"Come on." I said to J last week, on the way to his sister's school a few blocks away. We were shuffling down the sidewalk. It was covered in about an inch of ice. Scratch that "we"- I was shuffling along, trying to stay upright despite my hyperactive 60 pound dog, who was dashing and leaping and jerking and trying to chase squirrels, all while slipping and losing her balance on the ice. She looked like Bambi, legs splayed out in all directions. In the distance, the school bell rang. We were late-again.
J was climbing a snowbank. Backwards. With his eyes closed.
On most days I would love the backwards-eyes closed-snowbank-climbing antics. Many days, I'd even join in. Most days I allow extra time on the walk to school for this sort of dawdling. But on this particular day? It just made me crabby. Well, OK, I'll admit it: I was crabby to begin with. Anyone who's here in Minnesota can relate. It's been a long, long, loooooong winter here in the Northland. I'm tired of coats. Tired of ice. Tired of snow, slush, cold. I miss the sunshine. It was cold and gray. The sky has been gray for so long....
And we were running late! I just wanted to get to the school, retrieve L, and get home so we could warm up. (yes, I know, I should have been dressed for the weather.)
I was not amused by J's revelry. His delight and insistence on playing seemed to do nothing more than to slow us down.
"Do you really have to stop at every single snowbank?" I wondered, gritting my teeth. He smiled, then slid down an icy patch, shrieking with delight. "Let's go, we're late! Come on!" I griped. Then the dog jerked my arm out of its socket when a smaller dog went trotting by across the street. I fell onto my hip, dropped the dog leash, and had to scramble across the icy sidewalk to catch her as she dashed off after the neighbor's dog.
Finally, I had the leash, and J was by my side, having promised to "stop fooling around" at my insistence. (Oh God, did I really say that to him?) We scrambled up the icy hill to school, retrieved L, and the kids immediately threw themselves into the nearest snowbank, while the dog proceeded to go bananas over a nearby squirrel.
I had time on the walk home to collect my thoughts, while the kids played, jumped, climbed and slid. At every single snowbank. And how did I spend that time? I spent it questioning, judging and berating myself for being annoyed and impatient with J earlier. After a few solid minutes of wondering why I couldn't just go with the flow, revel in his slow pace, enjoy the spontaneous opportunities for nature play, it hit me.
Sometimes, it's just annoying to stop at every single snowbank.
Once I admitted that to myself, I felt a whole lot better. When you're running late, and you need to be somewhere, or -darn it-even if you just don't want to stop so often, it's annoying. And sometimes, parents, teachers, we all need to just be OK with feeling annoyed. But here's the thing: I didn't let that annoyed feeling make me stop the kids from playing, and I forced myself to stop rushing them. We weren't late for anything. We had time. I stood there quietly, indulging their play, because I know it has such value and importance.
But I decided there is value also to letting go of the expectation that I'm going to be perfect--indulging in nature play whenever and wherever, and always with a smile on my face. It's OK not to love every second of kids' nature play--sometimes it's not convenient or comfortable.