On this one Saturday, though, it was still warm and so when the darkness finally chased the kids inside, I clicked on the mantel lamps just above my son’s head and took note of the dirt. After a second, I let out a big shuddery breath that made my husband look up from where he was peeling shoes off the twins. It was the same noise I made when the credits rolled at the end of “Beaches,” full of hormones and ellipses. I sent up a silent hallelujah, a little shoulder shrug of happiness. It was the first time he’d ever had dirt on his nose.
I know this is not a big deal, or shouldn’t be. I know kids get smudged all the time. Like the kitchen floor, life just trudges over them in all its happy casualness. But my kid is not most kids. There’s not much room for digging in the dirt or swinging from trees from his vantage point. He’s the book-reading, video-watching, iPad-navigating savant, by choice and by default. There are no creeks and forts for him, and that’s okay. Our afternoon walks have been enough to tame the call of the wild. But for me, there is always a niggling question, like a gnat in my periphery, when I see his brother and sister run inside covered in grass stains and mulch: Do you wish that for you?
So when I saw the dirt, I didn’t grab a baby wipe right away. I let it stay for dinner. Only when it was time for bed and baths and all the rest did I send it off with a fond farewell. I did not ask how he got it. It could’ve been when my husband went down the slide with him or when he grabbed at a low-hanging tree branch on the walk to the swings or maybe it’s just dirt from the car door. Lord knows the vehicle has got enough grime inside and out to make us all look like spelunkers.
To me that smudge meant something. It meant that he’d looked up from the world of books and apps and videos to get in the muck. It meant that he’d lived out in the great wide open for just a little bit, like all the other kids who come home messy and tired at the end of the day.
I think all parents have this moment at some point with each child when they do the one thing we didn’t dare hope they’d do: say thank you after dinner, figure out quadratic equations, do their own laundry, run into our arms instead of away from them. It’s the smallest of victories that feels like the biggest. It’s this tiny step that gets us to the next.
We’ll be back in the mall soon enough, happily back at our laps. I’m glad he got this day. I’m glad I got it too. I hope there will be more once winter passes.
This article originally appeared at The Mom Gene.