Lately, as a new approach to weekends, I’ve struck a deal with my kids. On one weekend day, they get to choose an activity. It’s usually something that requires money and coordination, like going to Chuck E. Cheese’s, or seeing Lego Batman at the Cineplex, or visiting the children’s museum—the kind of boisterous activity that you would only do if you are a child or supervising a child, the kind of experience designed to make children beg.
On the other weekend day, I make them walk with me. We’ve got at least a half dozen nearby trails that lead to the water. In the past, I’ve had a hard time motivating them for this, but lately, because it’s routine and because I’ve set it up as an exchange (your day, my day) they seem to roll with it.
And every week, once we arrive at the beach, I am struck by the same exact thing: They LOVE it here. They run around in search of sticks. They lift big rocks and watch the crabs flee. They descend into this kind of flow state where they can throw rocks into the water, one after another after another, and they don’t get bored. They are focused and happy. No one bickers.
If given the choice between a walk and Chuck E. Cheese’s, I’m pretty sure they would choose Chuck E. Cheese’s 98 out of 100 times, and yet they seem to have more fun on the walk. I think about how, just as Chuck E. Cheese’s is designed to appeal to all of their joy-seeking impulses, the beach was designed to appeal to all of their senses. Like, we could go to the children’s museum—we could pay $35 so that they can launch wooden boats in a water table—but Nature has already nailed it. There’s the soft sand, the logs to climb on and roll, the encroaching tide, and unexpected guests.
Last week, our Saturday brought us to a marina that sells soft serve ice cream for $2, a place where people launch boats and let their dogs run wild. Once we’d been playing for a half an hour, three friendly dogs stormed the beach. They were all different breeds, but all were black and white. One of them barked insistently at Smoke until he threw a wet stick over and over. Another one leapt in the air every time Stump threw a rock and this made Stump laugh uncontrollably.
When my kids grow up, wherever they land, I want them to know they grew up in the Pacific Northwest. I want them to feel it in their bones, to remember seasons of rain and breaks of sun, and the way Puget Sound spreads its fingers and holds the land. I want it to be a childhood of mossy trees and glassy inlets, a childhood spent throwing rocks in water, forgetting time.
You have such a beautiful way of describing your interactions with your children! I appreciate that you are trying to instill a love of the NW in your boys. Too many people grow up and run from this place, or stick around and complain, but it is truly one of the most unique regions on Earth. Did you grow up here?
I didn’t really grow up here, but we came to the PNW every summer when I was a kid. My dad is from this area. Those summer trips are the reason I moved here as an adult.
I like your idea of an exchange: your day, my day. My son can have so much fun in the outdoors – away from screens – and yet if given the choice, his first choice would always be more video games. UGH, it’s the worst. We’re all addicted to our screens. Yesterday we met some new friends at a park and the boys dug troughs and mountains in the sand for an hour and a half and could have gone on longer if we didn’t have to get home for showers and dinner. A post like this is a reminder to force us out of the house more. Especially on beautiful spring days like today (we’re in the Bay Area). Thanks!
It always surprises me how much effort it takes to get the family outside–but it’s always worth it.
Yes, yes, yes! It’s like that with screen time. They beg and plead for one of my husband’s many screens, and he capitulates because they need some tech, right? But never me. Because there are books and sewing machines and of course, the ocean, the ocean, always the ocean. Admittedly, sometimes the ocean (or snowy woods, marshy paths, bike trails…) are louder or harder to manage initially. But the joy is so much deeper. It’s soul joy.
You are a stronger woman than me. I’d like to cut my kids’ screen time in 1/2, but that would require real work.
Bwah haha! I’m ruthless. (Also, screens make me sad when other people are staring at them. Why is that? Probably I should see a therapist about this…)
Somehow, Collin’s friends coming over helped get everyone outside to find frogs and crabs and salamanders. It was always worth every second of effort to make it happen. And yet it was something that came so easily to kids growing up in the 70’s and 80’s. I know the technological screen situation has changed, but I also think people have ramped up their fear of kids wandering, heaven forbid unattended by adults, outdoors.
Brilliant plan! Love this. Since the sun is shining more lately my kids are outside for hours a day now… And I’m relieved. It was a long winter. I was hoping that being outside would get into their bones once the wheel began to turn. Not that we didn’t go out on winter, but it was too cold to stay out for long. I believe it has… The house, I’ll clean another day.. Another season. For now it’s barefoot walking in the yard, hunting for crawdads and gardening for us. Xo xo xo
I love hearing Stump’s laugh, imagining Smoke throwing a stick over and over. All of this deserves putting in a book — such beauty in our relationship with Nature, and in your description of it!
Yes! I love the Title of this piece, and the whole piece of course! The other day I wanted to look for wildflowers. I told Jack and Fiona (3yrs old) that we were going for a hike. We brought a friend and thier mom( my friend!) of course the three- three-year olds had a fit. We almost took them straight home for a nap. But we chanced the walk; the MOST BEAUTIFUL yellow and green hillsides I’ve ever seen. Jack, Fiona, and Valentina found a little stream and played in the mud! We all had the best time. Our stories mean we mom knows best!!! Haha!!
Oh, I love that I’m hearing from other moms that bringing kids outside is often WORK. Makes me feel better.