Sunday, November 29, 2009


I've got a question for you. Well, a few actually.

Several friends and blog readers have mentioned to me that as children, they played outside alone for long stretches of time, stayed out exploring until the sun went down, all without parents nearby. Of course, my kids are only 4 and 2, so obviously some of these things don't apply yet. But it's got me thinking, wondering. No matter what the ages of our children, these questions could spark an interesting discussion.

First: Do you have memories of roaming "aimlessly" outside in nature as a child?
I do-so, so many of them. I must have spent hours as a young child lying in the grass on a hill near our house--but not close enough that any parents could "supervise" my play outside.

Next: How often do you let your kids roam--without you nearby? How much physical distance is comfortable for you outside? How far can they get from you before you worry? Why? Does it depend on the setting, the other people nearby? Is this different from what you had the freedom to do as a child of that same age?

What is this about, this change in circumstance? Are we more-or less-protective than our parents were? Why? Do you believe the world is less safe than it was 20 or 30 or 40 years ago?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Empty Spaces

Remember exuberance?

I love visiting big, open areas with my kids: spaces with few trees, few rocks, not much of anything other than grass (or sand). Playing with with them in places like this is so fun. It's different than the way they play when there are trees and rocks to climb, sticks to collect, leaves to pile up.

They jump. They dance. They spin in circles. Sometimes, they just run. They have room to move, to whip through the air with nothing nearby-just glorious space. They move their bodies through this space, feeling what they're capable of, trying new things, feeling the wind in their hair. Learning what fast feels like. And sometimes, what slow feels like. They play chase. They throw things as far and as hard as they can.

Usually they are also very loud, as if the wide-open-ness of the wide-open spaces just begs their voices to be as full and loud as can be. And how many places are there where kids can really yell, shout, scream, really check out what their voices can do?

It's great to visit these places and watch our kids revel in the freedom, but how about you? Do you remember how to spin in circles until you are dizzy? Roll down a hill? Whoop and holler just because you can? Go outside and find some open space. Your kids will remind you how to do these things. I promise.

Friday, November 13, 2009

An apology to the mother in France, whom I judged 15 years ago...(and to a flock of cedar waxwings)

Many years ago, pre-kids, D and I were in a beautiful open square in Paris. We were sitting on the edge of a water fountain eating brie and bread, watching families as they strolled around.

A cute child of about 2 was interested in a large flock of pigeons as they strutted around and pecked at the gravel on the street. Without warning, the child suddenly screamed and rushed at the pigeons, then laughed riotously as they took to the air, an explosion of feathers and flapping.

After a few minutes,the birds settled again and resumed their pecking and strutting. And then, the child gave a repeat performance: screaming and running toward them as fast as he could. The pigeons, in a flurry, took off again.

I remember feeling totally appalled that a mother would allow her kid to treat animals that way. Scaring the pigeons, stressing them out for his own amusement? WTF? I cried to D, outraged. (Disclaimer: I was a bit of a vehement animal rights activist back then)

And then, I did what all women do before they have kids. I swore that when I had kids I would never....

Fast forward 15 (yes, 15 years)I am remembering this incident because just last week, we were frolicking in the mid-day sunshine at a nearby park. We found ourselves lucky enough to be near a tree where there was a flock of cedar waxwings perched, gorging themselves on berries to fatten up for their migration south.

My kids were enthralled. There must have been 50 birds sprinkled in the branches of a small tree bare of leaves, sporting nothing but huge red berries. They were eating them as fast as their little beaks could pick them off.

Suddenly, (you saw this one coming) J screamed and ran as fast as he could toward the tree, waving his arms and yelling. The birds left the tree as if they were one single creature, taking off from the branches, swirling through the air, then returning to the same tree. The kids and I stood, mesmerized. I forgot all about "correcting" J for yelling at the birds- what we were witnessing was so beautiful.

Once the birds had become comfortable, J did it again! He screamed, ran toward the birds, and off they fluttered. In short order, they came back. Honestly, it was fascinating to watch the birds fly together like a ribbon in the air, and then return, minutes later. More fascinating was watching my children as they saw their actions have immediate effects on wild animals. Watching them realize, "Hey, I have power! I can make things happen!" And most importantly, watching them, completely thrilled and captivated by the fluid motion of birds. Excited by animals and how they react to things.

Sorry, lady in France, wherever you are. I get it now.

PS: The birds, I'm quite sure, are fine. The noise my kids created was minimal compared with what these urban guys deal with every day. And I really don't think the stress created by a couple of yells was enough to do any real damage.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Savor it

There is, no doubt about it, a chill in the air. Fall is packin' up and headin' out.

I know, I know, I'm still in denial about this whole "change of seasons" thing. Halloween has passed. Election day is behind us. The leaves are very quickly departing from the trees. OK-I know. They're pretty much gone.

All too soon, it will be cold, overcast, and wet. Cruddy weather, the biggest barrier I know to getting outside. As much as I advocate being outside every single day, even I will admit it is far easier and often more enjoyable to be outside on a sunny day than on a day that's cold, wet, snowy and gray as far as the eye can see. And we have so many of those days in Minnesota.

So when we are blessed with a few more amazing fall days--huge white clouds, crisp fresh air, sunshine- the kids and I pack up our stuff and head outside-anywhere. We just have to savor every last minute of this: We can still run around with our jackets unzipped. No hats. No mittens. We may start out with them, but they quickly come off and lie forgotten on the trail.

Right now, I'm scrambling like a squirrel, getting us outside as often as possible to soak it up. This usually just means we do whatever it is we were going to do anyway, only we do it outside... we move snack time to the back yard, we read on the front step, or we take the toy trains out to the park for a special adventure.

Anything, anything to get us outside where we can relish this sunshine.