Driving home from the grocery story on a sunny, warm Sunday morning — a rare gift in Erie this time of year — I thought about all the things I could do with my free afternoon (also a rarity in my life).

I considered going for a long run or a bike ride in the country, but set my heart on working in the yard. I wanted to cut down my perennials, put away the outdoor furniture cushions, pick up the stepping stones and bird houses and put them in the garage for winter.

Yes, I thought as I drove home in the sunshine with the windows cracked an inch or two, it would be a perfect day to prepare for the inevitable winter. Some years I don’t get to it before the snow starts flying. It makes cleanup in the spring much harder.

When I get home, Lauren is waiting for me. She holds the screen door open as I shuffle in sideways, several bags hooked over each arm. She takes a couple bags from my hands and says, “Mom, Chase (the neighbor boy) was just over and we were thinking…”

“OK….,” I say with hesitation.

“I know you’re busy, but it’s a really nice day and do you think you could take me and Kelly and Ella and Chase to the creek to that pond that we found last time with the big fish? I was telling them about it and they want to see it. Can you take us?”

The big pond she’s talking about is near the mouth of the creek, at least a 40 minute walk from our house.

“Lauren, I don’t know…I mean…I wanted to do some gardening today…”

She looks at me and, literally, bats her eyelashes, clasps her hands in front of her, and sticks out her lower lip in a pouty “please, please,please” gesture.

*sigh*

I cast a sideways glance at my husband who is dressed in his Steeler’s jersey and already captivated by the pregame show. He’s not going to take them.

The last thing I want to do was waste two hours in the creek. We had just turned the clocks back for Daylight Savings Time and it would be dark an hour or so after we returned. If I took them, I wouldn’t get any yard work done.

And, yet, she’s there asking me to spend time with her in a place I love. A place I want them to love and cherish. That creek, that gorge, those worn trails, and winding water are the reason we bought the house.

I know it won’t be long until she doesn’t want or need me to go to the creek with her anymore.

The yardwork can wait.

“OK,” I say. “But tell Ella and Chase to wear rain boots and if they don’t have them, they can borrow a pair of ours. We’re going to have to walk through the water in places.”

“Thanks, Mom,” she yells as she bolts out the door and across the street to gather the neighbor kids. I put away the groceries and find my rain boots, camera, and a drawstring bag, and let go of my afternoon plans.

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We spend the next few hours tromping in and around the creek. We find three crayfish, one missing a claw, and examine roughly 10,645 fossils. We see plenty of little minnows, but we never make it to the big pond because the water is too deep and rushing too fast from all the rain the day before. We go about as far as we can when little Ella slips and gets wet up to her thighs.

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Though it’s sunny and relatively warm for November in Erie, it’s too cold to be wet and outside, so we head back. We meander through the creek, climbing up onto the banks and walking alongside the water when it’s too deep to walk through. We talk..and talk…and talk.

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When I get home, I’ve got probably an hour of light left, just enough time to spray off all the boots and maybe gather up the outdoor patio furniture cushions.

Walking around in the creek may have not been the most productive use of my free time that afternoon, but it sure wasn’t time wasted.

“Picture their tousled bedrooms as clean and empty. See the backseat of the car vacuumed and without a car seat or crumbs … Then rewind the imaginary clock back to now, and see today’s minutes of mayhem for what they are: finite and fleeting.” — Dr. Harley Rotbart, author of “No Regrets Parenting”

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About Just Write “What ends up revealing itself when free writing is that everything has meaning. That is a magnificent gift of writing. If we write from a free heart-gut place, our souls start speaking.”