The Great Outdoors

What is your favorite part of being in the great outdoors?

Growing up I loved swimming in the pool, riding bikes and swinging on our swing set. The times that stay with me about being outdoors are the times when I did something different: having a water balloon fight; or playing baseball on a diamond that sat upon freshly mowed grass; or running through a rain storm to get back to our house after school–it was a bit of miserable (from getting wet) and exhilarating (can we get home before the real downpour hits?).

In honor of Earth Day, we took our boys to help do some weeding and planting in a community garden. It was the first time, in a long time, I had done ‘real’ gardening, outside of clipping back some branches and doing light weeding at home. It was fun to do it with our boys. They, along with the other kids who participated, loved finding earth worms, centipedes, and daddy long-leg spiders all around. Our youngest, who along with another boy, even found a forgotten potato patch in the overgrown garden. They were thrilled every time they found something new: potato, bug, broken piece of pottery or piece of wood. The particular patch of Earth we worked on was ideal — the soil was mainly soft and we someone were lucky enough to be in the shade. It made for hard, yet very comfortable and satisfying work.

What surprised me most while gardening was how far the weeds went down. Several times, I would find a little sprout of the green invasive species that had taken over our patch, and give it a light tug, thinking the roots could only go so deep. But they almost always went deeper, and deeper and deeper. An inch of green above ground could turn into several feet of root underneath. It was amazing. I was also struck with how good the weeds were at hiding. If a wooden board was in place to help separate the sections of the garden, the weeds were almost always thicker, deeper and stronger near that piece of wood. It reminded me of how many of us have our own personal weeds, and how we only like to show so much of ourselves ‘above ground’ (to most), and do whatever we can to protect the weeds or hide we really are beneath the surface. This realization helped me appreciate another benefit of the great outdoors — there are analogies all around in nature for how we live our lives, and how we can (I like the idea of my life being weeded out or weed-free).

We might think we were giving back to the Earth that Saturday, but the Earth was giving my family and I more in return.

What has the great outdoors given to you?

Secrets

Secrets can be heavy, and are something a child learns to keep.

When I was six, I was playing restaurant with a friend. We were seated at the play table and decided we need to create a menu to make the game more fun. My friend asked, “what should we put on the menu?” I was feeling gutsy, so instead of saying what I normally would have said–pizza, fries, pie–I decided to try out a new word I’d heard a neighborhood teen say–a word that sounded bad, but I wasn’t sure. I decided my friend would be a safe place to try it out. I said, “why don’t we put f***ing cake on the menu.” My friend’s face went pale. I giggled nervously, thinking I was somehow cool for having the nerve to try it out. My friend said, “you just said a bad word. I’m going to go tell your mom.” Oh no, I thought…I hadn’t thought about my mom finding out as a possibility. I panicked and begged my friend not to tell. They did tell, and I got into big trouble. My punishment was soap in the mouth — needless to say I didn’t say another bad word out loud for a long time, but I picked up another habit…learning how to keep a secret. Instead of asking my parents or a trusted adult what something I didn’t understand, or was confused by, meant I kept it to myself, trying to figure out the meaning on my own, or relying on my peers or older kids in the neighborhood. It was a recipe for a lot of misinformation and even more confusion about how the world worked.

As an adult, I learned keeping secrets can become an overwhelming burden; weighing you down lot a ton of bricks. It can hinder your ability to enjoy your life controlling your thoughts and actions. Speaking your truth–whether it’s ignorance about how something works, or something you did, or something you didn’t do but should have, etc.–can set you free, or certainly start to lift you from the weight of the burden.

My son recently asked if he could talk to me in private. He asks me to do this occasionally, and I always reassure him that I will listen to what he has to say, and he doesn’t need to worry about being embarrassed or ashamed about whatever he wants to talk to me about. He shared that he had seen a picture that made him feel excited, nervous and sick. Despite having the computer in an open space in our home, with parental control filters on, he came across a picture that was too grown up for him to see (the pic was of a woman scantily clad in a provocative pose–it was an ad next to a YouTube video (the YouTube video was appropriate for kids, the ad clearly was not)). My heart dropped a bit when he told me this, partly because I recognized he was losing some of his innocence, and partly because I was hopeful we wouldn’t cross this bridge with him until he was much older. The upside of learning this information was that my son had the courage to tell me, and trusted me to help him deal with it.

While I would love to take away screen time forever and protect my son from being exposed to inappropriate matter, it isn’t realistic, and wouldn’t solve the problem. Instead, my husband and I needed to come up with a plan to help our son. I sat down and talked with him about what he saw (my husband had a separate conversation with him as well), and we came up with a plan for what to do when you come across inappropriate pictures. Like many parental firsts, I felt like we were treading new ground. I’d never had a conversation like this with my parents, and can only hope we’re handling this in a way that will truly help him.

After sharing his secret, my son’s demeanor changed: where he had been moody and short tempered, he became happy and couldn’t get the smile off his face. We were out the next day enjoying ourselves, and he came over to me and said, “Mom, I don’t have any more secrets!” I could see the shear joy on his face at this realization. I asked him how not having any secrets felt. He thought for a moment and said, “Pretty good.” Pretty good indeed, I thought.

Keeping a secret is hard. Helping your child navigate growing up is hard. Having open conversations that don’t allow secrets to live is freeing, and it feels great.

How are you helping your child navigate challenging issues?

Spring Breakin’

How are you recharging your batteries during Spring Break?

I look forward to Spring each year. Not only do we exit the cold weather months, and have all the lovely Spring colors, but it’s the entry point for many of us into vacation time. After many months of working hard, we finally start to think about taking a break; doing something out of the ordinary; maybe even going someplace different or new. There’s something about planning a vacation that’s so much fun–having something to look forward to can do wonders when you are tired or in need of a change from the daily grind.

Camping trips, visits with family, fun with the kids are all on the horizon. I anxiously await when our next trip will be: whether it’s a long weekend or more time away.

How are you and your family breaking away from the ordinary to enjoy yourself?

Spring Chicken

What are your favorite Easter traditions?

I love everything about Easter: the time of year, the colors and blooms; Easter Egg hunts; family time and all that goes with the holiday. What’s funny is that Easter really did spring (or should I say sneak?) up on me this year. With a work schedule that has been abnormally busy, plus traveling, plus working through a bad cold, I noticed I almost let Easter get away from me. Half the joy, in my opinion, is the planning and getting ready for the day.

I may no longer be a Spring chicken, but I feel like a kid at heart. And while I won’t actually hunt the eggs myself on Easter, I sure will enjoy hiding them and watching the kids find them. It’s joy and happiness that comes from being together–I don’t think that gets old at any age.

How are you taping into your inner-child this Easter season? What helps keep you a Spring chicken?