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Today, my girls and I went to the park. It’s not too far from our home and it is a special place for us–we have been going there since Breathe was born and have watched dozens of deer and turkeys graze in its fields. Unlike our other favorite park, the 132 acre Centennial, Long Hunter does not have any amphitheaters to run around on, a first class playground or even ducks to feed. But none of that is why we come to Long Hunter. In fact, truth be known, I kind of like parks without impressive playground structures the best.

Today, we took the unpaved, unintentional dirt path. The girls had each bought some of their dolls and strollers. They pretended they were adult mothers just meeting at the park. Then, I spied our ancient, felled tree that stretches out over the lake on it’s side. To get there, we would have to brave a wooded area and be mindful of branches hitting us in the face with every step. We would have to watch for logs or branches that had fallen and might trip us. And the doll strollers! There was no way to push them through all that, so we had to carry them. We pretended, walking, that we were on an expedition; we were looking for a lost puppy but had to careful…we’d heard that these woods are haunted! We were brave, though, and made it through the dangerous shortcut to the felled tree.

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This tree sparks something in me. Every time I see it, I start itching to climb and walk upon it. I picture this beloved scene from Dirty Dancing. Fairytales and idyllic romance novels surge forth, filling me with a completely ridiculous sense of joy and magic. Thankfully, my girls are monkeys who very much love climbing trees–even felled ones. First Alight trekked to the top of the tree, then Breathe. They sat straddling it and pretended they were on a boat. They could see land! It looked huge and uninhibited–maybe it was a new country and they, the first brave explorers. Once they were down, it was my turn. I passed off my phone and up I went. I sat overlooking the water for a few moments, happy to have accomplished again a childhood bucket list wish of climbing a tree over water.

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Then, it was off to the water’s edge. We skipped rocks, looked for treasures. Breathe took one rock and said it was a mouse; she used it to rake dirt and mud off a rock. The mouse, she said, was sweeping it clean. She’d been doing that for a few moments before she said unexpectedly: “I like my mouse game.” Therein lies part of the reason I am keen on parks without many traditional attractions: imagination flourishes when the mind isn’t distracted by synthetic material like playgrounds.

We found a shell in the water and then the girls noticed a large oval shaped rock that was not attached to the rest of the land but within distance. They asked if they could get on the rock. Now, the terrain was a river bed. The water has receded to such a level as to leave mostly rocks. But the area that they’d have to walk on to reach the big rock wasn’t rocky–it was muddy. Very muddy. Plus, in order to reach the big rock, they would have to actually step into the water.

They could fall into the water and soak their clothes, which would then make them very cold, seeing as it was only 54 degrees. But… Well, this is their childhood and, what if today was the only chance they will ever have to truly play with the land? What is a messy kid? Usually, a happy one. So I gave a tentative nod and off they went.

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My youngest was nearly on the island rock when my oldest stopped to examine an interesting pebble. When she tried to start walking again, she couldn’t–her boot was literally stuck in the mud. My garden girl started laughing like it was the best thing to ever happen to her. Standing on dry rock, I told her to take hold of her boot and pull her foot up. She did but every step she took sunk her boot further into the mud. She was in heaven, this was more fun than the rock.

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Eventually, they both reached the island rock, took a few pictures and then headed back. This time, it was my youngest’s turn to get stuck. When she tried to pull her foot up, her foot came out of the boot! My youngest is not a garden child— she refuses to even touch grass and shrieks in typical girly fashion if a smudge of dirt paints her skin. Still, she laughed. When she fell all the way over, directly into the mud, I was sure her good humor was going to run out but, no, she just said: “Oh great! Juuuust great.” I braved the mud to help her up and to get her boot out of the mud. She wouldn’t wash her hands in the river water though and she wouldn’t touch anything. When she put her boot back on, her dainty face squished up and she took a step, then said: “Oooh, eew, Mama! I mean, can’t you hear that?” When I said: “Hear what?” she exclaimed: “I’ve got mud in my boot! It is in between my toes!” I laughed.

We made it to the park’s bathroom where we washed our hands. Alight said: “Oh finally,” when her hands were white again. I figured they would be done at that point but, no, they wanted to walk out on the dock to see the water. So we did that. I bought a blanket and a pillow and we laid on the blanket and talked. About nothing.

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We spent two hours at the park. We laughed. We played in mud. We climbed a tree and trekked through an unkept forest. And, while we did enjoy the playground, it isn’t what we will remember the most about today. What we will remember the most is that we spent time together playing and using our imagination to envision our world as a magical place to be. It was easy to do because where we were felt magical.

Imagining can do that: transform an ordinary day into pure magic. Idyllic moments are not part of history–they can be today. We just have to be willing to trust our own instincts more than the accepted norm. We also had school today and I called in another payment to the wolf that seems to always be knocking on my door. It wasn’t all lilacs and roses. But lilacs and roses are all that I can remember.

We play. And another day passes. The sun went down and we had to do normal things like eat and bathe and go to sleep. But the story we’re writing just got sweeter because we put each other first. We took the time to play. It’s one of many lessons motherhood has taught me. And I’m glad it has because, in the end, that’s what makes life sweet.

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