On Palm Sunday of this year, my wife left me, and took the kids. Honestly, I’m the one who drove her away… all the way to Charlotte-Douglas airport, where they boarded a plane and flew to San Diego to spend Easter with her family, giving me that most rare and precious gift: solitude.
My family was gone for all of Holy Week, affording me some much needed time to focus on a few projects that had taken a backseat to the hustle and bustle of our daily schedules. I took full advantage of this opportunity to both work and rest, getting more of both than I typically would. I slept well every night. I wrote over 100 pages. I planned and led three special services for Holy Week. I cleaned the house, top to bottom. I hung out in my hammock and read a book.
The last project that I worked on, the day before my family came home, was a surprise for the kids: a mud kitchen.
My girls love being outside, and we love for them to be outside. But lately, with our stupid busy lives and stupid exhaustion and this stupid winter that will not end, we have spent far too much time inside, in front of the TV. My wife and I are against this. TV can be a fine distraction, and sometimes offers a very much-needed break to stressed out parents, but we don’t want the TV to have a dominant place in our home or our life together as a family.
So I took to my yard a couple Mondays ago to build a mud kitchen. A mud kitchen, for those unfamiliar with the term (as I was) is just a place to make mud pies and any other kind of play along those lines. I built ours out of repurposed wooden shipping palates and reclaimed landscaping timbers and old empty buckets and scrap lumber. I think the grand price was around $60, and half of that was on flowers to go in our two old planters.
But the value of this mud kitchen is immense. Among many other things, Mr. Rogers taught us, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” See, I gave my girls a mud kitchen to play in because I want them to learn some very important things.
I want them to learn that new and shiny are not required, so I put this together out of repurposed and reclaimed items. We live in a world that marks too many things- including people- as disposable, and is ever ready to cast the old aside for no other reason than it is old and there is something new. I don’t want my daughters contributing to such a junky life, so I made them something out of the junk.
I want them to learn to work hard and be proud of what they have accomplished, so I gave them shovels and pots and buckets and a work counter. When they first went out there Cas asked if I would dig up some mud for her; instead, I showed her how to do it. Now she’s out there on her own, digging and carrying and pouring and shaping, developing skills that are applicable to life. Oh, I doubt she’ll ever make money as a mud pie chef, but I guarantee she will have a successful life by working hard.
I want them to learn to use their imagination and be creative, so there are no instructions or guidelines or pre-fabricated characters in the mud kitchen. There is no limit to what they can do or how they can do it in that mud kitchen (other than what I don’t let them do for their own safety). So far they have fed a family, started a restaurant, taken care of sick patients, prepared food for the bees, and honestly I don’t know what else out there. If they can think it, they can do it- in the mud kitchen now, in the world later.
I want them to learn that God made dirt and dirt don’t hurt, so I gave them mud and rocks and sand and wood to play with. I recently heard that kids living on farms contract less illness when they start school than their more suburban counterparts. The reason theorized is simple; kids who are outside more, who are exposed to more germs and dirt and hazards from an early age, have stronger immune systems. What’s more, they are able to make better judgments on risk-taking, and are more confident.
I want them to learn that their worth is not in how pretty or clean or prim or proper they can be, so I gave them a mud puddle to stomp and laugh in. It’s pretty common for other folks to describe my girls as princesses, but I reject that. They are better than princesses. Now, they certainly have their princess fancies. Both girls like playing dress up in their princess costumes. Cas loves dancing around in her ballerina outfit. But as long as I have anything to do with it neither of my daughters will ever believe for one second that they must look or dress or act a certain way to be lovable and acceptable.
Finally, I want them to learn that they have a place in this world, a place in my world, so I made a place for them. It is just their size. It is for them and anyone they want to invite into it. Belonging is such an important thing to humans. God knows this, and has always provided us a place to belong, from Eden to the Promised Land to the Lord’s Table to Heaven. Now, I get to give my girls that same kind of gift, a place to belong, a place that is theirs, a place where they can be safe and happy and muddy.
 Though I have seen this quote numerous times, I have not taken the time to track down its origin in order to cite it properly. Today I am taking it from here: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/fred_rogers_193081