WHITNEY: Child-like wonder returns in parenthood

Saturday. Springtime. Sunshine and breeze. We're sitting on the bank of the Muskegon River, oblivious to the fact that the seats of our pants are slowly soaking up moisture from the sand.

Olivia grabs my hand, pries it open and presses a rock into my palm. "Frow?"

I toss the stone into the rushing river waters. "Whoa!"

Again and again, we both throw rocks into the river, each pitch punctuated by a squeal of excitement from the smaller half of our duo. Heftier rocks require a bit of a build-up to the big toss. "Waahhnnn... dew!" or "Weddy? Set? Doe!"

The game goes on for 20 minutes or more, each toss as exciting as the last. I'm savoring this exact stage in which my daughter is finally big enough to invent her own self-directed games but still little enough to consider me the best playmate. She's fully engrossed in the simple process of picking up rocks and sand and throwing them, yet she's got her eye on me to make sure I'm just as engrossed as she is in the entire experience.

I am, but instead of paying all my attention to which rock we should throw next, I'm watching the gears turning in her mind as she plots her next move. I'm watching her frustrated furrowed eyebrows when her toss fails to land the rock in the river, and joy sweep over her face when she finally makes a splash.

As lost as she is in the world of rivers, rocks and sand, I'm lost in the world of her.

Wonder is what allows a child to intimately explore every tiny detail they encounter and every fantasy they can imagine. As parents, we get to experience that child-like wonder all over again as we navigate the world hand-in-hand with our little ones.

We get to marvel alongside our kids as they discover new sights and sounds each day. In a way, we get to relive our own childhood naivete and maybe take a little bit of pride in being the possessors and imparters of worldly knowledge.

That's the other half of re-experiencing child-like wonder and joy — not only do we relive those discovery experiences with our children, we get the experience of discovering them as they blossom into little independent human beings.

Do you remember the first time you saw a goose? Do you remember the first time someone told you the word was "geese," not "gooses"? At some point, you'll encounter a goose for the first time and have a whole conversation about this fascinating new animal that you, in your jaded sphere of adulthood, might have seen as an annoyance.

Some afternoon, you'll sit at the edge of a river and toss rocks into the water. You might exert minimal effort at first, but as your child cheers you on, marveling at the strength you must possess to throw a rock a full 10 feet, you'll soon find yourself tapping into that sense of glee you used to feel when doing such simple activities. You'll preen a bit, flexing your true strength and throwing a rock 13 feet, then you'll want to show her how to throw a rock farther. As she improves her technique, you'll feel proud.

Afternoons like the one we spent throwing rocks into the river, or mornings when we lay on the rug and practice writing letters, or dinners when we try new foods for the first time — they're my favorite moments of being a mom because they transport me back to a time when the world was new and big and full or surprise.