So. If I gauge the seasons on the fact that we have already seen a string of soupy 90 degree days, and the spooky torrential rains have come frequently and strongly enough to make haywire on the local storm sewers, I can safely say that . . . summer has arrived. Even if unofficially.
But today is lovely. Today, the god of the changing climate eased back its wrathful grimace and went all sleepy-eyed. Today, the world is lush, warm, dry and deep green. Today, the sun is kindly on our faces. Today reminds of the summers of my own growing up.
Today, my nearly two year old daughter and I eschewed the accumulating pile of housework and the uncountable work emails I have waiting for me, and we went outside to walk barefoot in the grass and pull weeds from the garden with unhurried and ungloved hands. Several hours went by, peacefully, with a sense of easy purpose, in tandem with the sun’s warmth, enlivened by the deep and shifting green. Piles of weeds accumlated at our feet, flower stems were trimmed, uninvited grass uprooted from mulch beds intended as thrones for flowers.
Children have a built-in desire to be outside in the big, big world. Parents forget this. My nearly-two-year-old is happiest when her feet are bare and her hands are in dirt. She picks and shares leaves, carries sticks, watches bugs, steps in mud, grabs handfuls of dirt, burrows in bushes and lounges in her chair under the leisurely gaze of the sun. She is an expert planespotter. She loves brightly colored birds. She loves that we share our yard with a family of bunnies. Today, before heading inside for lunch, she grabbed me by the finger and took me on an around-the-block-tour of our neighborhood, her naked little feet never once complaining about the rough sidewalk beneath them. Her nearly six year old brother is exactly the same. We have a tree in the front yard. Give him a choice, and he is going to hang out in that tree for as long as his limbs will allow. There is no more fertile a playground for my children’s imagination than the total experience of a summer’s day.
We parents keep finding reasons to keep our children inside and isolated from the natural world. Media nourished fears about skin cancer, West Nile Virus, child abduction, heat exhaustion, random violence, Lyme disease, et all, has severely impacted our children’s opportunities to directly experience the freedom and magic of the natural world they were born into. By letting our fears rob our children of the essential experience of nature, we are robbing them of an essential building block of their humanity.
I, too, am guilty of not getting my kids out enough. But it is for different reasons. I do allow my children to play outside in the direct sunlight for about 30 minutes before I apply the sunscreen. I allow my kids to climb trees and handle (in my sight) garden tools. But my own reasons for not getting them outside enough stems from the contemporary epidemic of overwork. I am having a very hard time finding time to allow my kids to stray very far from the living room because I feel like I can’t allow myself to get that far from my computer and the stacks of digital deadlines that await me there. This has to change. It has to change.
One day, we parents will be gone, and this generation of young people are going to be responsible for the stewardship of this troubled and ailing earth. If our young people are never given an opportunity to become part of the natural world and to allow the natural world to become a part of them, how do we expect the Earth to remain intact long enough for them to have the opportunity to worry about their children in the sunlight?