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Toddler Talk: Why We Play in the Rain

When I was a kid, I was a total storm chaser. Granted, I couldn't drive (I was, like, 8). But if there was thunder, lightning, rain—even the eerie green skies that accompanied blaring tornado-watch sirens—you couldn't keep me inside. Well, you could, but it usually involved dragging me bodily indoors, where I'd stare, enthralled, as the giant trees in our backyards bent almost sideways, praying to the invisible storm gods.

I don't know when I changed from the person who loved to run barefoot in the rain to the mom who totally avoided getting wet, but it happened. Growing up, going to work and attempting to keep my makeup/glasses/hair free of water all helped. Perhaps the deal was sealed after I moved to New York. My first big-city thunderstorm was during my morning commute, and I'd chosen to wear flip-flops (because it was summer, and I was ridiculous). I stepped off the curb and was suddenly ankle-deep in a rushing river of greasy brown water. I'm sure it was pure luck that I avoided hypodermic needles/dead rats/the plague.

I bought rain boots that lunch hour, and for the next 10 years or so of city living, I didn't play in the rain.

When I had my first child, we were total city-dwellers in the Bay Area. Though I took him to numerous parks, during the rainy season we were cooped up in our yardless apartment. And, though I wasn't a physics major, there's an equation every parent knows. I think it goes something like [number of days trapped inside house] x [number of children] divided by [apartment square footage] x [sugar consumed per day] = amount of parent's sanity still remaining.

For two years, I shielded my son from the rain, rushing him from Gymboree to playdate to the grocery store. Then, two months ago, we moved back to the Midwest. I had envisioned a sunny (OK, humid-as-heck) summer filled with outdoor play. You know, the perfect way to exhaust a 2-year-old. Instead, we got rain. Lots of rain. An entire July's worth of rain.

And my son avoided it as much as I did. I even tried to get him to play in the rain, but after a few drops hit him he ran back inside. I might have continued on a dry, storm-less existence if not for my own mother, who—in the midst of a two-week period of constant rain—grabbed my son and just went for a walk.

Barefoot.

The city-dweller in me panicked, running out to make sure there was no lightning (there wasn't), shards of glass on the street (there weren't), or … I forgot what else I was worried about, because my son was having so much fun.

After a brief initiation period, in which he stayed under the umbrella with his grandmother, my son became a total rainy-day addict. And I was reminded how wonderful it is to run free in a summer storm. And we've been playing in the rain ever since.

Some of my son's favorite things to explore on a rainy day:

• downspouts

• puddles, puddles, puddles (and reflections in puddles)

• water droplets on leaves

• feeling the raindrops on his hands, arms, legs and face

• helping carry umbrellas

• carrying umbrellas on his own

• running, running, running in the rain!

Of course, I always make sure we have a safe place for bare feet and a storm of the non-electrical variety, and I make sure that my kiddo doesn't get too cold. But I no longer avoid the rain or dread being confined inside on a rainy day. I know it's easier to get outside now that we live in the suburbs, but in retrospect I wish I would have taken my son to parks and played in puddles during our years in the city. It would have helped him expend energy and explore the world—and it would have helped me with my sanity. I just would have made sure he had a really awesome pair of rain boots, first.

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