Thursday, April 30, 2009

Nature: Deficit or Overexposure?

Nature Deficit Disorder is a term coined by Richard Louv in his book Last Child In the Woods. Mr. Louv writes about how children are spending less time outdoors and this results in a wide range of behavioral problems. Hear Richard Louv interviewed on NPR.

When my children exhibit behavioral problems, I often deal with the problem by sending them outside. I learned this essential parenting skill from my mother who would routinely throw us girls outside and tell us she didn't want to see us until lunch (or dinner as the case may be). Some of my fondest memories of being a child are spending time outside, although much of it is fogged over by severe allergies.

The big oak tree that once held a treehouse. Only some old footholds are left.

I am fortunate to live on a large, relatively wild piece of property where there are lots of areas to explore. There's a creek, mature oak trees, a hill to slide down, room to throw rocks, a place to play basketball. Twenty years ago, long before we built our house on this property, the neighborhood children built a treehouse in one of the large oak trees. There was even a rope to swing on. We had to remove the few remaining boards and the frayed and decaying rope when we moved in, but the fact that there was once a treehouse there has fascinated my boys for the last few years. They stare up at this large and daunting tree, imagining how cool it would be to have their own space up there. They have tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to climb the tree. Every once in a while, with team work and sheer will one of them manages to shimmy up part way, but this tree is not an easy one to climb. About a year ago they made a ladder out of scrap wood to help get up in the tree. They found a piece of chain and a rope and installed them to repel up the tree. Recently, the idea of a zip line between this tree and another large oak nearby has captured their interest. There has been planning, exploring, climbing, surveying going on. These trees are on a steep slope so the other day, they decided to make a sort of path/stairway to more easily get to the trees in question. They used the only tool they could find at the moment, a hammer, to hack at the earth. They did make a path that looks pretty cool. Plus, it kept them outdoors and busy for hours. All good, right? No nature deficit disorder around here!

The pathway up the hill from one tree to the other. It was created with a hammer.

My children went to a preschool that emphasizes outdoor education and play. When I see them working on this kind of outside activities I often think back to their preschool experiences and how they helped shape the way my boys play. Unfortunately my middle son, who is in 5th grade and almost 11 years old, forgot one very important lesson he learned in preschool.

Skip forward two days from the path-creating activity. I am watching my sons play in a Little League game, my middle son is pitching and doing great. The game ends, he comes off the field, walks directly over to me, and says in a slightly panicked voice, "Mom I think I have poison oak." This does not surprise me, our property is full of poison oak. At dinner after the game I see that he is visibly uncomfortable. When we get home, he undresses and I see that his body is one red swelling rash and that rash is everywhere. Yes, EVERYWHERE. He's a boy; he puts his hands down his pants on a regular basis.

The upper oak tree, with the homemade ladder in position.

Holy shit, he doesn't have Nature Deficit, he has Nature Overexposure.

As we talk about where he could possibly have gotten such a nasty case of poison oak, he admits he has forgotten what poison oak looks like. He learned this in preschool! He knows better than to be in poison oak with shorts and a t-shirt on! Then it dawns on him. Maybe that small oak tree that was in the way of the path they were building, the one he chopped down with the hammer, was actually a poison oak bush. Judging by the way he looked, I had to agree that was certainly a likely senario.

This is poison oak. Leaves of three: let it be! Looks like oak leaves but more rounded instead of pointy, and there are no barbs. My son said, "Oh yeah, the one I cut down and pulled out looked like that. Only way bigger."

After missing school, a trip to the doctor, a lot of medication, and a fair amount of suffering, I think he has learned something. Know what poison oak looks like, and think twice about putting your hands down your pants when you've been playing outside.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Spring Break Fun

I've tried something new: a podcast of this entry. Click on the title to hear it. Let me know what you think.

Spring break staycation! Hooray!

Just got an email from a friend who met up with my neighbor. A nice picture of them having a fun dinner together in Hawaii.

What are we doing? Well, let's see. My oldest was up all night, sick, coming in to me to let me know his stomach hurt every hour on the hour and reporting when he threw up. The other two are playing soccer in the house with a large bag of foam peanuts. The bag broke, the soccer game continued until every single foam peanut escaped the bag and floated over the entire house. Let's see how fun it is to have the dog run down the hallway, see how the peanuts spread around even more! See how the dog slips and slides!

And my mantras this week (it's only the second day of break): "Get out of the dog's kennel!" "Get your hands out of your pants!"

I sent a copy of this picture to a few friends, including the one who is in Hawaii. In response she called to tell me the beach is great and she has met Joe Montana and some famous baseball player and that she's eating so much wonderful food that it's almost tragic. I know, she's heartless. Another friend I sent it to called me, correctly guessed that my youngest was involved, and offered to whisk him off to play miniature golf with her kids. I did not hesitate to accept. I also sent this picture to my husband, who is too afraid to call me. I don't blame him.

The days (all two of them) have been punctuated by bouts of media exposure, more than I would normally like, but the relative calm while they play Spore is just too nice to deny myself.

I think the thing I miss most about the flush days of the old economy is going on vacation. I suppose I will enjoy and appreciate my next vacation all that much more. And so will my kids.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

A Dog Tongue, Peanut Butter and Toes

My middle son has found the strangest after school activity imaginable. Today he spread peanut butter between his toes and then sat down to let our dog lick it off his feet, shrieking because it tickled and felt good.

I can only hope he doesn't try spreading it anywhere else.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Resist the American Snack Tyranny!

Last fall I was the team mom for my youngest son's soccer team. The job description pretty much consisted of creating a snack schedule, posting it on the team site, and then sending reminders to parents to bring the snack they had already been assigned. Then when it was time for me to bring the snack I forgot.

No big deal, or so I thought. But the kids were trolling around looking for a diabetic infusion of candy, juice, or a massive cupcake right after the game and there was none to be had. They started to gather around me, demanding their fix. I got out of there before the kids started to display sugar withdrawl symptoms, whining and shaking and throwing themselves on the ground.

I hate the whole organized snack thing. The kids are out there, playing a game, getting some exercise, and then we reward them with . . . processed junk food?? This sends exactly the wrong message to kids in a nation with a massive obesity problem. I don't buy that kind of food for my kids unless I am buying it for baseball or soccer snack when it is my turn. So why do I even buy it? I'm not sure, I guess I am sucumbing to peer pressure.

Then my sister forwarded me this article titled Will Play for Food from the New York Times. My sentiments exactly!!! Another person who hates snack duty and had the guts to print it in a national newspaper!

I have to shop today for the team snack for my youngest son's Little League game tomorrow. When the game ends, we go straight home for dinner, so I'm going to bring what I'd give my son if he wanted a snack at home right before we sit down to eat. Water and carrot sticks. Maybe a piece of cheese. I'd like to answer the author's call to end the American Snack Tyranny but that would involve "forgetting" snack duty and I just can't let the other moms think I am that unorganized. I already dropped off my son for a practice yesterday that did not exist.