365Outside

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Tag: kids

Check Out Our List of 20 Outdoor Family Traditions!

Headlamps on for some pj-clad explorations under the full moon.

Headlamps on for some pj-clad explorations under the full moon.

“On the surface, family traditions are a fun and exciting way to create memories together. But on a deeper level, traditions reinforce a family’s identity, foster togetherness, teach family values and provide comfort and security. Families that create traditions centered on nature reinforce for their children the importance of time spent outdoors. And the results are long-lasting on two levels. First, children who spent time in nature growing up show higher levels of maturity and lower levels of aggression as teens. And second, teens who participate in positive and mutually-agreed upon family rituals report higher levels of self esteem.”

Head on over to Parent.co to read our list of 20 Family Traditions That Will Teach Your Kids To Love Nature!

Happy Birthday, 365Outside.org!

September 2015

September 2015

Although the original 365Outside Challenge started for our family nearly two years ago, this week marks a year since I started the 365Outside blog. It also marks my seventh wedding anniversary with The Captain, the beginning of our first extended sailing trip with the kids (heading out for 10 days on Friday, more on that coming soon), the first time I’ve ventured camping with the boys on my own, and the last week before the boys head back to school. It’s a week of many milestones and as such, I’ve been reflecting on the past year quite a bit.

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” – Zora Neale Hurston

October 2015

October 2015

We know all the cliches about how fast kids grow up. Looking back at some of our first posts on the blog, I can hardly believe that less than 365 short days have passed since my boys were that little. They are growing stronger, smarter and feistier by the minute.

And as our kids grow, so do we. 

A lot has changed for me this year. Our first year of the 365Outside Challenge cleansed my mental health. This second time, I’ve recommitted to a healthier physical lifestyle – eating more nutritiously, drinking less alcohol and exercising more regularly. In doing so, I’m regaining some of the energy and strength I lost after having 2 kids in a year and a half. I can do pull ups again and my endurance is finally back. There are little shadows of abs and biceps that were hidden for years. My body will never be the same as it was before babies, but I’m proud of it and confident in its abilities. The softness in my belly was my babies’ first home. These saggy boobs provided their first meals. The streaks of white rubbery stretch marks outline sacrifices to create new life.

November 2015

November 2015

I’ve recommitted to my writing career this year as well and achieved my goal of getting published offsite at least once a month. Since the launch of my writing website I’m finding work as a content writer too, producing pieces I’m proud of for companies I believe in and getting paid along the way.

I’m proud of my kids all the time. But it feels good to be proud of me for once, too. 

December 2015

December 2015

And of course, with all our growth and change comes more independence all around. The boys play for extended periods in the yard on their own. They climb trees. They build ramps and jumps for their bikes. They know how to dig clams and paddle a surfboard. This summer I’ve started taking them out on the boat by myself. Knowing I can trust them on the boat has allowed us to explore the river on quiet days when The Captain is working. And now we are camping without the Captain for the first time. We are with good friends, so there is plenty of support. But the packing and parenting are all on me.

January 2016

January 2016

The first time we were preparing to go for a boat ride without The Captain, Junior asked sweetly, “But who will drive the boat?” I froze. I thought I was raising feminists and here was my four-year-old thinking that I can’t even drive a boat on my own. After an uneventful trip to the beach and back he turned to me and said, “Good job, Mama. Good job driving that boat.” I smirked back, kind of grateful and kind of indignant, and told him “Good job to you too, honey. Good job riding in that boat.”

February 2016

February 2016

It was kind of sarcastic but kind of true. If it weren’t for each other and the ways we’ve grown this year, we wouldn’t be able to do it on our own. But here we are, just one short year later, and somehow one long year stronger, one year smarter, one year feistier.

Happy anniversary to us. 

There’s another big year ahead. Look out, world.         

March 2016

March 2016

April 2016

April 2016

May 2016

May 2016

June 2016

June 2016

July 2016

July 2016

August 2016

August 2016

In The Moment, He Could Have Drowned

Suddenly I looked down and Little Bear was underneath me, swirling in the murky depth of the hot tub. His eyes were open and wild. Panicked. I reached down with one arm and fished him out. He came up feisty and screaming. He was scared and latched on to my neck, clinging with bony arms around me as he wailed.

Both boys play at the beach in their Coast Guard approved Puddle Jumper lifejackets.

Both boys play at the beach in their Coast Guard approved Puddle Jumper lifejackets.

I often reflect here about the importance of letting my kids experience failure (sometimes even when it hurts) and about my general let-them-run-wild approach to parenting. But I actually do consider myself a very SAFE parent. I like to think that through my experiences in education and particularly as an experiential educator, I have above average awareness of our environment and its potential risks. We let our kids take all sorts of chances, but we do so knowingly and we take precautions to minimize risks. We also teach our kids about the risks around them. I recently read an interview with National Geographic Adventurer of the Year Tommy Caldwell in which he says about raising his son, “prepare him for the path; not prepare the path for him.” And that rings true for me. We create an environment in which our kids can fail without dire consequences, and then we let them learn from it so that they can move forward more confidently and more safely in the future. We’ve got this.

But while we were on vacation, Little Bear could have drowned. I won’t say he almost did because he wasn’t even coughing afterwards, but there was a moment where I saw so clearly how it could happen. It was so quick and it was so quiet. At the time I brushed it off as no big deal, just another childhood rite of passage. We laughed about it later that day, this crazy fearless little kid, always such a handful, giving us a run for our money. It was the kind of thing that happens all the time. But I am still thinking about it almost two months later so here I am, putting it in writing where I purge the toxins that my mind can’t process.

Little Bear in the hotel pool, wearing his Puddle Jumper.

Little Bear in the hotel pool, wearing his Puddle Jumper.

Our hotel had a small pool and a hot tub. Every afternoon after the boys woke from naps, we’d head for the water. The pool was on the colder side and both boys were their usual cautious selves at first when it came to getting in. They’d splash around the edge for a while, dipping toes in and giggling at the chill. Junior can swim on his own now, so he would eventually swim from one side to another and Little Bear would follow suit with his Puddle Jumper on. The hot tub, though, was a new commodity. Neither boy had ever been in one. And since it was really only lukewarm, it was easy to get right in.

Both boys standing on the seat of the hot tub earlier on our trip.

Both boys standing on the seat of the hot tub earlier on our trip.

One afternoon towards the end of our stay, when I thought we’d all figured out the whole water safety thing, I got into the hot tub and Little Bear hopped in right beside me, which was unusual since he is almost always very cautious around the water. I guess he had grown more confident during our stay. He was standing on the seat and I told him, “Remember, you don’t have your floatie on. You can stand here, but you can’t go in the middle. You will sink.” When I said it, I thought that maybe he actually would slip off the seat, and being that I was sitting right next to him I’d grab him just as his head went under. And there we’d both be, lesson learned. But instead of squirming around in his typical fashion and slipping off the seat, he just stood on the seat for a long time, elbows propped on the tiles around the edge of the tub. He was deep in thought or he was tired or he was just having a moment. He stood there so still for so long that I became too comfortable with him being there, without a floatie on. I had a false sense of security. I almost forgot he was there.

Little Bear splashes at the beach in his lifejacket last summer.

Little Bear splashes at the beach in his lifejacket last summer.

I reached for my camera. The bag was beside the hot tub so I didn’t even need to get out of the water. He was beside me, within arms reach. He could have put a hand out and grabbed me. I only needed to shift my body and turn my shoulders slightly to reach my camera. I pulled it out of the case. I took the lens cap off and looked through the viewfinder to check the autofocus which had been acting up. I took a picture of the view.

And when I turned back, he was gone. He was underwater, swirling around and around, his panicked, pleading eyes staring up at me. I fished him out. It could not have been more than a few seconds. I held him while he cried and I felt my chest collapse with the knowledge that it could happen just like that. Beside me. Silently. What if I had decided to change the lenses? What if Junior had yelled, “Look at me, Mama!” What if. What if.

I write this now because we learn from our own stories and from the stories of our friends. If we can’t learn from the mistakes of others, our own growth only comes from our own mistakes. Don’t let that happen. Let my mistake be the catalyst for your change.

Junior wading in a tidepool, wearing his lifejacket last summer.

Junior wading in a tidepool, wearing his lifejacket last summer.

Put your child’s life jacket on EVERY SINGLE TIME they are near the water. I thought I could trust Little Bear but I should have never put that kind of trust in a two-year-old. The only way to keep your child safe around the water is to fit him or her with an appropriate life preserver and use it every time. Little Bear was fine. He didn’t swallow any water and he was back to swimming in just a minute. But I’d be selling us short if I let that be the end of it.

Drowning is silent and quick and it can happen right beside you when you turn away for just a moment. There wasn’t even a splash.

I thought it couldn’t happen to us, but I don’t think that anymore.

 

For more about water safety, click here.

To learn more about what drowning really looks like (and it doesn’t look how it does on TV), read this.

How to Raise Nature-Loving Kids in a Media-Loving World

“It smells good out!” Junior declared, standing in the open doorway after dinner. It had been an unseasonably mild week, the first hints of spring revealing themselves in a warm southerly breeze and jackets left hanging inside. A day of rain had washed everything and now tonight, the sky was clearing again and bulbs were just beginning to push through the rich soil. The air felt extra oxygenated, smelling of dirt and grass and fresh clean nothingness. Junior stood in the open doorway after dinner, taking in big gulps of it as though he were still hungry. Little Bear, perched next to him, noticed the sound first and cocked his head slightly.

“What’s that mama?” he asked. “What’s that noise? Birdies?” I stood with them and heard the first peepers of the season.

“Those are frogs, sweetie. Little, tiny frogs who live in the swamp back there.” Junior’s eyes went big and his mouth dropped open. Little Bear mimicked him. I wish I had a picture of them in that moment. Their pure delight and awe of the natural world written all over their faces.

A late afternoon ice hike with daddy.

A late afternoon ice hike with daddy.

I once wrote about six ways that I convince my kids to go outside on a daily basis. But since I wrote that, I’ve reflected a lot on why these methods are successful and I have to admit that there’s a lot more to it than getting them out the door each day. My kids go outside daily because they want to go outside daily. In fact, they love being outside. It is easily their happy place.

So how did I get so lucky? Is it genetic? The fact is, I have worked with purpose to instill these values in my kids and it is not a coincidence that they have grown into who they are today. But it’s also not that hard. Here are six ways that you can raise kids who love nature too.

1. Create family traditions that include nature

A full-moon walk in the midst of a snowstorm.

A full-moon walk in the midst of a snowstorm.

We have a few family traditions that involve time spent outdoors, but my favorite is our full moon walks. Each month, regardless of the weather, we gear up after dinner and venture outside to enjoy the full moon. Even on stormy nights when it’s not visible, we go out. The kids think that being outside after dark is a great adventure and they are slowly picking up on the moon’s phases. I don’t force them to participate, but so far I have always had the company of at least one of them on my walks and usually both choose to come along. Create a new family tradition that involves being outside. It could be collecting shells or stones or acorns at a favorite place. It could be Sunday morning walks. It could be lighting candles along the walkway or reading a bedtime story outside. To increase your chance of successful follow through, choose something that’s easy to accomplish but still feels special. For more ideas, check out our list of 20 Family Traditions That Will Teach Your Kids To Love Nature!

2. Encourage a sense of wonder and curiosity.

Sheer awe and excitement of playing in fresh snow on a frozen lake.

The sheer awe and excitement of playing in fresh snow on a frozen lake!

It is easy to forget how magical our world is. On my own I would have easily missed that first chorus of frogs chiming in from beyond our back fence this week. Try to be mindful of the smallest signs of natural beauty and point them out to your kids often and with reverence. In summer, draw their attention to worms and butterflies, flowers that bloom anew all season long and those that die after just a week, stars and fireflies, puffy cumulus clouds and thunderstorms on the horizon. In fall, watch how the color changes on a single leaf over time, note the later sunrise and brisk mornings, the first frost if you have one and the unusual warm days sometimes still lingering. Winter may bring snow or sleet or hail or rain, the shortest day of the year and patterns of ice crystals on the windows. Spring brings tiny buds and bulbs, grass that turns green again, days growing longer and fresh mud for months. Point out small changes that you take for granted. Encourage questions and if you don’t know the answer, look it up together. Kids who notice nature are more likely to appreciate its subtleties.

3.  Share your previous adventures with your kids and use them to inspire new ones together.

Hearing all about daddy's surfing adventures and then going with him to check the waves make the boys excited to start surfing themselves.

Hearing all about daddy’s surfing adventures and then going with him to check the waves make the boys excited to start surfing themselves.

We love to pore over old photos with the kids, pointing out favorite hikes or sailing grounds that we explored before they came onto the scene. The kids love to hear about the amazing adventures that we’ve experienced and they long to come along on some of their own. Sharing ours inspires their own imagination and passion. We set new goals together and talk about how we’ll work to make them happen. When the kids understand that backcountry camping requires long hikes with packed gear, they are more likely to come along on shorter hikes that build endurance towards their goal.

4. Provide unstructured playtime outdoors, away from playgrounds

Sticks and a bit of imagination are some of the toys nature provides.

Sticks and a bit of imagination are some of the toys nature provides.

Give your kids time to explore nature on their own in an unstructured way. Playgrounds may be a great place to meet friends or burn off some excess energy before bedtime, but to really appreciate nature kids need to have time to immerse themselves in it and most playgrounds are not natural environments. Away from manmade play, kids use their own imaginations and are more likely to pay attention to their environment. Logs become balance beams, trees become climbing structures and bushes become hiding spots. As difficult as it seems at first, bite your tongue and allow your children to explore and discover their world independently. You’ll be amazed at how much they learn through their own experiences.

5. Surround yourself with like-minded friends

A walk in the rain is infinitely better with friends to share the adventure.

A walk in the rain is infinitely better with friends to share the adventure.

Use peer pressure to your advantage. Reach out to other families who share your values and coordinate some adventures together. If you aren’t sure who to invite on your weekend hike, ask your kids. When their friends buy in, they are more likely to buy in too. Some of our best friends and favorite memories were made on rainy days in the woods.

 

6. Create a nature-rich environment in your home

Field guides are a popular browsing choice in our house. The boys are particularly fascinated by the "scat" pages.

Field guides are a popular browsing choice in our house. The boys are particularly fascinated by the “scat” pages.

You don’t always have to go outside to create lasting connections with nature. Bringing plants into your home, filling your bookcases with field guides and reading nature rich stories together are great ways to encourage curiosity and spark passion for the natural world. We collect stones, shells, pine cones and acorns to decorate our home. We engage the kids to research with us in books or online to answer their many questions about the environment, everything ranging from cloud types and plant identification to bird calls and weather forecasts.

Our kids are surrounded on a daily basis by media that pushes technology, processed foods, medication and the importance of being faster and better at everything we do. By providing them with the opportunity to slow down and appreciate the natural world around them, we ground our children in the bigger picture and allow them to experience childhood more simply. They will have a lifetime to experience the priorities of adulthood. What’s the rush to start now?

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Giving them the confidence and the desire to experience nature on their own ensures that they’ll never be bored outside.

Why I Fenced the Kids In

The beauty of the backyard fence

The beauty of the backyard fence!

Our yard backs up to some overgrown woods that fade into a very muddy brackish creek tucked in behind the salt marsh. It’s neither particularly beautiful nor particularly ugly, but rather just a normal little patch of trees and undergrowth. Before kids, we blazed a trail through it complete with a fallen tree bridge over the creek. The path came out on the street behind ours which leads to the marina and a few open hay fields great for dog walks. But, the path was never maintained enough to juggle a baby while dancing through it, so eventually the low growing thorns prevailed. All that’s left of it now is a rotting log bobbing in the dirty water.

Junior frequently does a little "babysitting" in the backyard while Mama makes dinner.

Junior frequently does a little “babysitting” in the backyard while Mama makes dinner.

Last year we finally fenced the backyard in. It feels wrong to me. I want my kids to explore and adventure and feel unrestricted in the great outdoors. So I’m sure there will come a time when I don’t want the tall stockade fence that runs the perimeter of our small backyard. But that time isn’t now.

Before the fence, I dreamed that someday my kids would be the ones blazing trails through the woods, resurrecting the remains of the old treehouse perched behind the neighbor’s house and living out their fantasy world in shadowy hollows and hideaways. Once my oldest was on the move though, all I wanted was a fence to stop him. I know how hypocritical it sounds, when I really do want to raise my kids to be free range explorers. And I do realize how lucky we are to have this funny triangle of overgrown woods nestled between the back of our home and those of our neighbors’. Someday my kids will be the princes of this tiny kingdom, but not yet.

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The fence also gives us a little privacy for summertime sprinkler play.

Right now, I need the security of knowing that I can turn my back to them for just two minutes while I drain the pasta into the sink. I need to know that one is not chasing the other further and further into the mud before someone loses a boot and then lands with a splat, covered in thick sludge ten minutes before we need to leave for school. I need the firmness of physical boundaries that can’t be broken as easily as the verbal ones I set with with a sharp, “Not past that tree! Stop right there!” I want them to explore and play outside of my watchful gaze, but I can’t yet trust them to stay close on their own.

Holiday party mayhem after dark!

Holiday party mayhem after dark!

Last weekend Santa arrived to town by clam boat at the boat ramp down our street. There were carolers and little train rides and lots of sugar and hot drinks to go around. We invited some friends to mosey two minutes up the road to our house before and after they greeted the big man. With lights strung around the back fence, and a crowd of parents to patrol the gates, the kids were let loose to run rampant in the relative security of the backyard. It was well after dark and though lit, the yard seemed vast and dark and the kids went bonkers.  They rode bikes on the grass, hid in the playhouse, pushed each other around on the tractors, weaved their way in and out of the lilac bushes, and played some kind of catch-dodgeball hybrid, all while the parents chatted around the fire pit in the driveway. The backyard fence meant our two year old could run loose with the big kids. It meant the adults did not have to take shifts combing the woods for runaways. It meant that we could let the kids be kids without the overbearing gaze of parents. This is the time for a backyard fence.

There will come a day sometime soon when I won’t want the fence. There will be a day when the boys are ready to stake their flag in the wooded empire, claiming their kingdom. There will be plenty of days for tree climbing and stick swords and rope swings hung haphazardly over thin green branches. But today, I’ll drink my coffee in peace knowing that they can’t escape quite yet.  Today, they still live in my kingdom.

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Why We Don’t Squash Bugs

Ready to bug hunt!

Ready to bug hunt!

If you came here thinking you were going to get a “We love every living creature equally and we don’t even eat jello because I heard it contains horse hooves,” rant, well sorry but you’re out of luck.  Truthfully, I feel a little strange even writing this.  That’s mostly because I’m a hypocrite and when I see a creepy looking spider on the ceiling in my bedroom, or one of those damn weevils that tries to make a home in my whole wheat pasta, you can bet I’m crushing it with a paper towel. Yup, I’ll squish that little critter without a second glance and toss it straight in the trash. So, I guess I do squash bugs.

But when we’re outside, I’m teaching my boys not to. Here’s why.

The Worm Hunt

It started innocently enough.  Last spring it was mud season and the boys were worm hunting.  They were having so much fun.  Junior came trotting up to me with a worm in his hands that had been somewhat crushed and ripped into a few pieces.

Junior, with his catch of the day.

Junior, with his catch of the day.

“Look mama,” he said. “Sadly he is missing his head.”

It was a weird way to put it, and I knew that Junior had ripped the worm in half so I agreed with him, “Yes, that is sad.  We need to be gentle with worms.” I was winging it here.

“Why?” he asked, unceremoniously dumping the evidence and wiping the brown guts on his pants.

“Because worms are good for our garden.  We want them here.  They will help our vegetables to grow big and yummy.”

Junior nodded and went back to looking for worms.  I gave myself a little pat on the back- good parenting, Mama; go me!

“Kill it!”

Our bug-themed birthday party

Our bug-themed birthday party

Fast forward a few months and Junior had a friend over.  They were in the backyard tipping over stumps, looking for bugs.  Junior loves bugs and just about any other kind of critter that he can practice his catch and release skills on.  He has a little bug kit with a magnifying glass for “examining” them.  He routinely captures toads, hermit crabs, worms, ants, and just about anything else he finds, proudly displaying them to me and his brother before gently depositing them back to their homes.  He even convinced Little Bear to have a bug-themed birthday party last spring. Junior loves all creatures big and small.

So what happened next caught me off guard.  Suddenly, after moving a large log from the wood pile, I saw him start stomping with the heel of his rain boot.  “Kill it!! Kill it! Kill it!!” he was shrieking.

Bug hunting with friends

Bug hunting with friends

Now, keep in mind, this is a child who tells me I look beautiful when I put on something other than sweatpants.  He tells his brother not to push the dog.  He points out birds by name, and watches quietly for squirrels and chipmunks.  He is a gentle, caring soul.  And there he was, crushing ants, chanting “Kill it!”

I morphed into another mom.  The kind of mom who gets angry and yells without thinking and probably has a kid who enjoys killing bugs and chanting about it.  “STOP IT!!” I shouted, lunging across the yard and scooping him up, away from the ants. I put him down. I had saved the ants. I was a hero.  I turned back into myself.

He looked up at me.  “What?” he asked. He was completely bewildered.

“We do NOT squash bugs!” I said firmly, wagging a finger for emphasis.

“Why?” he asked.

I didn’t know. I had to think about it, and even then I could only say, “Because it’s not nice.”

Parenting is so unpredictable.  Try as I might, I never know what my kids are going to do next.  It’s one surprise after another, and most of the time I have to go with my knee jerk reaction and figure out why as we go along.  So since then, I have thought about it.  A lot. I want to be prepared for next time.

But WHY?

Junior with a woolly bear caterpillar.

Junior with a woolly bear caterpillar.

At first, a few murky reasons floated around in my head. It was true that it wasn’t nice, but so what?  Why do we have to be nice to bugs? For me, it had more to do with the blind aggression, the loss of control, the same look in his eyes that he gets before he runs full blast through his brother’s carefully built block towers and laughs maniacally.

And there was something about respect there too.  Respect for nature and respect for leaving things the way we found them. I couldn’t pinpoint it. I wanted him to be an observer. I wanted him to be gentle. I wanted him to appreciate how things are naturally.

Sometimes a quiet observer

Sometimes a quiet observer

All these vague reasons were swirling around my head and though I knew they were somehow connected, I couldn’t decide how.  I even googled it and found a lot of other concerned moms wondering if this was a phase, some part of normal development, or if their precious little one was destined to torture animals and turn into a psychopath.  But I didn’t find the answer to why this sat so uncomfortably with me.

And then, just like that, it clicked.  We were in the backyard and I saw Little Bear gleefully rip a snapdragon up by the roots and wave it around.  It was all the same.

“We don’t ruin something just because it’s fun.” 

We don’t rip up flowers just for fun. We don’t break tree branches just for fun. We don’t knock over block towers, or scribble on someone’s drawing, or dig up the freshly planted sod just for fun. Self control is a tricky thing, but it is so important, both indoors and out.

I want my boys to know that we don’t ruin something that others appreciate just because the act of ruining it brings us excitement.

Junior with a toad he caught and then released in our yard.

Junior with a toad he caught and then released in our yard.

It’s true that sometimes we do ruin things, but we do it with a cause.  We pick flowers to make our home more joyful, or trim hedges that are growing into a walkway.  We cut tree branches that otherwise might fall on our garden or our home. And we kill bugs if they endanger us, like termites in our deck or the bees who had a hive outside our front door.  We slap mosquitos that bite us, or try to bite us.  We do these things with purpose, to make our lives safer or more beautiful.  But there is nothing beautiful about ruining something just because it’s exciting.

Raising kids is a constant balancing act.  I want my boys to be all sorts of things. I want them to be gentle and I want them to be strong. I want them to be both observers and leaders, and know when it’s time for each. I want them to find joy and adventure and beauty outside, and I want them to leave it alone when they stare at it in wonder.  I want all these contradictions at the same time. My boys are still learning what’s right, what’s wrong, and what’s sometimes right and sometimes wrong.  Most of the time, I’m learning right along with them. And we’re starting by not squashing bugs.

7 Slideshow Moments That Sent My Mom-Hormones Over The Edge

I think us mommy bloggers need a support group.  “Hi I’m Mama and it’s been four years since I wasn’t someone’s mom.”  It defines who we are and what we do every. single. day.  Some of you may be wondering, what happened to 365Outside?  Don’t worry, I’m still here, and we’re still outside every day.  I’ll get right back to blogging all about it as soon as I’m done with this.  But sometimes our outdoor time is drowned out by mommy moments.

Mommy moments.

Mommy moments.

That’s what happened last week when Junior turned four.  He was sick, and he’s also been really moody.  Which of course makes me moody too.  I sometimes tell my friends that pregnancy hormones don’t go away.  They just get worse.  From the moment you get pregnant, you are doomed to a lifetime of watching your heart grow and pull away from you. Before kids, I was emotionally balanced.  Now, I’m constantly walking around on the verge of tears and just about anything can send me over the edge:  a son rubbing noses with me, a sappy ad for diapers, a reality TV reunion.  Heck, even those Youtube videos of dogs welcoming their soldiers home.  I’m telling you, it’s BAD.

So there we were, on his birthday, and of course I was teetering on the edge ALL DAY just thinking about it.  He needed help tying his shoes, and as I knelt in front of him, he leaned into me and wrapped his arms around me, holding me tightly against him.  Oh god, here come the tears.  And in that moment, all the other moments came rushing back to me, like a slideshow of sloppy mom-tears.  I couldn’t help it.

Brand new.

Brand new.

1.  The room is too bright and he has just arrived, all warm and moist, whisked away by a nurse to the stainless NICU station where they check that he’s alright.  I am euphoric and don’t understand their distress, or his.  I am telling them that my husband was supposed to cut the cord.  After they’ve taken him, I am calling after them, telling them his name.  We’d kept it a secret until he was born, and I can’t wait any longer.  Soon he is back, rooting on my chest, eyes closed.  I think that he looks like the baby squirrel I found when I was little, fallen from its nest after a storm, blindly pawing for anything warm.  I am pressing my nose against his head, against the wet swirl of dark hair, breathing through him.  Trying to inhale this moment.  Trying to keep it. My eyes well with tears.

Big brother?!

Big brother?!

2.  Fast forward and we are all in the tiny downstairs bathroom, the three of us, our perfect little family.  I am holding the stick, and the lines come up immediately bright.  I toss it on the counter.  Maybe too hard.  My husband is smiling.  Maybe too hard.  I am scared, and excited, and shocked.  I am looking down at the baby on the floor, who is staring up at me with wide eyes, pulling on my pants, trying to stand.  He is still a baby, I am thinking.  And soon there will be another.  Two babies.  Then I think the words, “big brother.”  My eyes well with tears.

Best friends.

Best friends.

3.  Fast forward and we are back in the too bright room, but this time we are here after a blissful blur, a baby born in the bathtub, just a couple hours after I’d put big brother to bed.  There is a messy mop of blond hair hanging over the edge of the plastic bassinet, his little feet scaling its shelves below.  He is wearing a shirt that says “Best Bro Ever.”  He doesn’t understand what we’re all doing here, with this little baby.  He doesn’t know that this little baby will grow to be his best friend.  My eyes well with tears.

Two babies.

Two babies.

4.  Fast forward.  We are home, and I am covered in babies.  The little one is on my breast.  The bigger one is crawling up my legs and snuggling into the softness of my stomach.  He needs reminders to be gentle, to be slow.  He is sticky and smells like soap.  He pats the baby’s head, rubs his back.  He says, “I love you, brother.”  It is the first time.  My eyes well with tears.

First day of school.

First day of school.

5.  Fast forward and it’s the first day of preschool.  He is running ahead of me, his backpack dragging along the sidewalk behind him.  I have to run to catch his hand, so that I can hold it while we walk through the doors.  It is me who wants to hold his hand this time.  He barrels into his classroom, not a second glance.  There are two kids crying, grasping at their mommies’ legs, begging them to stay.  I have to call him back to give him a kiss goodbye.  As I’m leaving, I peek through the window and see him playing trucks.  Behind him, his teacher is prying another toddler away from her mom.  I’m not sure which is worse.  My eyes well with tears.

An epic meltdown.

An epic meltdown.

6.  Fast forward and we’re in the locker room at the gym.  His face is smeared with snot and tears, and he is almost purple as he shrieks that he wants to go swimming NOW.  But I tell him, it’s too late.  His lesson is over, and he refused to get in the water, stubbornly planting himself on the wall of the pool for 20 minutes.  We cannot go swimming now.  He throws his body on the floor and wails.  I open the door to our changing stall because I’m worried someone will think that something terrible is happening here.  I have to carry him to the car.  He is kicking and screaming, his head is flailing.  I am worried I may drop him.  There are other moms in the lobby on our way out, who sadly smile knowingly.  One of them pauses to tell me, “You’re doing a good job.”  And my eyes well with tears.

Still three, one last time.

Still three, one last time.

7.  Fast forward, too fast, and we’re here.  He is turning four tomorrow and I’ve found his beloved satin blue Lovey downstairs long after he’s gone to sleep.  Up until just recently he wouldn’t go to bed without it.  Tonight, he didn’t even notice it was missing.  I sneak into his room to check on him before I go to bed. He’s asleep, and I tuck his Lovey in behind his head, where he will find it right away when he rolls over and reaches for it in his sleep.  He might not need it anymore, but I need to know it’s there.  It’s the last time I will see him while he’s still three. My wild, thoughtful, funny, perceptive little boy who is no longer a toddler. I cannot believe we are here.  My eyes well with tears.

To the person thinking: “That’s great, but I could never do that.”

First off, don’t worry.  There are many of you, and you’re in good company.  So if you thought I was singling you out, breathe easy, friend.  The blog has only been up 24 hours and this is the comment I hear the most.

There’s a tricky balance in starting something like this. The 365Outside Challenge started as a challenge for me and my family.  When it began, I had no idea if we’d be able to see it through.  How am I going to carve out the time for this?  Will I be able to motivate myself to go out when it’s 16 degrees and windy?  What if the kids mutiny? We’re just so busy.  I’m just so tired.

I bet you’re nodding.  Who isn’t busy?  Who isn’t tired?  We had to start small.

Sometimes getting outside just means going for a bike ride around the neighborhood.

Sometimes getting outside just means going for a bike ride around the neighborhood.

We got outside on New Years Day for a nice long walk beside the frozen river.  The next day we dusted off the bikes and rode them up and down the hill on our street.  When we visited our cousins for the following two days, the boys pretended to hunt dragons on the back hill before it began to rain, sleet, and snow. Eventually we tried “sledding” and the kids ended up soaked but stoked before we went inside for hot chocolate.  Soon enough we had made it seven days, a full week.

365Outside is more concept than competition.  It is a choice to get outside more.  It is a pledge to lead healthier and happier lives through exposure to nature.  It is a promise that you can refresh your life.  It is a breath of fresh air.

Stuck at JFK airport for 12 hours. THE WORST.

Stuck at JFK airport for 12 hours. THE WORST.

For our family, in our circumstances, it has worked to play outside every day.  Today marks day 257 in our journey.

Truthfully, there was one day, back in February, when we did not get outside, but that was only because we were flying out of Boston and missed a connecting flight, dooming us to stand-by purgatory for 12 hours.  Don’t get me started on that day.  It was all around horrible.

But my point is, do what works for you.  Your challenge does not have to be 365 days.  It could be every day for a week.  It could be once a week for a year.  It could be ten days a month.   Create your own challenge.  Choose something that is outside of your comfort zone, but not unachievable.  Start with a week and grow it from there.

You never know, your seven day challenge could turn into 365 days.  Everyone has to start somewhere.  What’s keeping you inside today?

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