I grew up with the most amazing “yard” to play in.
Summer days were spent outside hiking, playing hide and seek between the trees, playing house with a huge boulder we called the Holey Rock, and exploring, exploring, exploring. Winter days were spent sledding, having snowball fights, building snow forts, hiking in the snow, and exploring, exploring, exploring. I went out right after breakfast, often packing a lunch and eating with my friends outside. The rule was I had to be home by dark, and I always was.
I took my children home to Utah (it aggravates my husband I still refer to my hometown where my family lives as “home”. It truly is where my heart is…although I do love Reno and the life we made there). Anyway, I decided to take them on a hike to explore the Holey Rock. I strapped the 30-pound toddler on my back and away we went.
My kids were in love. I heard squeals of delight over the many things they discovered: rocks, sticks, boulders, lizards, cactus, and amazing views. As we walked, I told them of the games my friends and I would play and showed them my favorite hill for sledding. My eldest couldn’t believe it and told me over and over how lucky I had been. I said he could totally go in our front “yard” in Reno and play (we live at the mouth of the Toiyabe). He got excited and said, “Really? I could? And just come home at dark like you used to?”
And my heart seized up.
No. I couldn’t imagine letting my 10-year-old just go explore the forest a mere block away from our home. Not alone. Not even with another 10-year-old. He could get hurt. There could be a pedophile lurking in a cave somewhere just waiting. He could be attacked by a coyote. The “what ifs” were boundless and I realized how much more I liked him in our back yard, our front yard, in front of our Xbox. I could see him and I knew he was safe.
“Er, maybe I could go with you? I love hiking and we could take your little sister and brother.”
“MOM! That sucks! I want to go alone or with my friends, like you did!”
What is wrong with me? Why can’t I let my children – especially my eldest – have a childhood exploring like I did? Sure, I grew up in a rural town and Reno is the city…but still, it’s just nature. I know my parents weren’t any less loving and concerned for me than I am for my own children; they were just more willing to let me explore. What was I so afraid of?
Have you read the book “Last Child in the Woods” by Richard Louv? It’s incredible. He states that we are creating a generation of children with “Nature Deficit Disorder”. Children need to get outside. They need to play and explore beyond organizing sports and playdates at the park. They need childhood adventures in the great outdoors much like the ones I had. He cites many reasons behind the cause of this disorder, but the one that really stuck with me was that nervous nelly parents – like me! – are to blame. We are so overprotective and worried something bad will happen to our children that we’d prefer to keep them near us and overseen at all times. And our children sense our fear and in turn become afraid of the great outdoors themselves. It’s a vicious cycle of Catch 22.
I know this. I get this. It all makes sense. Yet I am so paranoid and concerned about my kids that I can’t. The great outdoors is also the great unknown. And that terrifies me.
We went to family camp at Grizzly Creek Ranch this summer and for much of the time I did not know where my eldest was at. He took off with his friends and would be gone for hours at a time. Was I nervous? Absolutely. But something about being in an enclosed ranch, with all of us close by, eased the fear a bit. At the end of four days, he showed me what they’d been up to. They’d made a sophisticated shelter out of tree limbs and sticks. It was incredible and he beamed with macho pride when he showed me. And it was so right: so reminiscent of my own childhood.
I want that. He needs that. And I’m going to try to release those apron strings and let him go exploring. I may or may not send a cell phone with him. I may or may not be anxiously and nervously waiting until he returns, but I must overcome my own fear and let my children live and love the beauty beyond our yards and beyond my arms.
How about you? Do any of you allow your children to go out exploring on their own? If not, do you think you might someday? And if you are a parent who lets your children explore on their own, what’s your secret? I’d love to hear from you!