A letter to my Nan Louise at 5 months

Nanny Lou,

You, my dear, are a gift to this family. You light up when you hear our voices, even if you don't see us. You are so incredibly sweet. I can't quite pinpoint why, but you just exude sweetness.

 You are pretty content. You have discovered your hands and love to chew on them. You reach for toys and grab onto them. You just started rolling over and start to holler for me when you find yourself stuck in a corner!

 You are loved very intensely by your big sisters. Sometimes you holler when they come around because you know you're about to be mauled. Sorry about that. You have a sweet little raspy voice and I can't wait until you start saying words and we can hear what it really sounds like.

 You go back and forth with being a great night sleeper. For the most part you do a great job, and other nights we have to give you your paci a few times, but that's not so bad. I'll take it :).

 When I hold you and smell your little fuzzy head, I can't believe I ever even wrestled with the whether or not we should try to have another baby in our family. Now I can't even imagine it any other way.

 Nan, you have stolen our hearts. Your dad said to me the other day, "I have fallen in love and grown attached to Nan the fastest of any of the girls, I think." I think so too. You're just so easy to love, little lady.

 Yes, our lives are busier. Loading the van to go somewhere is harder. Bedtime is much more complicated. Keeping track of all the fingernails and toenails that need to be clipped is nearly impossible. BUT. My heart has expanded in ways it couldn't have without you. God has sustained me and grown me in ways I couldn't have without you.

 Our laps are fuller. Our days jammed pack with noise and crazy chaos. But Nan Louise, I'm so thankful for you. We love you so much.

ps. a photo session with a five month old is not the easiest when your only help is a two year old. ;)


where there are no outlets

A child said  What is the grass? 
fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child? I do not 
know what it is any more than he. 
- Walt Whitman

Two years ago I wrote a post about why it is important for me to get my kids outside. Last week Blythe and Becks got in the creek for the second or third time this summer. Nan even got her toes wet in the muddy water. And our souls were refreshed. It made me think of the post I had written back then, and even though it's gotten harder as I've added children, I still think it's so important to get them outside. To get dirty. To have hair whipped by the wind. To pick up bugs. To name earthworms. To dig holes. To watch birds and chase squirrels. 

I've edited a few pieces of this post, but it is mainly the same from two years ago to accompany the new photos from our creek adventure. Enjoy! Then get outside! 

This post all started when I was watching a little show with Blythe. Really, I suppose it started five or six years ago when my dad let me borrow a book. But actually it started when, in college, I began getting in classrooms and observing students. But really, if I look at the broad picture, it started in my childhood backyard.

Let me paint a picture:
When I was growing up, my backyard, my neighborhood, the expanses of trees and creeks beyond-- they were really just an extension of our home. My sister and I rarely watched television as children. We thought we were SO deprived because we didn't have a gaming system  Nintendo or Sega [let's be honest, there weren't any others]. We could identify birds and tell you the names of trees by the shape of their leaves. We had our fair share of poison ivy and fights with stinging nettle. We went fishing and hunting and picked up acorns and walnuts for extra cash. By the end of a summer's day, I was covered in dirt that had mingled with my sweat.

Eventually I became a high schooler. Other obligations, like sports and homework, took more time from me but I still, on occasion, would spray on bug repellent and march all over our property, noticing raccoon tracks and matted grass where a deer had bedded the previous night.

When I went to college, I thought I might waste away in the library basement writing papers, but sometimes would take an opportunity to sneak out in the late hours of an autumn night for a bonfire with new friends, or unload a group of unsuspecting "city kids" into the woods to take them on their first "snipe hunting" adventure. When I became a Resident Assistant, the Resident Life directors all saw the value that the outdoors provided in way of building community and resolve among us trainees, and I was right at home in the tents and canoes, surrounded by campfires and crickets.

Eventually my degree was coming to a close and I ended up in a lot of classrooms, and eventually was facing a classroom full of high school seniors just a few years younger than me. And that is when I began to see it: the ever-widening gap between kids/teens and nature. I didn't get a cell phone until I went to college and a lot of college students didn't have a personal computer at their disposal. Facebook didn't exist. Nobody was talking about the latest apps. If someone had Tivo it was rare. I still remember putting a sticky note on the door to the shared TV room in my dorm to reserve Thursday nights at 8 o'clock so a group of us could watch Alias. I doubt this happens anymore, as everyone lays in their own bed and watches TV shows on Netflix [which also was not around when I was in college].

So what am I trying to say?

Well, when I moved to Louisville right after college and began teaching even younger kids, the gap seemed even bigger, and the electronics even more abundant. And then my dad gave me a book to read: Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, by Richard Louv. I didn't even need to open it. The title made perfect sense to me, and I could clearly see that I was one of the lucky ones; I could see that my generation just barely snuck through. I felt like we really were the last children in the woods.

The book is really just what it sounds like: heavily researched and with astonishing evidence, Louv shows the reader how out of touch with the natural world "kids today" are. But he goes further and he links the lack of exposure to nature, coupled with the heavily "wired" generation, with so many trends we see in our kids today: rises in obesity, Attention Deficit Disorder, and depression. [Yes, I know many other things can cause any of these as well, but hang with me.]

I opened the book and saw the quote by a fourth grader Louv included as a preface to his book: I like to play indoors better 'cause that's where all the electrical outlets are. I dug in. Though I didn't read it all, and skimmed a lot because it was not the light "summer reading" I was necessarily looking forward to, I was intrigued by so many facts Louv exposed that I knew, just from my own experiences and observations, had to be true:
-By the 1990s the radius around the home where children were allowed to roam on their own had shrunk to a ninth of what it had been in 1970. 
-Today, average 8 year olds can identify cartoon characters better than they can native species, such as beetles and oak trees in their own communities. 
- The number of prescriptions for antidepressants to children has doubled in the last five years [book was published in 2005], and recent studies show too much computer time is not good for the developing mind. 

Louv is bold in his accusations of what "nature deficit" can cause, but he claims that it can damage children and eventually shape adults, families, and communities. He gives solutions though, and shows how being in touch with nature is essential for a healthy childhood development on many levels. He even talks about how this shift in lifestyle for children dramatically improves test scores, grade point averages, and not to mention kids critical thinking skills. And obviously creativity. We are so distracted now. We may appreciate nature, but it is while we are on the phone or we have headphones in. We drive over creeks in our air conditioned car with our music blaring and we don't even look down to see how high the water is after the recent rain or drought. Blythe does now. She always looks and comments about the water level-- if it is too high to play in or just perfect.

Besides the competition technology provides though, other shifts have occurred: we fear strangers and traffic and viruses and rusty nails and …well, what hasn't media told us to fear in what is beyond our front door? Not to mention there is just less nature now. However, the author really gives some great ideas, and motivation, for parents who want to make sure their kids are not the "last child[ren] in the woods." [And here is my fair warning: some of it got a little "tree-huggy" for me, but overall it was good.]

I thought of this book occasionally after reading it so many summers ago-- when students would write, not about what they were discovering in the trees or dirt, but rather about what new video games they were playing. But what really made me think of this book again? I became a parent.

Blythe is two. She already asks for my phone, on which I have held out in downloading games for her, and I know she watches entirely too much TV. This recently has surfaced more and more. I always tried to limit it-- but then I was hugely pregnant. And then I had kidney stones. And then I had a newborn. And it seemed that her time in front of the TV just kept increasing. And part of me still defends that: trust me, it is okay sometimes to just survive and if it means plunking your toddler in front of the tube for a little bit so you can BREATHE! or shower, or eat, or feed an infant, or clip your fingernails, or brush your teeth… then by all means, DO IT! Your sanity will thank you.

But you know what I was discovering? The MORE TV Blythe was watching, the less she was entertained by it. And the MORE TV Blythe watched, the less she was napping and sleeping. And the MORE TV I let Blythe watch to keep her occupied? The LESS she was occupied. Her imaginative play began to decrease: she wanted to be ENTERTAINED. And this was after just a couple weeks of increased TV time. I find this even truer now that I've tested it with more children! And my kids LOVE tv. Sometimes I have to BEG them to get outside. It's easier to let them watch TV and trust me, we watch our fair amount of it. But the more I turn it off, the better Blythe and Becks will play together. The more ideas they have, the more they are able to entertain themselves, and the thing that amazes me the most: they fight and bicker less and throw fewer tantrums! I know! It's crazy but true!

And then it occurred to me, the irony of all ironies, that so many of the little shows she would watch had catch phrases or songs about getting OUTSIDE! One of her favorites is Bubble Guppies. We don't have cable, so my parents have a few DVR-ed for her at their house. The one song that is on every episode: "Everybody up! Let's go, let's go! Everybody outside, everybody!" And yet there we were, sitting inside while the daylight burned on all around us.

And as we are beginning to figure out our days with Becks a little more, and my energy is coming back, and the days are getting warmer and longer, I am trying harder and harder to show Blythe [and Becks too, though she doesn't seem to pay attention much, right now ;)], the beauty of being outside-- the beauty of exploring and dirt and trees and wind on your face and humidity licking at your neck. I'm trying to get her unplugged and outside so that she looks back on the adventures of her childhood like I look back on mine. And the more of an effort I've put into this, the more I've seen her creativity and imagination, and even her attention span, growing. It's true

And even though, as ridiculous as it sounds, some days it is hard to take the ten steps to get out the door, it is always so worth it. For all of us.

And the other day when my dad cut a path down to the creek and asked if he could take Blythe? I was so excited for her. I couldn't wait for her to get her toes wet and get sand stuck on her ankles. I wanted her to walk with the minnows in the clear flowing water and swat a few mosquitos. I wanted her to be pinked by the sun, and get rosy cheeked from the exertion of it all. I wanted her to discover this great big, beautiful thing that is at our fingertips everyday.

my dad has learned over the course of various trips and now brings snacks and toilet paper. women!

sometimes when it is chilly or the bugs are bad he builds a fire

Once she and her papa got down to the creek, Becks and I observed from a bridge above. I shouted a hello at her, barely able to break her attention from the sandy bottom. She squinted up at me, a pink ball cap sitting askew on her sweaty head, and said, "Come, Mama. Come down to my creek." Her creek.

Yes, Blythe. Nature is yours. Embrace it.

when it was time to go this time she said, "I think I'll just stay down here until it gets dark..."