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Stepping in the Puddles



Whether or not my shoes are waterproof, I tend to step around puddles and avoid mud. I’m not just worried about my feet getting wet; I’m also concerned with all that mud being tracked into the car and onto my floors at home. If I’m walking downtown or hiking a secluded trail, I stick to the path and try to stay dry. My daughter doesn’t understand this. She doesn’t think it makes sense. And on our recent New England adventure, she made this perfectly clear.

Two years ago, I took my son on a road trip. We drove through 12 states, exploring football stadiums, cities and mammoth caves. Nathan was about to become a teenager, and I wanted some alone time with him before he started pulling away. To this day, we still talk about the turtle that walked across the road — causing us to stop the car — just as we approached the “Welcome to North Carolina” sign. This summer, with my daughter having recently turned 13, it was time for our adventure. Maddie wanted to see the Northeast, so we flew to Maine, rented a car and drove down the coast, back to State College. Our first stop was Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park.

One could spend weeks in Acadia, but we only had two days before we’d need to move on. I wanted to soak up as much of the park as possible, so we started with a 2.5-mile hike that would take us to the top of Cadillac Mountain. It didn’t sound like much. We are both in good shape, and we were in no hurry. Not having done my homework, I was surprised to find the hike so steep and somewhat tricky. It was hot, and Maddie was not happy. She reminded me that she was not into all the beautiful views and sightseeing. She was more interested in swimming in the area lakes and exploring the coastal towns. Still, we pressed on.

As we neared the top of the mountain, there were several large puddles. Predictably, I stepped around them, but Maddie intentionally — and rather forcefully — tromped through them. Seeing that her brand-new hiking boots were now mud-soaked, I asked: “Why would you do that?”

With genuine curiosity and not a hint of attitude, Maddie replied: “Why wouldn’t you?”

We stopped and stared at each other for a moment — she smiling, me looking confused. I knew Maddie had been stepping in all the puddles since she could walk. This should be of no surprise to me. Also, why did I care? So what if the floor mats in the car got dirty? So what if she had to kick her boots off before coming in the house? As I stood there, considering, trying to remember why it’s so much fun to walk through a puddle, she passed me and continued up the trail.

We reached the top, and the views were spectacular; even Maddie was impressed. As we hiked back to our starting point, she revisited the puddles — with even more vigor and playfulness. I thought about walking through them, but my middle-aged stubbornness prevailed (I know, my loss).

A day later, we continued our journey, exploring Freeport and Portland. From there we moved on to New Hampshire, staying with friends at Lake Winnipesaukee. We kayaked and swam in the lake. I even tried paddleboarding. Later, Maddie would say that this stop was her favorite. I wonder if it had anything to do with the fact that I swam and splashed with her in the big puddle that was Lake Winnipesaukee.

We had dinner on the water in Portsmouth, stayed in a Civil War era loft in Providence and took a ferry to Martha’s Vineyard. We watched beluga whales roll and play in the Mystic Aquarium and ate the best apple pie at the Culinary Institute of America. During our drives, we listened to audiobooks, Maddie occasionally falling asleep, then waking and asking for me to fill her in on what she’d missed. On our final night, we stayed in a tiny house. This had been one of Maddie’s requests from the planning stages. It brought her tremendous joy to explore all the nooks and crannies, claiming one of the loft beds, discovering that each stair riser was a drawer, figuring out how to convert the kitchen island into a dining table. I watched her with delight, soaking in all that made this trip so memorable.

As we neared State College, our trip coming to an end, Maddie said she’d had a great time but was ready to be home. I was tired but sad that it was ending. I’d like these trips to become an annual event. I have so much to learn from my kids. I asked Maddie what she’d do differently next time. She said she’d like to go west, find some new swimming holes and, oh, she’d like to see her dad step in a few more puddles. •SCM


With a sports-obsessed 15-year-old son, a spirited 13-year-old daughter and a goldendoodle that looks like a muppet, teacher David Rockower has a lot to write about.

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