growing up with nature

This post is one that has been whirring around in my mind for a few weeks. Actually, it 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.

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.

Isn't this how we all feel after being inside too long? 
[The one of Caroline CRACKS ME up and I keep it just in case I need a laugh]

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.

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

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.

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.

One of my favorite pictures. Blythe after helping out at the ball field...
…and her clothes were never the same again...

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some thoughts on Father's Day

We've always been pretty low key for Mother's Day and Father's Day, mainly because my parents didn't want us to fuss over them. Brent's parents were the same, so we've pretty much followed suit.

However, sometimes a girl just has to say what a girl has to say.

First let me say this: Father's Day is hard for some. Be aware of this. Be gentle. Some have never known a father's love. Others have lost their fathers. Still others struggle daily with a man who is not a good father to their children. May it be a collective prayer this Father's Day that those who have been hurt or abandoned by fathers know the Great Father's love, and rest in His arms this day.

I recently read this article titled, "Dad's Aren't Dumb" in which the author says we should stop underestimating and undermining today's fathers. She goes on to say that there are great fathers out there, and they are not just "babysitting" when they have their own children, but doing "parenting of the very best kind." Can I get an AMEN?

Those of us who are raising children in this generation are fortunate. I've had several older women commend me about how great Brent is with our daughters, and then go on to tell me that when they were raising their kids, it was not expected that fathers be involved. And I know this is not to say that all weren't, but it was more readily accepted. I think there has been a big shift, especially in the church, for the men to step up not just as "household leaders", but to get their hands messy in the business of their kids.

And Brent loves to be messy in this business.

The minute the garage door begins opening, Blythe drops whatever she is doing and RUNS for the door. Daddy is home, and that means it is time to PLAY. And play they do. Brent plays with Blythe in ways I have never even dreamed about playing. Yes, I love imaginative play, but with him it is at an entirely new level and much more physical. And Blythe thrives under this play.

Even though we made the decision that I would be home with the girls, Brent fully understands that this is a full time job for me, and after he has put in a full day at the bank he rushes home to give me a break: a break he doesn't really get until the girls are both in bed. And if the house is a mess and dinner isn't on the table, he still tells me that I've done good work for the day. And I am able to thrive under this praise.

Training for a marathon? He does it before the girls are up, or after they've gone to bed.
Needs to mow? This happens during naptime on the weekend or with Blythe on his lap.
Blythe wakes up earlier than usual? Brent lets me sleep and changes her and feeds her breakfast, all while getting ready for work.

The fall is different for us, because I have softball obligations and duties and games. These leave Daddy in charge a couple of nights a week. Sure, when Blythe was little I briefed him on when she had last eaten or slept, but beyond that I just let him run with it. I never have to worry when they are with him. I know Blythe is going to be fed, usually bathed, run ragged with play, disciplined, and put to bed on time. I know Becks will be fed, talked to, and snuggled. And I know, if he thinks of it, he'll even unload the dishwasher or fold the clothes that have seemed to have taken up permanent residence in the laundry basket or dryer.

This past week Brent had a conference/class in Kansas City and had to stay down there from Sunday afternoon until Friday. I could tell he desperately wanted to be with our girls. He missed them. Genuinely. [I would have gladly traded him spots. ;) Mainly because he was at a HOTEL! I love them.] And the moment he walked in the door on Friday, knowing I'd had an exhausting week corralling Blythe and getting up with Becks in the night, he said, "Okay Kels, go take a nap or leave or do whatever. Seriously. Go." So I did. I left and I dipped my feet in the pool and read a book. And it was just what I needed. And he knew that. And he gifted me that time.

I know not everyone wants to read about how great Brent is, but I wanted to give him these words because he so often gets my leftovers: when I am exhausted and crabby, it is Brent that I crab and whine and snap at. When I am overwhelmed, it is Brent that gets my crazy I-don't-know-how-to-handle-myself-right-now tears. He gets the ugly, nasty me that I don't give anyone else, not because I feel the most comfortable with him, but because I know better than to treat other people the way I treat him-- and I know he won't leave. He may laugh in the face of my anger and tears, but he won't leave. And because I treat him like I love him least sometimes, when I really love him most, I need to give him these words.

Happy Father's Day, Brent. Thank you for not just being a dad, but for fathering our daughters. Thank you for wanting to get messy in their lives. Thank you for loving me back into the role of being a good parent when I'm not. Thank you for enjoying the time you spend with the girls. Thank you for getting up at 6:30 to rock Becks for a little while just so I can sleep for another thirty minutes. Thank you for working hard and living on less so that I can be home.

Thank you for lighting up the lives of your three ladies.  We are near Jesus when we are near you. We love you so much.

…and I didn't even mention the other GREAT fathers in our lives, but let it be said that our family is greatly and deeply blessed by men who love to love kids. We have some generations of good fathers in our blood. 

Uncle Dan… he may actually be a super hero, we aren't quite sure. 

My dad, better known as Papa these days 

Brent's dad, or PopPop… good enough to name a daughter after 
My Grandpa A.J…. and all the other Grandpa's in our lives now and before. 

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how I know to get the heck outta Dodge

[Can I just say that right now I hear *nothing* bursting outta my two monitors. Nothing. We're figuring this out, folks!]

The other day I was in Kohls trying to snatch up a few deals in the hour that I had before I needed to get back to feed Becks when I overheard this conversation:

Man #1: "something something something...the heck outta Dodge."
Little Girl: "Where is Dodge?"
Man #1: Chuckles. "In Kansas somewhere."
Man #2: "It's a saying though. Dodge is just a place you say when you need to leave."

Thank you, Gunsmoke.

I realized the other day though that I have developed a way of telling when I need to get "the heck outta Dodge." Cars.

Let me explain.

This works two way.
The first scenario:
I'm cruising along, minding my P's & Q's in my sweet 2004 Honda minivan with minimal rust spots, when all of a sudden I notice the cars around me have no dust on them. They clearly haven't driven gravel roads lately. [Their loss].
And then I notice Lexus, Mercedes, .... shiny and silver, declaring their names on the spot free black vehicles. And then I start to see makes and models I've never even HEARD of before; cars so fancy they don't even bother with million dollar ads during the Super Bowl.

It is right then that I know I need to get the heck out of Dodge. I'm out of my element. These people drink Starbucks twice a day and shop at Talbots for everyday wear.

I look for my nearest exit.

The second scenario: 
Typically I don't know where I'm going and take an exit I think is correct, when all of a sudden I notice the cars around me don't have hubcaps. They might have dust on them, but I can't really tell because they are all some vague shade of rust and brown.
I can't tell what the makes and models are, because I'm too busy locking my doors and securing the premises.

It's right then that I know I need to get the heck out of Dodge. I'm out of my element. [Think Sandra Bullock in "The Blind Side" when she goes out looking for Michael.]

I look for my nearest exit, stage left.

I find myself most comfortable among farm trucks, the occasional tractor that causes a traffic jam, and vehicles at least 5 years older than the year we are currently living in.


Unless you're talking about buying a vehicle for my 16 year old who is about to drive-- then hook me up with someone who can get me one of those fancy hubcap free cars.

*The is satirical. If you shop at Talbots or drive a rust/brown hubcap-free vehicle we can still be friends.

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one month of Becks

My hope is to do short/sweet monthly updates of Becks because, let's face it, I was a second child and I understand the the feelings when there are 32 photo albums for your older sister and two for you, one of which is partially filled. That's the hope. But I'm also no longer just a second child dreaming big dreams of journaling and album-ing for her second child-- I am also a mother of two now and by-golly, I think I understand the empty photo slots now!

That being said, I'm hoping to snap a quick shot or two of me holding Becks each month… naked, because who doesn't love naked babies?

And if it's a good month, I'll jot down a few "stats" for posterity [and those three family members who read this and want to know].

And if it's a REALLY good month I'll throw in a few extra pictures from the month for good measure.

And if it's a SPECTACULAR month I'll order those pictures and put them in an album for Becks' children to giggle over someday.

So here goes…month one:

helping Becks talk on the "phone" which is actually a remote

I was bathing Becks on the counter while Brent was bathing Blythe in the tub.

Weight: 8 lbs 4 oz when we unofficially weighed her on the scale [the ole I hold her, I lay her down, I do some math trick].

Clothes & Diapers: She wore a few premie items until about 2.5 weeks, and is now in all newborn stuff. Carter's brand newborn stuff, I should say, because it is the smallest there is [other brands of newborn are still plenty big on her]. And newborn diapers. They finally fit though! 

Left: newborn diapers: tape had to be overlapped to fit her. 

Eating: All the time, let's be honest. She's a great nurser though, which is HUGE for me. If in no other way in all of this I have seen God at work, it is in this area. I know I specifically had several people praying that this would go better this time. We've still had issues, but SO much better. She eats in around 20 minutes. She's hard to burp. She takes a bottle great when we need to go that route. And eats every 2.5-3.5 hours. About 7/8 times a day. 

This serious face of hers cracks me up
Also, this is a doll stroller.
Sleeping: At night she is already a CHAMP [for the most part], which is AWESOME! The last week she has been eating at 6:30/7 p.m., going down for night, and I usually WAKE her around 1/2, she eats, goes back to sleep, and then wakes up between 6/7. So that's pretty incredible. Sprinkle in a few rough nights, obviously. However, we are working on napping better. Sheesh. Her eyes are like spring loaded or something and will not shut, and once she goes down for a nap she wakes up 45/50 minutes in and has to be resettle to nap any longer. She's getting better though…she'll have it figured out about the time we're ready to switch the whole she-bang around, right? ;) [I'd take the night time sleeping over the day though…I think?] She hates when I initially swaddle her [very tightly], and fights it for a minute, but then gives it up and realizes it's pretty great. 

New accomplishments/ Things to note: 
\In the past week she started smiling at us…a little. She is a fairly serious kid so far and we really have to work at it, but when she does it reminds me of the little personality that is developing every moment.
\ So far she's been constipated like Blythe…is that an accomplishment? 
\ We've been surprised by her strength/alertness from day one. Maybe it's because she is so little, but she really is a mover and shaker! Watch out! 
\Her eyes are still blue. I'll be shocked if they stay blue, but I'd also be totally okay with that!
\Blythe gets right.in.her.face all the time! Any time I walk in the room holding her, or she notices her, she HAS to kiss her. Becks does not love the love as much as Blythe loves giving it. 

First day of church

Becks' dress is a doll dress-- You can buy dresses Blythe's size that come with a matching doll outfit, but I thought this was more fun! 
He is such a good daddy for little girls

First bath…with a little TOO much help from big sister
Blythe wanted swaddled like Becks always is

My first time alone with both girls at the house

with Papa [how many hands does it take to hold a baby?]

They have the same hairstyle

Happy one month, Becks Lynae! Thank you for coming into our lives and stealing our hearts one day at a time.

Blythe's One Month post for comparison.
 I still see a lot of resemblance, but less and less as days go by. 

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