My love-hate relationship with the great outdoors

A few days ago I was watching the film of Dr Seuss’s The Lorax with the children when I found myself having a weird emotional reaction to it. Normally I enjoy this sweet little film with its feelgood message about the power of small actions, but suddenly its environmental values were making me feel uncomfortable. After all, when I spent the day helping the children choose and plant up tubs for the patio recently, it triggered my hayfever so much that I barely slept that night. I realised to my horror that like the film’s inhabitants of Thneedville, with their plastic trees and filtered air, I’m far more comfortable staying inside in a sanitised environment than dealing with the messy realities of the natural world.

This wasn’t how I imagined I’d be as a parent.  I have fond memories of reading Last Child in the Woods (Richard Louv’s compelling plea for the importance of exposing children to nature) while listening to the dawn chorus on sleepless nights during my first pregnancy. I vowed then to spend time outdoors every day, got excited about the idea of Land Art for kids, and began to collect lists of nature activities.  When my daughter was a baby I used to walk everywhere with her, often in the pouring rain, but this didn’t last much past my first maternity leave, and her later tendency to get sick whenever she caught a cold probably contributed to us becoming quite an indoor family.  I gradually became aware that we needed to change our habits.

Before moving to Luxembourg, my husband and I had a clear picture of the children living in this house and spending more time outside, developing their physical skills and confidence. Our street is wide and flat with minimal traffic, perfect for bikes and scooters. There is a little grassy area with child-sized football goals at the end of our street, and a playground a few streets away. Also – unlike in most accommodation that we considered in Luxembourg – the patio doors from our living area open straight out onto our garden (the top part at least), making it practical to let the children go outside while I’m in the kitchen.

bikes

We started to see the benefits as soon as we arrived: my daughter started going everywhere (including to and from school) on her scooter, and we got into the habit of leaving the patio door open so that her little brother could potter at the sand table that my mum had given us. We spent time kicking balls at the little field, and used it as a source of natural craft supplies when we copied these cute Olafs… We bought the children new bikes, which they loved, and we saw them becoming more capable and independent as they climbed higher and slid down huge slides at the many excellent playgrounds near here.

However… I was surprised by their initial lack of enthusiasm when I suggested bikes and playgrounds last week, and I realised that we have fallen back into indoor habits over the summer holidays. I do think a lot of it is due to my hayfever – this year’s unusually hot weather seems to have brought it out even more strongly and for longer than usual, and I’ve also fallen into my usual pattern of getting into indoor habits in June that persist post-hayfever. If I’m honest, there’s probably more to it than that though – I’m trying to help the children become something that I am not. Ultimately, apart from a brief burst of enthusiasm each spring, I’ve always tended to be an indoor creature, whose idea of heaven is an elusive moment’s peace in a comfy chair with a book and a cup of tea, and despite my genuine enthusiasm for the idea of spending time outside with the children, I often find the reality uncomfortable.

One of the themes I had in mind when starting this blog was the ways that our recent move to Luxembourg has been a catalyst for the sort of positive changes that we want to make in our lives, particularly for the children. In this case, as with so many aspects of parenting, I’ve realised that there is a limit to how much I can achieve without changing my own attitudes and behaviour. I don’t have an easy answer to my hayfever problem (although I’m seriously considering trying some kind of desensitization treatment next year), but I do know that I need to reconnect with my own sense of outdoor fun. I started last week by getting my own bike out and wobbling down the street on it – for the first time in six years! – and now I think I need to take another look at the 30 Days Wild challenge that I was too sneezy to do in June.

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