Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Cool Mom

You know, I had a sad little fact come floating to me recently. A lot of parents I know like to keep their kids inside all winter long. Hey, I know it gets cold. We're not going anywhere above 36 degrees this week - and that's our really hot heat wave day. I know some of you in the midwest see temps well below zero constantly. I know going outside isn't always practical. In my area, it is practical during some parts of winter. That 36 degree day coming up? My son will be outside. He will be bundled up in a coat, hat, hood, scarf and mittens and maybe snowpants and boots, depending on what the weather does. I don't keep him out for hours, but he gets a chance to have some fresh air, maybe some sunlight if it's shining and he gets to burn up his energy. We may stay outside for a few minutes to fill the bird feeders. He likes to wander around a collect sticks and pretend that they are dinosaurs. We talk a little bit about how nature changes in winter - how leaves fall off some trees, but others keep their needles or about why there are different birds visiting us and why the robins have left. I personally feel that many children today lack an essential connection with nature.

I'm not pulling this out of my butt. I have spoken to several moms who bemoan going outdoors because they hate snow and bundling up and then complain about being indoors because the kids watch too much tv, play too many video games and destroy the house. Just because you are stuck inside doesn't mean you have to plant yourself in front of the tv or video system all day long, but that's what seems to be the norm. I have spoken to many mothers and father's who "just don't feel like" reading books, writing, drawing, painting or doing crafts. It's just easier to plop them down and let the tube entertain them. Judgemental? A little. I know that something has to give sometimes. I do let my son watch tv now and then - he loves SuperWhy, Sid and Dino Train. He watches those on days when I really need to do something alone or if I'm sick. He's pretty good at entertaining himself with crafts, toys and games, but there are days when he wants to just sit down and pretend he is a Super Reader, too, and that's okay because it doesn't happen the majority of the time. There are definitely times when I just don't feel like reading Persnickety for the 100th time. I don't feel like drawing 19 cars or gluing some craft together, but I do it. I hate to sound like a Hallmark card, but these moments really are brief in our lives and it's something we can never get back. And I don't want to live with myself knowing that I let the tv babysit my son when I could have been interacting with him more.

Back to the outside world. Structured outside play is a big trend in my area. If you're going to play outside then you have to play a certain way, with certain things and you best not get dirty and PLEASE do not touch nature. That last bit was actually yelled by a mother at the park, several times. Her kids were picking up leaves, sticking their fingers in the dirt, feeling the bark of the trees and running down the path. Over and over she would yell, "We DO NOT touch nature!" Why? I understand not wanting to get dirty, but you're outside and sometimes it happens. And kids are supposed to get dirty. It's in their DNA. I'm not saying you need to let your kids roll around in the mud everyday, but it's probably not best to keep everything super pristine either. Science has already shown that a severe limit in exposure to germs and the overuse of cleaning products and antibacterials actually has the opposite effect of what parents think they are achieving. We aren't making things cleaner. We're making bad bacteria and organisms more resistant and we're training our immune systems to be weaker. Not to mention the environmental and bodily harm that some of these products cause with their chemicals. I just see it a lot. Parents who don't let their kids be kids. Play has to follow a set routine. Grass stains are not okay. Dirt and the outside world are evil. Why? I do hope there are more parents like me. they are hard to find in my area, but I know they are out there.

Do you know the weird looks I get when I let my son splash in puddles? Do you know I can usually count on one person asking me why I would let my son do that? Because it's damn fun and he's learning. I guess that makes me the fun mom. Grass stains don't give me heart attacks. Dirt under the nails can be cleaned with a little (non-antibacterial) soap and water. Snow is meant for building snowmen and forts. Rain can be enjoyed and it may even make your hair curly. It's fun to watch the ribbons on your homemade wand blow in the wind. Nothing feels better than a little sun on your face. And puddles were made to be jumped in.

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