We didn’t have a lot of money for new clothing, but I’d always been able to find good deals at consignment stores and garage sales. I don’t think Abby even had any new clothing at all for her first 18 months of life. Oh, maybe some new shoes, a new shirt from a clearance rack, some socks, but nothing like the 3-piece matching Gymboree outfit I’d put on her that morning. I’d saved money and ordered it online in anticipation for some special occasion. I don’t even remember what that was now. All I know is that she looked darling in her little outfit and now I had to get dressed too.
“Watch Abby,” I said to Emily, who was 10 years old at the time, and my biggest helper since Beth.
And then I ran upstairs. It couldn’t have been more than ten minutes, probably closer to five since I’d already put on make-up and fixed my hair. Everyone else was dressed and ready to go.
I don’t know who opened the door and let her out, but when I came downstairs, Abby was nowhere to be found.
“Where’s Abby?” I asked, and before anyone could answer, I started calling out while I searched the house.
“Abby! Abby! Where are you?” By now I was getting frantic.
I ran out the front door of the house, my heart racing. It was a beautiful Spring day, with the sun shining and a soft breeze blowing, but I wasn’t thinking about the weather. There was a cow pen nearby, tractors coming in and out of our driveway, a cornfield. What if Abby had gone exploring, or walked toward the creek? She was an inquisitive child, very active and curious.
“Abby! Abby!” I screamed, and then I heard a small voice.
I looked in the direction I’d heard the voice. There, on the gravel road where the tractors made their rounds, sat my little girl. In a big puddle of mud. There was no mud anywhere else, just that one big puddle where Abby sat, all smiles.
As I ran down the grassy hill to the road I could hear a tractor approaching in the distance. She held out her dirty hands to me, giggling with unfettered joy. I snatched her up to me, pulling her close, ignoring the wetness I could feel through my own clothes. Carrying her to the house, I did a quick survey of the damage. The little swing top was crusted with mud on the back, the matching leggings black all over. Even the little barrettes I’d pulled her hair back with were splattered with mud.
We never did make it to whatever event it was that we were dressing up for that day, and the stains never came out of that outfit. I surely felt a great sense of disappointment over both, but when I look back now, the missed event and ruined clothing is not what I remember.
What I do remember is that happy, mud-splattered face and those dirty little hands reaching out to me. And the sound of the approaching tractor in the distance.
When my daughter calls me about the latest escapade of our youngest grandson, Joseph, I listen and make the appropriate noises. Jo-Jo is one of the most active babies I have ever seen, and that is saying something after my Katie and Abby.
Being a mother of little ones is hard work. It can be dirty work too with the jelly splattered counters, greasy fingerprints on the walls, muddy shoes, and yes, stained clothing. The mountain of laundry alone can be overwhelming.
Our Abby will be 7 this summer. I still won’t buy her white clothing, and prefer to buy used since she continues to be attracted to both dirt and puddles.
I watch my daughter raise my grandchildren and don’t envy her the dirty diapers, the crying jags with teething, the chasing of a rambunctious toddler.
But, oh, how I envy those little hands reaching out.