On the day we planned a family hike, dark storm clouds circled the park. My dreams for the day—my four sons meandering through lush terrain with my husband and I trailing after them—dashed with the pelting of each raindrop.
“I can’t believe it’s raining today,” I moaned to my husband as we continued to careen down the road towards the park. “I think our plans are ruined.”
My husband gazed out the car window before clearing his throat. “It looks like a pop-up storm,” he voiced while maintaining a smile. “I’m guessing it will be blue skies within minutes.”
My husband proved to be a weather soothsayer; by the time we entered the park, the skies cleared and the sun illuminated the landscape.
As we pulled into the empty trail parking lot, my husband commented, “Looks like the rain scared off all the other hikers. I think we have the place to ourselves.”
I nodded, wondering if perhaps the others knew better. Maybe the questionable weather made conditions more suitable for a movie than a nature hike.
Whatever personal reservations I harbored were not shared by my boys. My four sons tumbled out of the car and scrambled towards the trail with my husband on their heels. For the boys, nature didn’t need to be polished, just present.
I lumbered out of the passenger seat and plodded after my crew. With my first step onto the trail, my foot sunk into the muddy soil. The morning rain had transformed the formerly dusty trail into a slushy mess.
I scowled as I attempted to sidestep the muck. My efforts proved fruitless. After a quarter-mile, I succumbed to the fact my shoes might never recover.
As we hiked, I daydreamed about alternative plans for the day. I pictured the boys and I nestled on the couch reading a book. I visualized all sorts of cozy (and clean) activities.
But the boys plugged along without an ounce of misgiving.
“Isn’t this fun?” my middle son bellowed as he sloshed along the path. He flashed a smile before meandering forward.
“Race you to the trail!” another son dared his brother.
When the boys finally hit a clearing, they lingered for a minute to gaze at the view and catch a breath.
To this day, I’m not sure who threw the first mudball. What I do remember is seeing a small, soft cylinder of mud being hurled through the air. I recall it landed on the back of my youngest son.
I braced myself for the inevitable cry. Instead, he erupted into a laugh. Then, he scooped up his own mud ball and hoisted the mixture towards another brother.
Within minutes, the mud was slinging, literally. It was like a snowball fight, but with mud. I thought about breaking up the activity, but the boys’ cackling filled the park. No one appeared harmed, but rather gleeful. I stood far enough away from the line of fire, but close enough to soak in the scene. Their faces flushed and their eyes sparkled. Pure joy radiated from their faces.
“They are having the time of their lives,” my husband chuckled from our perch on the sidelines.
“Yes,” I replied. “Our boys seem to have a magnetic pull to the mud and the muck.”
By the time the last ball was slung, mud-caked the boys’ clothes and painted their arms and legs. I sighed while thinking again about how to transport the boys home without dirtying my car’s exterior.
To this day, if I ask my boys their favorite family memory, they mention this mud fight. It has seared in their minds as their most beloved day.
It’s memorable for me too. As a mom, I learned something from that hike. For most of my parenting, I focused on creating ideal experiences and quintessential moments. A successful day flowed on course and without hiccups. My efforts narrowed onto details and planning. But in the process, I failed to offer my boys attention, and even cheer, when my agenda derailed and flowed off course.
What I gleaned from the mud fight is my boys care less about perfection than presence. I discovered the best moments may not be orchestrated and flawless, but instead can be spontaneous and messy.
When storm clouds threaten, I remember the mud fight and won’t let a little rain ruin our parade. Joy can be found when best-laid plans take a wrong turn.
It was a lesson clear as mud.
Rebecca Wood lives in Zionsville, Indiana with her husband and their four sons. Rebecca is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Travel Indiana, Runner’s World online, Indy’s Child, Cincinnati Parent, Dayton Parent, Hamilton County Parent, and MomSense magazine. When Rebecca is not writing, she can be found driving carpools, packing lunches, and folding laundry. She seeks to reflect Jesus well in the mundane and the profound. You can connect with Rebecca on her blog.