I’m currently reading the book Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv, and it has been a real eye-opener.
Normally, I do not pride myself in being “outdoorsy.” I don’t hike, camp, fish, ride bikes, or anything of the like. I’ve never been an athletic person. I don’t like spiders, so I steer clear of the woods. I hate the Florida heat so from about May to September, you’ll normally find me inside, cranking the air conditioning. If I want to run or exercise, I typically do it in a controlled setting, or attend a class at my gym for motivational purposes.
That being said, I really do love nature. I always found solace sitting by the rippling lakes near my private university my first year away from home. I would write some poetry or just listen to the birds chirp and realize how small I was in the scheme of such a big world. I like lying on a blanket or on the grass at the park looking up at the shapes the clouds make. I enjoy taking walks with my little boy in the stroller when the weather is temperate. I’m not a huge fan of going to the beach to swim in the Gulf of Mexico, I don’t like getting sand in places it doesn’t belong, and I hate sunburn, but I adore the beach at sunset, walking along the shoreline, feeling the wet sand between my toes and watching crabs sneak into their little holes.
I want my son to grow up to love nature, to learn from nature. I don’t want him sitting in front of the television, playing video games, eating potato chips and thinking everything in life comes with wood floors and central air. In Last Child in the Woods, Louv discusses the sobering fact that in the United States as well as many countries (developed and underdeveloped), children are growing up indoors more and more often. He also includes research supporting the theory that nature-deficit disorder, a phrase he has coined which is not actually a diagnosis, contributes to physical and mental illness in children and adults. I can totally see his viewpoint.
When I’m surrounded by the quietness of nature, or when I hear ocean waves crash, when I see the pinks and oranges light up the morning sky on my way to work, something inside of me awakens. It sounds cheesy, but it’s totally true. Nature does something to you. And I believe nature can heal the mind and body. It can teach.
As I continue to read this book and reflect on its contents, I want to promise myself something: my son will spend time outdoors. I may even have to conquer my fear of spiders so I can climb a tree with him someday. (Side note: this day will probably be sooner than I think, because although William is nine months old, he seems to think he is Spiderman these days, climbing the stroller, the playpen, the entertainment center, and various other items he shouldn’t be climbing.)
So far, as a working mom, I have made time on my evenings, weekends, and vacations to spend a lot of time with William. I have talked to him, played with him, watched him learn, and let him explore. Because he was so little in the summertime, we spent most of our time inside, watching Major League Baseball and playing on his playmat. I made an effort to take him on walks in the stroller, but he didn’t react to much except to squint when the sun was in his eyes. But when fall came, and he was five months old, and since winter has come, he’s been so much more alert, more mobile, more alive. In his short lifetime, we have exposed him to nature in various ways:
1. We took him swimming. (Side note: Someone told me after the fact that a baby should be six months old when he goes in the pool for the first time and that the water had to be 84 degrees… He was five weeks old, the water was cold, and he survived.)
2. We take him for walks around the neighborhood on a daily basis. He loves to sit up and look over the stroller like a big boy 🙂
3. We hung a swing from the tree in our front yard and pushed him while he laughed 🙂
4. I sat him in the sand at the beach, let him grab the sand, smush it between his fingers, and even put a shovel to his mouth. The first time, he didn’t know what to do and his face was one of amazement. You can see that picture in an earlier post.
5. I also held his hands and let him walk barefoot in the cold water. You can tell from the pictures that he has been to the beach over and over again this fall and winter. Sometimes, I have to love Florida for that.
5. We’ve taken him to multiple local parks where he could play on the playground and crawl in the grass.
6. We took him to the zoo to see wild animals in captivity and to the aquarium, where he loved standing up against the glass and seeing the sharks swim.
7. We brought him to the sponge docks in Tarpon Springs and walked the St. Pete pier on New Year’s Eve where he could watch the boats float by.
I know it’s going to be difficult when the summer comes and rears its ugly Florida head and the humidity reaches 110%, but I want to make it my goal to spend time with Will in nature at least once a week, or whenever he wants as he grows up. I want him to run, play, get dirty, breathe the fresh air, and use his imagination.