud of Parenthood

Nine triple loading dryers roll and tumble, sending Tide-drenched steam through the laundromat, as about a ton of wet laundry hypnotically lulls me into a state of parental Zen. This isn't so bad. You'd think I would still be honked off.

My husband and I go away for a romantic weekend, only to learn on our return that our seventh grader and a friend we'll call “Little Miss Adventurous” concocted an exciting activity for a Saturday afternoon: Mud Sledding.

Yes, Mud Sledding. That's where you take a bike ride in the neighborhood and discover a pretty big hill that has just been cleared for development and now oozes with possibility. You quickly ride back home, change into your heaviest blue jeans, grab a sled from the basement (already in storage for next winter), and head back to slip and slide down the slimy incline.

Lest I paint a picture of an irresponsible child, I'll continue. After Mud Sledding, our pre-teenager and “Little Miss Adventurous” remove said jeans, along with seven or eight buckets of thick, black earth, and deposit them directly into my trusty Maytag. Add soap, turn the knob and it's off to the next activity. Something not messy, like “let's invent a virus!”

This isn't just any washer. It's a Maytag. We all remember the Maytag repair guy from TV commercials — the lonely man who never gets a call. When I shopped for a washer, did I consult Consumer Reports? No way! Maytag has a memorable ad campaign from my childhood! What more did I need to convince me to buy their product?

But not even a Maytag can handle the mud from those two pairs of jeans. Or the rocks, pebbles, twigs, and mulch. When I use the washer on Monday morning, black water seeps from under the bottom all over the laundry room floor.

What follows is predictable. A call to the appliance store. The cost to repair: $381. Or spend $500 on a new washer. Or get the front-loading, industrial strength machine of my dreams that spins at 1000 rpm's for a mere $1000.

But the money isn't the point. Nor is the fact that I'm now standing in the laundromat waiting for 2000 pounds of fabric to dry. Or that there's an older gentleman across the way who seems to think it's strange that my husband wears Mr. Potato Head boxer shorts (last year's Father's Day gift).

The point is, when I ask her if Mud Sledding is something I would have permitted, my daughter's eyes brim with tears as she softly squeaks, “No.”

Ah. The teachable moment. Covered in mud and costing a bundle, but here it is.

“Honey,” I say, “this episode is just about mud and the consequence is only money. What about two years from now, in high school, when someone suggests something really dangerous? Like drinking or drugs or driving? Or all of those at once?”

We talk about that “inner voice” that helps her make decisions — her conscience — and how sometimes her inner voice will sound a lot like her parents. We talk about using good judgment and how all actions have consequences. We talk about how much fun it is to have an adventurous friend but how important it is to be a leader, and how her job is to say “No” even if it means missing out on something that sounds exciting.

She feels really bad about the washing machine. But if a broken washer helps her stay out of the real mud down the road, it's a price I'll gladly pay.

(Marybeth Hicks is a writer and author of the features “then again.” and “A View from the Pew.” A wife of 17 years and mother of four children from second grade to sophomore year, she uses her columns to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families and the communities we share. Marybeth began her writing career more than 20 years ago in the Reagan White House. She also has worked in marketing and public relations positions in corporate and agency settings. Mostly, she spends a lot of time in her mini-van, where the real work of parenting actually happens. Learn more about Marybeth and her column at

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