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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The “smaller” family…

“Jump in the car, we’re going on an adventure.” The boys were in their snow pants, jackets and gloves. For the past 10 minutes they had hopped on little sleds for a 2-second ride from the garage to the mesh fence 15 feet away. They weren’t complaining, but it seemed that we could probably find something more.

It was Sunday morning. We should have been heading into church. I had no energy for it. My body ached a bit from the tight “bear hugs” needed to get Super Tall Guy back into calmness during a sudden rage event the day before. I needed some peace for my soul. I needed some nature. I needed to find a few moments of joy with these boys because single-parenting was tuckering me out.

We pulled over along the windy road in the nearby park. Bumbling out with snowsleds in tow, the boys were soon whizzing down a hiking trail covered by a fine layer of ice and snow (and pebbles). The first couple times I held my breath and prayed they wouldn’t careen into a tree or fly over a rock. Their giggles and shrieks of exuberance soothed me.

We clambered through the leaves. Watched deer dart up the hillside. Stared at the ice wall that once was a low waterfall. Balanced on logs. Slid on the frozen stream. We just needed to be. To be outside. To be free. To be marveling at the winter landscape. To be enjoying time with each other and helping each other. To be a family.

We’re trying that out now and trying to figure out how to be a smaller family. It is quieter. It is less chaotic. But it’s also a bit more overwhelming to me. Sometimes I feel like I just went through a divorce – suddenly the “other” parent isn’t around anymore and here I am. Figure it out.

So, we have had Family Movie Night on the couch because we’re too tired to do anything else after an hour in the woods, two hours at the roller-skating rink and then basketball practice.

We have spent more time in Family Game-playing with cookie prizes to the winner (and the dog considers herself part of the winning team each time and deserving of a Nutter Butter Bites too!).

We have a few new rules that I occasionally record as they run around in my brain so much.

We have had Family Time at the Upward basketball games as well, taking turns being on the court versus being disruptive on the sidelines … or being on the look-out for where the Little Guy might have disappeared to….again (right, water fountain….).

And, we had a Family Meeting early last week to discuss the consequences of acting out so much before school that Grandma “quit” her morning role as school “dropper-off-er.” (And how the boys are going to cost so much more money to use a before school service, so what changes will we need? Hmmm?  Anyone? Anyone?)

nature

I’ve put a little more energy into focusing on the “family” this week and how we live together and get-along (or not) together. How we’ll need to make sacrifices for each other. How we’ll need to better respect each other. How Mommy will still need evenings with my “texting friends” to improve my coping skills so we’ll be looking for babysitters.

There have definitely been so many changes for this family lately and my sister’s family. Yet, there is also lots of love and commitment and mutual support. It’s a “season.” We will figure it out and be okay. I am grateful.