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2023 Aug

The Challenges of Life

Peggy reminds us of how we are connected and why empathy and grace matter most.

One of my favorite memories of my daughter, Sierra, is when she played in mud puddles beside our old house. We were adding on an addition, and there was mud, sand, and puddles everywhere—a child’s dreamscape. Sierra was about two and a half then, and I remember her diligently carrying buckets of mud and sand and water from one spot to another and then dumping them out.

Only Sierra knew what she was trying to create. Or maybe she wasn’t making anything at all, just enjoying how cool and soothing the mud and water felt on a hot summer’s day. I wish parents wouldn’t be so reluctant to let their kids play in the mud. As I’ve noted in these pages before, exposure to dirt and mud helps build immunities in young bodies. Besides it’s fun!

I was lucky my younger brother visited us during this mud-licious playtime and had his video camera. He took some great footage of Sierra playing in the mud, a big smile on her muddy face as she filled and emptied her bucket again and again. I haven’t looked at the video my brother made of Sierra in a while. It’s hard to watch because it brings back the sadness.

Sierra died 33 years ago this month in a swimming pool accident. I was inside our neighbor’s house giving our nine-month-old a bottle, and Sierra decided to jump into the pool when no one was watching. Needless to say, she couldn’t swim. It’s every parent’s worst nightmare, and I still remember that day like it was yesterday. Of course, losing Sierra changed my life in so many ways. I wonder sometimes how things would have been different if she didn’t die.

I bring this tragedy up so many years later not to seek sympathy. In fact, I hope Sierra’s death has encouraged other parents to be more vigilant when their kids are around water—especially swimming pools. Drowning is a silent killer, and death can occur in seconds. I wish more than anything I had been sitting by the pool when Sierra decided to go for a dip. But for some reason, I was meant to experience this tragedy early in my life and hopefully learn from it.

That’s the other reason I am bringing up Sierra’s death this month. I learned in the weeks and months and years following the accident that everyone is going through some kind of sadness in their lives. I have also learned that we should be gentle with people because more often than not they’re grieving a loss, too.

With all the anger and violence in the world today, let’s try to be more loving and kind to one another. We’re all connected, and with empathy and grace we can help each other survive the challenges of life.

And that mud puddle that’s calling your child’s name? Let him or her splash and play in it. Maybe you can jump in, too. Life’s too short to be serious all the time. And give your children a million hugs every day. Cherish them, protect them, love them. Do it for Sierra.

Peggy Sijswerda

Peggy Sijswerda is the editor and publisher of Tidewater Family Plus magazine. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction from Old Dominion University and is the author of Still Life with Sierra, a travel memoir. Peggy also freelances for a variety of regional, national, and international magazines.


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