“A messy kid is a happy kid!” screams my son as he hurls himself off a tree limb and into a mud-filled puddle.
A messy kid is a happy kid, I remind myself again as I double-check the tote bag I packed us: towels, wipes, water bottles, change of clothes for him, change of clothes for me, extra shoes for him, plastic bag for the wet stuff, baby powder to get the sand off, hand sanitizer, sunscreen, bug spray, pails and shovels, snacks, snacks, and more snacks, and a dozen frozen juice boxes in the cooler.
Mom life means packing more stuff for one afternoon at the park than I used to take on an entire girls’ weekend (remember those?). My kid swings freely through the branches, climbing everything in sight, jumping from log to log, racing toward the next adventure.
He splashes from pond to pond, navigating reeds and marshes, picking up one rock or another, putting more in his pocket than he puts back on the ground.
He uses his wild imagination to turn sticks into swords, freeze rays, shrinking magnets, grower-uppers, magic wands, and whatever else pops into his ever-expanding 5-year-old mind.
His world is getting bigger by the moment.
His heart is getting bigger by the moment.
His body is getting bigger by the moment.
He seems 10 feet tall to me now, braving the wilderness without holding my hand.
This kid loves trees and nature and being outdoors.
He loves no rules and no toys and making it all up as we go.
He loves finding treasure along the forest floor and hunting for mystery clues and where they might lead us.
He loves beach days filled with sand in his hair, sand in his pockets, and sand in my car. He loves sea creatures and sea salt and sea spray.
He loves no clocks and no walls and no schedule.
He is definitely getting a bath when we get home.
I loved it too when I was a child. I love it a little less as a parent.
I love the packing less.
I love being responsible less.
I love the whole next day of doing laundry less.
I love having to say the occasional, “NO because we are not going to the hospital today that’s why” less.
I also somehow love it a whole lot more.
I love exploring the world through his eyes more than my own.
I love watching his imagination run wild more than anything.
I love experiencing his life right alongside him more than I ever thought possible.
I love the honor of seeing another human grow up right before my eyes more than anyone could’ve explained to me before I became a mother.
So I take it all in, the mud and the juice boxes and the sticks and the seaweed.
The laundry and the packing and the squeals of laughter.
The sheer joy in a little boy’s eyes as they light up while he high tails it away from me in the woods because he’s pretending there’s some monster or another.
I take in every giggle, every knee scrape, every dirty shoe, every cry when he inevitably slips on something covered in moss.
I kiss the boo-boos, I wipe the mud gently away, and I fly around like a superhero with my arms outstretched, looking like an absolute crazy person to any civilized adult watching us.
But I am not a grown-up right now.
I’m a mama playing with her kiddo, in all the messy, sweaty, muddy, gross, we’re gonna need to hose you down later glory that parenting truly is on the sunniest of days.
After all, a messy kid is a happy kid.