The mudroom was non-negotiable.
I scoured hundreds if not thousands of floor plans on the Internet before we built our home, a shortlist of priorities serving to weed out non-contenders. The absence of a mudroom was a surefire way to land a plan on the chopping block.
The house we brought our boys home to when they were born was in a neighborhood, a quarter-acre lot with a little back yard, but our outdoor space, however small, was sacred. As soon as they could walk (or crawl, in the case of my youngest, who followed big bro around from the get-go), afternoons were spent toddling around the yard, and the dirtiest spots drew them in like magnets. Leaf piles became construction sites, rivulets of rainwater just right for mixing up creative concoctions, and the sandpit beneath the swing set was a number of different things, perhaps a cave one day and a café the next. The heights of their imaginative play could be measured in the amount of dirt they tracked back through the house at the end of the day.
“You’re such a good mom,” people would say with sympathetic laughs whenever I shared photos of my kids covered in grime and grinning with wild abandon. They assumed that the mess was a point of contention I allowed only because it made my kids happy. But they were giving me too much credit. My motivation for offering them such messy freedom was much more self-serving than sacrificial. I simply learned early on in my life as a boy mom that this wasn’t a battle I wanted to fight. It required too much energy. We were all happier, more at peace, when I embraced the chaos.
Still, when it came time to move – the mudroom was non-negotiable.
When we broke ground on our new house, the construction site became the boys’ personal paradise. Mounds of dirt became mountains atop which they were both kings. Embankments became roller coasters they could ride over and over. The mudroom, naturally, was the first room that got any use as our house took shape. Here, we would shed our shoes before traipsing through the bare bones of each room. When the sink in the adjoining laundry room was installed, I used it daily to remove the dirt that continued to cover everything my kids wore. We bought all their clothes second-hand at consignment sales that year, all except a pair of good quality, kid-sized mud boots.
In many ways, I felt out of sync in that season, quite literally unsettled as we commuted daily from our temporary living quarters to the site of our future forever home. But there was a lot of personal growth, too. I gave myself plenty of grace and learned to go with the flow. For instance, we didn’t put up a Christmas tree that year — there was too much laundry piled in all the corners of our little living area to make space for it — but we did sink a few of our friends’ discarded trees into our new pond to create fish habitats. We also started growing our own food in a little garden on our property, but we ate most of our dinners from takeout bags on the unfinished back porch – we were rarely in a place with a working kitchen at mealtime. And it was all ok – good even. Little by little, I loosened my grip on my perception of perfection and lived in the present instead. We were all happier, more at peace, when I embraced the chaos.
We’ve been in our home for a year and a half, and my husband and I are working on a project outside, refinishing a swing we’ve rescued from disuse to place beside our pond.
The kids, however, are restless. They’ve been hopping half-heartedly from one activity to the next, abandoning bikes in the driveway and losing interest in their fishing poles after five minutes without a bite. My seven-year-old steps a little too close to the pond and his boots make sucking sounds as he pulls them out of the mud.
“I need to go clean off,” he whines. These days, the kid who could make mountains out of mud pits can forget how to have fun outdoors, too tempted by the pull of some kind of screen inside. What he really needs is some encouragement. “You’re a little boy – you’re supposed to be muddy!” I tell him.
“Yeah, get lost,” my husband chimes in. He means it in the best possible way. We’ve traded that quarter-acre lot they use to love for nine full acres, a world of possibility at their fingertips. Sometimes they just need a little nudge.
A few minutes later, I hear them debating their course of action. Hayes wants to play on the “island” in the upper pond, really just a circle of land that’s been exposed in the current drought. They’ll have to cross a moat of mud to reach it. His five-year-old brother hesitates. “Mommy said to get muddy,” Hayes coaxes. This line of reasoning is good enough for Drake, who decides to follow big bro once again.
I grimace a little on the inside. I did tell them to get muddy, but this is extreme – they’ll have to practically swim in the sludge to reach their destination, and today was cleaning day, all the floors shining, doorknobs degreased. I think how much easier it would be just to send them inside, succumbing to the lure of a screen. But that’s not my style, and I fight the uncharacteristic urge to restrict their play. “Just don’t go past the mudroom before I clean you off!” I call to little backs that are no longer listening, having crossed the threshold from boredom into blissful make-believe.
The decision not to interfere buys me an uninterrupted hour of peace to finish my project. They’re still playing when I head inside to start dinner. I can see them in their muddy kingdom out the kitchen window as I string beans from the garden. I think how much easier it would be if I just bought canned. But that’s not my style, either.
When they finally come up to the house, Hayes is up to his armpits in mud. His body above that point is untouched, a distinct line between the bright red fabric of his shirtsleeves and the slick brown below. I wonder how exactly he accomplished this. He and Drake strip down to their skivvies in the mudroom underneath a sign that says, “Drop Your Pants Here.” I find the sign funny in an ironic sort of way – they were dropping their pants here long before they were ever instructed to do so. Is it all kids who have an aversion to clothing in the house, or just my boys?
When they disappear upstairs to shower, the mudroom is anything but peaceful in their wake. Piles of wet clothes soak the floor, and shoes spill from their cubbies. But they made magic in the mud this afternoon – memories that will last them a lifetime. We will eat a home-cooked dinner together tonight, and this year, maybe we’ll cut our own Christmas tree. Yes, there is peace in the chaos, indeed.
Bre Humphries lives on a little hobby homestead in North Georgia with her two sons, a hunter of a husband (it’s his name as well as his favorite pastime), 11 chickens, four goats, two pigs, and a dog. Quality time is her love language, she’s passionate about whole foods and healthy living, and she’s happiest when she’s outside, especially in the fall. In whatever quiet time she can carve out, she writes for North Georgia Living magazine and, occasionally, a personal blog, https://backandmoon.wordpress.com/