My family is grown and raised in the National Park Service. Access to trails, trees, and nature’s trinkets are at our fingertips. We’ve been lucky enough to live inside several National Parks, and now we’re lucky enough to own our own home, and still have a National Park within reach of the city center.

It’s become a tradition to pick the big kid up from school and go straight into our park — Chickasaw National Recreation Area. Right now, it isn’t too busy (yet), and it often feels like we have the whole place to ourselves. That in itself is a mercy. Letting my kids free range the forest without fear of disturbing another person’s serene nature walk is one of the best gifts I can give my motherhood.

There are two bits of parenting advice I treasure, and pull out when either kid, or both (or I) is getting a little grumpy.
1. Put them in water.
2. Take them outside.

Y’all, this works like a charm. Somehow nature, even just the backyard, relaxes the muscles tight between my eyes, and diminishes their shrill screams into the open air. On this day, no one was greatly grumpy, but I knew if we headed home we’d all reach a point of boredom. And, well, boredom doesn’t fare well in my house, at dinnertime, with hungry bellies.

A typical jaunt in the woods yields to “Come on – keep up,” “Don’t step in the water,” and “Use the stick instead of your hands.” The only goal with my voice is to avoid a mess. It’s too chilly to get the clothes wet. My arms don’t want to carry a toddler with muddy shoes. Those clothes are brand new.

Maybe it was the slightly warmer weather, or the calming babbling creek, or my desire to sit in peace for a moment.. but I let them get dirty. Without a towel, a pack of baby wipes, or a change of clothes in the van. Owen was content to sink his hands, arms deep into the muddy creek bottom. Emma was busy stacking tiny pebbles in my hand.

Even I, the quiet observer, found an acorn cap and marveled at the detail of this little trinket. It filled my mind with wonder, and invited creativity into the space around me. Could I make a beanie like this? This day in the woods, I let the cleanliness go, and invited a mess. My kids bloomed under the absence of my voice uttering don’ts, and more don’ts.

Emma’s cream pants with tiny gold hearts are forever stained. Owen hiked back with sloshing shoes and a smile. I felt the tiny pinch of the hard acorn cap in my pocket with every step – imagining a crochet hook weaving back and forth to make the tiny stacked triangle. Each of us carried out our own found treasures, but together we held a memory of a mess well made.

This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in this series “Make A Mess”.

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  1. Fellow Exhale-r and blog hopper here! Just wanted to say: love the last photo here. So, so sweet. And how amazing that you’ve been able to experience so many National Parks that way. Thanks for sharing!

  2. We are a NPS loving family too, and I so relate to this post. Extra clothes and shoes are my best friend.

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