Arranging a Love Affair with the Outdoors
Growing up, my athletic prospects could best be described as abysmal. I didn’t learn to ride a bike until I was seven, and I failed swim lessons three years in a row. At the end of the year cross country banquet, the best my coach could say about me was, “She wasn’t last in a single race. Except for one, and that was just for most of it.” But while I had no hopes of blossoming into an athlete, I could spend as much time as I wanted playing and exploring outside. The outdoors was forgiving. It did not ask me to be talented, fast, or to have hand-eye coordination. Nevertheless, it offered me challenges – to paddle farther, hike longer, or to simply take the time to appreciate it.
Before I became a mother, I had many ideas of what parenthood would entail. I envisioned trips to the library, afternoons reading books in blanket forts, hours of coloring and finger painting. When my children were born, however, I soon realized that they were not built for sitting. Their bloodstreams appeared to be composed entirely of adrenaline and their minds perpetually set on adventure. We abandoned leisurely indoor pursuits and headed out into the sunshine instead.
The fresh air works like a spell on their bodies. Grumpiness melts away, tantrums cease, and curiosity outshines boredom. After a few hours of being at home, my children see only a sea of trucks, puzzles, and books that have already been explored, and I see a mountain of tasks I need to accomplish before lunchtime. We enter into a pathetic waltz. I dance around them in an attempt to get chores done, they run after me, begging to be held and entertained.
The indoors for children is both overstimulating and boring, argues Dr. Karp, the pediatrician who authored The Happiest Toddler on the Block. It replaces the constant and gentle stimulation of nature – the moving clouds, the waving trees, and bombards us with flat walls, flashing TVs, and noisy toys instead. Outdoors, I rarely need to amuse them. As they explore, they are more independent, and yet we are closer together.
Although certainly a benefit, peaceful mornings free of tantrums is not the main reason I take my children outside. Our children’s generation will see the reality of the threat that has been hovering over our heads for the last few decades. Their seas will rise, their storms will be greater, and their earth will warm in new and alarming ways. It is our duty to protect what we are giving them, but the work needed to undo the damage will extend past our own lifetimes.
I cannot expect my children to care about an earth they have never felt seep between their toes or to protect the life of a bird they have never heard sing. I am arranging a romance, hoping they will fall in love with the world they live in.
I love watching my boys run around playgrounds, bike down dirt paths, splash in puddles until their clothes are soaked in mud and I drive them home in nothing but diapers. While their lives will not be perfect, as white middle class suburban children, they are undoubtedly privileged. I do not want them to grow accustomed to ease, to fold at the first sign of adversity. Eventually they will grow and be faced with challenges, a warming earth and a world full of unrest and injustice, and I do not want them to back down from them, but to be as strong as the world needs them to be.
My youngest son has recently abandoned the stroller, determined to no longer be left behind by his older brother on our weekly hikes. I watched him the other day, attempting to scramble up a hill some older boys were playing on, tumbling down once or twice before attempting another path. He was determined, and the idea that he was too young, or that his legs were too little did not occur to him. The boys spent the rest of the morning throwing rocks into the lake, running along the dirt path, challenging themselves, and ignoring the possibility of failure.
We go outside to learn, explore, and accomplish things we never dreamed possible. Playing outdoors has taught my children that they are capable of accomplishing difficult tasks, and as we are staring down the reality of climate change, this is what our world needs. We need people who are not afraid to challenge themselves, who look at a hill and refuse to believe they are too small to conquer it. We need children who have played and lived in the world outdoors and who will fall in love with the challenge of protecting it.
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This post was written by Jackie Semmens exclusively for BonBon Break Media LLC.