Read Along with Me: Last Child in the Woods

Okay, I finally decided to start reading “Last Child in the Woods” by Richard Louv. So many have asked me if I had read it, that I was starting to feel embarrassed. I felt like one of those presenters who is in front of a large crowd and a hand shoots up and says, “But have you read the most seminal piece in parenting this day?” Ahhh…..

Fine. I’ll read it.

And you can journey along with me.

I completely agree with the premise. Today’s kids have become more and more distant from nature and that is having serious consequences on their health, creativity and development. It is also having an impact on the environment. I’m just not sure I need 300+ pages to tell me all that, since I am now also a product of the internet age and want my information concise and quick.

But I’m going to slug through the book and see what I learn, having started on page one in the middle of the night while waiting for the emergency medicine vet to evaluate my dog’s chocolate toxicity level. Apparently the scent of delectable dark chocolate nonpareils was more than her four paws and sharp canines could resist.

One paragraph that caught my attention was Richard Louv’s description of how much our society uses technology within our cars now. No longer do kids observe endless fields and mindless telephone poles whipping by their peripheral vision. Instead they are plugged into a device and miss out on observations of nature and changing landscapes, thus missing opportunities to understand the expanse of the world and the connection countryside and cityscapes.

“We actually looked out the car window. In our useful boredom, we used our fingers to draw pictures on fogged glass as we watched telephone poles tick by. We saw birds on the wires and combines in the fields. We were fascinated with roadkill, and we counted cows and horses and coyotes and shaving-cream signs. We stared with a kind of reverence at the horizon, as thunderheads and dancing rain moved with us.” (pgs 63-64)

Okay. He got me there. I have long patted my shoulder for keeping all electronics off in the car while we travel around “town,” but whenever we started a road trip that would last longer than an hour, the boys knew that devices were now “allowed.”  I’ve been doing it backwards!

But here’s my argument; that is to say, here’s what I do to convince myself my decision is of course the right one. I’m a single parent driving three bouncy, noisy, crazy boys six hours to get to the beach. There’s only so much a mom can handle before she becomes too much of a distracted driver and things get unsafe. I can’t juggle the arguments about who won the counting cows contest, who is touching whom, who stole whose pillow. So if they’re going to “plug in” and leave me to my inner introvert thoughts for a bit, I’m just going to go with it. We will all arrive safer and saner this way.

As a compromise, we have developed a routine of turning off all electronics about forty-five minutes out from our destination so we can see the landscape change and start to smell the salt air. It’s a moment to bond with each other in excitement and in connecting with nature. We spend the next week feeling and talking about the power of waves and the pull of the tide. We stumble over sharp shells and curl our toes into the sand. We explore the rough, heavy wet sand which shapes into castles with the fine silky hot sand that floats in the wind as you let it spill from your fingers. It’s a whole week of being unplugged which the boys still relish at the ages of 11, 8 and 6.  I’m hoping we get a few more golden years of spending a week at the beach.

And after starting to read this book, I have tried to be more intentional about pointing out “nature” a bit more as we drive around town and through the city parks. I throw in small comments about the shape of the clouds, the color of the sunset, the shade offered by the trees, the grass along the side of the road. This pacifies my guilt a bit, but I still wrestle with wanting my kids to be more comfortable in the natural world and to connect more with it.

So I’ll keep reading (though I confess that I’m more drawn to “Before I Wake” by Dee Henderson which I’m also currently reading!).

 

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Near Death Experiences Really Should be Teachable Moments

It’s crazy how insane the past couple weeks have been. The movers handled the large items and friends carried loads of boxes, but our new townhome sat piled ceiling-high with boxes for a week as we spent time outside with the neighbors and packed up for a beach vacation.

Sand is always good. Sand that has been dredged from the bottom of the ocean is near perfection. There’s not a sharp sea shell in it. You can dig and dig and dig out a hole large enough for boys to jump in and be completely hidden from sight. You can drizzle it into the forest where the trolls live while waiting to save Princess Ana from the accidental strokes of Elsa. You can mold a horse to be galloped upon. You can mold sandballs of wet sand dabbed in hot fine sand to threaten siblings with. You can rest.

There are few things more relaxing than sun and sand and the lap of waves. There are also few things more terrifying than the power and pull of water.

The warm sun was coaxing my eyes to close as I sat upon a boogie board and watched the three boys jump in the surf. After each wave, I would identify them – The First One shakes his head to get the water out of his ears. Super Tall Guy wipes the water from the top of his head to his chin. Mr. Ornery bounces and bounces and bounces. He comes up from under a wave and bounces as he awaits the next. His ringlets bounce. His body bounces. His arms bounce.

And suddenly there was no bounce. I looked again. There was his head very close to Super Tall Guy, but there was no bounce. They were too far out. They were too far out to see their faces, but I was on my feet and headed out there. A glance at the lifeguards on their stand showed that they were not going to be of any help. The panic started to rise as each wave pushed me back from my singular goal – to reach my boys who were being swept out to sea. But I wasn’t getting there fast enough. Do I scream? Yell? The three adults near them were close enough though. One man reached for Mr. Ornery and pushed into shore. One man grabbed Super Tall Guy and guided him in. I watched The First One start to swim.

Mr. Ornery wrapped his arms and legs around me as he clung sobbing in my arms. I tearfully thanked the Helpers. I praised Super Tall Guy for clear attempts to save his younger brother and keep him afloat. Suddenly I panicked again looking for The First One. Where was he? Mom, where is he? Super Tall Guy, where is he? I rushed to the lifeguards and then turned and found him. He had swum beside the current and then into shore. We all hugged.

“Look for the helpers,” I reminded the boys as Mr. Fred Rogers so eloquently stated. Rogers HelpersWhen you are in trouble, look for the helpers. They will be there.

Ask Mr. Ornery how his vacation was and he’ll say “I was almost dead.” We had to talk a lot about it that night. We talked about safety. We talked about the power of water. We talked about the helpers. We talked over and over about how you “NEVER go out past your waist” and you “NEVER swim alone.” We talked about going back in again.

And he did. Right back into the water the next day. I watched much more intensely. And I watched the new day’s lifeguard splash over to him and remind him in words and body language – “NEVER go out past your waist.”

And yet he did. Bouncing along right into the deep. This boy is going to require a whole lot of “teachable moments.” And he’s going to need a whole lot of Helpers!

But I, for one, would like to skip the “near death” moments the next time he needs to learn a lesson.

The Seven Dwarves at Disneyland

 

Visiting California recently for the family reunion was the perfect excuse to get the boys to Disneyland. Having generally frequented Disney World during off-seasons, hitting the smaller Disneyland park during peak tourist time was a challenge for us all. But it also afforded ample opportunity for people watching and reflection. These are my seven brief categorizations of the people I saw.

  1. Grumpy. It’s thirty minutes before the night electrical parade. My family and I have alternated “bench saving” for the past two hours in the sun because we’re giving Grumpyour 5 young boys a special treat to stay up late and we’d like them to actually be able to see the parade. Pushing her stroller, Grumpy points to the seats questioningly. I respond, “Yes, I have a big family coming.” “Well, only six is appropriate you know.” Hmmm, you have been crowned Judge of Family Size? Move along, dear, move along. Fortunately, Grumpy people were relatively rare.
  1. Happy. In contrast, every single staff person, and I mean, every single staffer at happyDisney had a smile. No matter what. I tried multiple times to uncover potential  “slight dissatisfaction” – but no. Standing in 90 degree sunshine with a wide brim hat, Ann helped us get into the Autocars. Exhaust fumes filled the air. Motors roared. Cars bumped into each other despite numerous admonitions. “Aren’t you hot?” I queried with a smile. “No, I’m good,” she replied. I love how Happy they are. If you are ever feeling just a tiny bit down, glance at their name tag and say “Hello. I see you’re from….” The conversations are so much fun.
  1. Sleepy. We tried and tried to keep walking and walking and walkingsleepy the boys in the stroller. It took forever, but the 4 year old finally succumbed to the hum of people talking and the warmth of the sunshine. A little attention to “sleepy” time will turn anyone’s mood around.
  1. Dopey. These people are just loving the park. It doesn’t matter their age. Every ride brings a smile to their face. Being stuck on the Indiana Jones ride just dopeyas the jeep is about to cross the swinging bridge brings joy to the four young men in front of us as they “ooh and ahh” over the details of the ride. The lights are turned on and you can see the fake cobwebs and broken jugs, the snake eyes glowing and the realistic looking frayed ropes. They eagerly anticipate a free pass to another ride if this one continues to be broken….and squeal with delight when asked if they want to “go again?” once the ride moves along. It’s a chance for the kid in all of us to “play.”
  1. Sneezy – A glance at the Disney character description suggests that sneezyhe sneezes “violently and frequently but he doesn’t let that stop him from having fun.” The same for many of the people visiting Disney that day. Most of us carry around some struggle or illness or limitation, but when we have the chance to put it aside and let mirth and gladness surround us, we have the opportunity to just “be” in the moment ….for a moment. Sometimes that’s just what we need.
  1. Bashful – “Have you been on this ride before?” the mother behind us asked as her bashfullittle princess bounced around her waist. “Is it scary?” Hesitant, yet showing strength for her daughter, she reached out to a stranger for more information. We opened up a delightful conversation about travel and kids and how we love to surprise them and yet are so protective of them.

 

  1. Doc – It was a warm touch and I was not expecting it. The beautiful docwoman beside me waiting for the parade, placed her hand on my knee and said, “You’re doing well. It’s hard but hang in there.” – Doc – the encourager, the supporter. She could see Super Tall Guy’s anger and oppositional behavior “a mile away.” She knew his rage. She was calm when he bolted into the crowd yelling that he was going to go ride the people mover by himself then! She was not phased by his hurtful tone. “You’re doing well.” I needed those words that day. The comfort of knowing that despite the challenges, I was doing my best and that was good enough. I wandered after him. He returned before me. We watched the parade. The day moved on and was better after that.

May more and more of us be “Doc” to each other, show each other our Dopey side with abandon, take care of our Sleepy needs, rejoice and be Happy more often, approach the world Bashfully when needed, yet not get bogged down when Sneezy, and put a smile on Grumpy whenever you meet him. A smile and a light touch have “magical” powers. Use them.

When Momma goes on a business trip

You should never go away on a business trip, even if just for a night. It seems to have a way of altering the universe of boy children in seemingly imperceptible yet powerful ways.

It starts the moment you walk in the door. For example, if the business trip happens to be to Hershey, and the boys “recommend” that you bring something back to them, there’s always the “Xtreme Hershey” extra large candy bar in the aisle at Rite Aid on sale for $1.50. (Please note, this is so much cheaper than the $8 plastic cars filled with 3 pieces of Reese candies purchased at Hershey World on the first business trip last year when you had to buy one for each of FIVE boys!) And this works as a fine exciting gift when you hand it over upon arrival. But do not expect them to hear the words “It’s for after supper” as you go out to unload the car. Within 2 minutes, it’s devoured by raptors, who thankfully did hear the second half, “It’s for you all to share.”  Amazingly, mouths dripping with chocolate juice were open wide in wonderment at the sudden cause for Mommy’s “outburst.”

Parenting – it’s always something.

And then comes the evening bedtime routine, during which the poor Mommy encountered an odoriferous 8 year old who thinks “it takes too long” and is “too boring” to adequately wipe; the 3 year old who peed through the pull-up and soaked the bed while lying there before falling asleep; the dog who pooped on the kitchen floor while trying to deal with the first two issues; followed by the discovery that the 6 year old had peed on the carpet right outside the bathroom door (because why?). Well, that discovery occurred shortly before realizing that the stench in the 6 year-old’s room emanated from the pile of dog poop on the comforter (from when?). I confess that my tired brain did not “remain calm” very well that evening. I may even have used a pretty “negative tone” with the sad-eyed boys haphazardly trying to help me clean up a bit. By the time I got the last one into bed, I officially tendered my resignation as CEO of the household and have decided to begin a search for a small tidy cottage with a fireplace and a cat.

It’s always something.

Bedtime the next evening, I spied a small scab between the shoulder blades of the three-year-old. Moving him into the light for a closer inspection revealed a happily attached and voracious tick. I hate ticks. I detest the fear of Lyme disease. I have learned to calmly smoother and remove these predators, but I hate them. I search madly for some antibiotic cream for the bandaid. I pretend it’s no big deal. I tuck the anxious one back in bed and vow to check all over that dog!

It’s always something.

And if the messes aren’t enough, there’s the aggressive behavioral side effects of sleep deprivation accompanied by lovely eye-rolling from Super Tall Guy, the whine for attention from The Little Guy, and the bouncy antics of Mr. Ornery alternating with total melt-downs to contend with. Add in the explosion of a stealth pull-up that made it into the washer and fifteen minutes of wiping up millions of tiny gel balls and you’ve just topped off the “Mommy dared to be away for a day” consequences.

That hotel room sure was nice. Fluffy pillows. Remote control. Quiet. Good solid quiet. Wonder when the next business trip is. Or if there’s a nice tidy cottage in the woods somewhere.

Yes, sometimes life with boys is crazy and I wouldn’t change it for the world….well, maybe we could tweak a few things!

Top “Few” Toddler Truths (as demonstrated in Disney!)

  • If it is on the ground and was at one point in time edible, then you might as well check to see if it is still indeed edible….including little pink wads of gum which are not only edible, but delicious as well.
  • If there is any opportunity to dash away from parental line of vision, you might as well chance it and see if you can temporarily hide behind the legs of people in a crowd…..just for the sport of it.
  • If the brothers look like they are having fun wrestling on the ground in the middle of the walkway, you might as well pile up on top and see how long you can hang on before being flung onto the pavement as from a bucking bronco!
  • If the surrounding atmosphere appears to be quiet and serene, you might as well try to liven up the mood with an ear-piercing scream….until the 5th or 6th time you are asked to stop and then a good whiny cry is the next strategy.
  • Although naps are definitely for babies, if you indeed find yourself sitting on someone’s lap in the middle of the afternoon (such as during a loud rendition of Beauty and the Beast), you might as well take the opportunity to lay lifelessly such that their leg will fall asleep and they become ineffective in pursuing you during your upcoming dart away.
  • If you see a toy that you once held (or thought you had once held….or even wished you had), you might as well grab it and proudly proclaim “mine!”….and see how long you can hold on to it before it is rudely snatched back.
  • You are the master of your own universe and control the space around you – which means you can walk in front of people, walk between their legs, circle around them, touch them, trip them up, whatever you need to do to impede their prior course of motion….even if you don’t know them. Adults seem to find this highly annoying …. especially when they have to practically leap over you to prevent a huge pile-up!

Arlington Cemetery….and the trials of 3 Boys!

Had she lived another few months, Gammie Cole would have been 98 years old.Gammie Cole The boys knew her as a woman confined to a wheelchair who watched their every move as they zoomed through their grandparents’ house. She smiled at them most of the time and occasionally growled in their general direction if they misbehaved. But they never had the pleasure of really knowing their great-grandmother and her wonderful love and graciousness to the world.

She passed away quietly about 18 months ago. In her typical sacrificial nature, she donated her body “to science” and her ashes were recently returned to the family. In a short ceremony on Friday, she was interred beside her husband of over 50 years in Arlington Cemetery. I was physically there …with 3 bouncy and grumpy boys…..but I was not mentally there….due to 3 bouncy and grumpy boys. I regret not being able to be mindful of the ceremony and the memory of my grandmother….due to 3 bouncy and grumpy boys.

It wasn’t really their fault. I mean, they had just spent 5 hours in a car and then were DC-2forced into “nice” shirts (hey, I caved and let them stay in shorts!) and then expected to…. Hey, get that Batman off the tombstone! Stop jumping over tombstones! Don’t throw “coconuts” (aka acorns) at the tombstones!

I was stressed. I fell into the trap of worrying what the twelve 70-some year-olds who were former Girl Scouts in my grandmother’s troop would think of these Out-Of-Control Boys….so I tried to control them. And when boys sense that you are about to swipe some of their “control” – they scowl, they run, they push one another onto the gravel, they throw rocks and other “natural” projectiles, they pull up grass….they become OOC Boys!DC-1

Now, let’s just say that the plan then is to take these OOC boys to a buffet for dinner? I mean, why not? It’s better than a sit-down served dinner….And if that’s not bad enough, and my inability to maintain my own sense of control is not glaringly obvious, then let’s head to the hotel and “go to bed”…..or jump on the beds, wrestle in the sheets, throw pillows at each other, turn lights on and off, open the door and scream down the hall….

So when it’s 8 pm and Mr. Ornery has been in “time-out” in the bathroom for over an hour (and has decided to cut his lower lip with my razor….for the second time – first time was at the beach vacation….”Mommy, I’m bleeding”), and the Little Guy is climbing in and out of the port-a-crib and egging on Super Tall Guy who is doing back-flips on the bed….I’m texting my sister in the room across the hall saying “I hate this,” “I want to go home.”  But I rest for a few minutes until they bounce OOC into a peaceful sleep, while I dream of a cold beer, then grab my cousin to walk to the local pharmacy to pick up a pint of New York Super Fudge Chunk….and we survive the night.

Needing a better plan, we decided to completely wipe them out the next day. We took the metro to the Mall and visited the Air & Space Museum. We stopped by the National Book Festival where DC-3Kathy and her boys actually did “literary” type things while my boys and I wound up and flew rubber-band birds over and over again in the grass. And then we walked them to the Washington Monument, up past the White House and back to the metro. While waiting for the hotel shuttle, we gloriously let them splash in the deluge of rain dripping from the metro station roof. Soaking wet and happy, they inhaled a delivered pizza for “picnic and movie night” and by 7:30 they were snoring! Love it.  Now that’s how you handle OOC Boys!

Yet I replay the rough OOC day in my head over and over wondering if this “wild-ness” is just a function of their bouncy active nature …..or am I too lenient and need to do a better job at helping them “control” themselves more. Super Tall Guy has lately been very adamant that he is the boss of himself and not me, though I repetitively remind him that if he can’t handle himself, I have to step in (and that’s never a pretty sight when it’s 80 pounds to my 120!). It’s that parenting line that doesn’t have a clear answer. Am I respecting their needs and creativity and expression or am I raising misbehaving out-of-control children?

I sit here thinking about how I can “teach” them to handle themselves in certain situations, like how to behave at a restaurant. And my first thought was – gosh, that sounds like a miserable time! My second thought was – see, there’s some of that responsibility part of parenting that I posted about last week. …which, by the way, tends to coincide with the “exhausting” part of parenting. And since I have exhausted myself just by thinking about all of this tonight…I shall wrap this post upDC-4 (I’m already a day late since our cable/internet/phone box blew last night and I couldn’t do anything but get to bed early – how sad).

Tomorrow is another day to figure out how to get OOC Boys into little “slaves” as Super Tall Guy complained tonight that he was….the poor dear.

How Kids Punish You

 

IMG_2059In the adult world, we tend to reciprocate nice things for other people, especially people we love and care about. We think – wow, it was really nice that Jane sent me a letter last week (wish people did that still), I’m going to give her a call. Or my office mate and I who take turns buying lunch each week. Niceness tends to be met with niceness. This is not necessarily (read “rarely”) the case in the parenting world!

For some insane reason (maybe the same one that leads a woman to face labor pains another time), I continue to take my boys to the Great Geauga County Fair year after year. Mind you – the fair is really a great time. There’s pig races to see which of the four swine reach the Oreo cookie first. A fireman battle of water jets pushing a ball across a wire to the opposite side. A big sandbox with hundreds of little green army men and “big” army trucks to play with. There’s fire trucks to climb into, combines and tractors to climb on, firemen to dunk with a thrown softball, and lots and lots of animals to pet and daringly walk past before being hooved in the chest. And of course, the IMG_2043ultimate event at any fair is the eardrum-numbing, motor-revving, dust-kicking, smoke-billowing Demolition Derby. Yes, every youngster’s dream (and adults, too, apparently) – drive as fast as you can to smash into as many cars as you can. Last wreck moving is the winner!

This is all good. But this goodness that mothers endure on behalf of their offspring typically comes at a high price (and I’m not even talking about the cost of food at the fair!). I’m talking about the incredible exacting cost of emotional energy to survive over-stimulated, under-slept, over-sugared, greased out, muddy, potentially disease infected animal petting kids. By 8 pm, my voice was cracking after continuous exposure to dust and smoke and smells….but mostly from repeating similar phrases again and again: “get back here,” “do not run ahead,” “stop touching that,” “don’t put that in your mouth,” “get back here,” “put that down,”  “don’t IMG_1980touch that,” “get back here,” “stop running,” “get down from there.”

I sometimes think that the worst part of the 24-hour experience is trying to get them to settle at night in a new place as I’m spewing out threat after ineffective threat, praying they don’t break the accordion room divider of my friends’ RV or would stop playing with the window, or really – have I never told you not to shine a bright light into your eyes?!? RVs are just so dang fun!

But that’s a momentary punishment when it comes to the 6 hours I must endure the following afternoon with two over-stimulated, under-slept, over-sugared, greased out, now bathed little maniacs. (Yes, it was just two….I wisely decided that The Little Guy would be much happier….I mean, his mother would be much less stressed if he decided to spend the night with his loving grandmother instead of playing in the mud at the fair. He naturally dished out his version of punishment by virtually ignoring me for a bit once we got home just to show his displeasure…and of course, by running to his aunt for a hug instead of me….little bugger!) Mr. Ornery and Super Tall Guy regaled me hours and hours of noise, sibling fighting, squabbling, yelling, and general disobedience as a thank-you gift for the trip.

I stood in the shower this evening (washing off the mud and potentially disease infected animal substances) pondering how these little creatures repay “fun times with mommy” with “torture mommy” until she throws her hands up and practically swears “I’m never going to take you to do anything fun ever again!” (….until the next fun event).

And of course, I know that they are not trying to punish me. They are decompressing from a wonderful weekend, experiencing the disappointment of knowing that high intensity fun is over and “life” returns to normal, dealing with additional siblings in the house, coping with drastic changes to a generally well-aligned schedule, and of course, just being really, really tired.

So, just like the woman who faces labor again having “forgotten” (not really) the pains of last time, I shake off the “pain” of the day, wash away the mud, and prepare eagerly for the next Labor Day weekend. After all, we have more pigs to cheer for, firemen to dunk, ponies to ride and cars to smash. But they better not punish me the next time we do something fun!