Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Gift of Summer Boredom

I remember my childhood summers fondly. Days in which I would leave the house after a still sleepy, leisurely breakfast of cereal that I made myself and come home only for lunch in the middle of a day spent entirely outdoors. We did not live in town and, thus, playmates were limited to siblings and the cousins who lived down the road. Our backyard became the playground in which our imaginations would run wild- turning those few acres into magical forests, the tiny creek into a raging river and our trusty dog, Rex, played the many roles of horse, monster and any other creature that we children did not want to play. By the dreaded end of the three months of summer break we were tan from our hours in the sun, full of the memories of a thousand magical moments and bonded to our siblings in a way that winter’s forced hibernation never seemed to connect us. 

Today, I live on the same acreage that I did as a child. My children have the blessing of having the same grassy patches to scratch their bare feet as they run through it, the same creek to stomp through and catch tadpoles, and not the same dog, but their very own energetic pup to imagine away the days with.

However this is not the same world as twenty, thirty years ago. There are screens everywhere in the house to demand attention- televisions with hundreds of channels, computers with access to a thousand entertaining sites, tablets stocked with apps. There is also no longer the expectation of a stretch of an unscheduled three months. Their school friends tell competitive stories of elaborate vacations, spending time weekly traveling to all of the local attractions- various parks, the zoo, the science center, all the festivals, which come breezing through town. On the very first day of school they will be asked to list their favorite activities of the summer and no longer are the lists filled with things like finding old barn wood to make a bridge over a creek or a day spent in imaginative play with their siblings.

nature mindfulness childhood

Our children have become used to being entertained every minute. In our house, we have limits on electronics and kick the kids outside on a nice day just as our parents did before us. Yet, the new cry of childhood seems to be “I’m bored”, which is certainly not a new childhood expression but now has seemed to have morphed to not really just mean “I’m bored”, but “Please find something to entertain me, as I no longer can entertain myself even for a short period of time”.

We have made a choice in this household to do what is no longer expected of children in many households. We refuse to spend our days scheduling our children’s every hour. There will be many days with no plans at all, when they will be sent outside with only the grass and the trees and their own imaginations to entertain them.
nature childhood mindfulness

The screens will be turned off and our children will find that times of quiet can be just as entertaining, or even more so, than brightly colored graphics and cloying music leaping off of a screen. They will bond with their brother and sister, making memories that they will replay in their minds well into adulthood. Even though sunscreen will be religiously applied, they will leave summer with a glow on their skin, which will also sport the bruises that scrapes that come from climbing trees, stomping through creeks and chasing the dog the field.

nature childhood mindfulness

This summer I will be giving my children the greatest gift of all- boredom. For inside boredom is the gift of getting to know your own mind, of finding solace and joy in nature and in the realization that the greatest gifts are experiences, not things. And, maybe- just maybe, on that first day of school list my children will write at the very top of the list one of the simple joys found in a summer’s day spend outdoors, no screen in site.

nature childhood mother

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Band Aids and Presence

Band Aids and Presence

If you are a mother of a young child, you likely keep a stash of band-aids handy. Children who are just learning to walk and navigate the world have a way of consistently injuring themselves and finding themselves in need of a mother’s kiss and a band aid.

My children are getting older and I am finding them less in need of my magical kisses, but still in frequent need of band aids, colored with brightly cheerful cartoon characters for my younger children and the staid, practical flesh colored sort for my oldest son. I marvel at the simple impact of placing a bandage atop a scrape or other injury and find that it often quickly  quiets the sniffles and complaints. As a mother and a nurse, I find myself keeping little stashes of band aids everywhere- in the car, in the kitchen and  in my purse. They are at hand everywhere that we may go.

I recently tripped in my driveway and fell quite hard, hard enough in fact to scrape the entirety of my forearms, both knees and an ankle and  covering a good section of the concrete in my own blood. It was terribly uncomfortable and  I admit that I found myself fighting back tears as I washed out the wounds. My husband and all three of my children were home, but no one  apparently had heard my gaffe in the driveway(somehow I always hear or see their falls and scrapes and injuries and they never hear or see  mine!) and I was alone in the bathroom, bathing my scrapes and attempting to bandage some awkward areas without having help. I found myself feeling a bit lonely and wondering why no one seemed to care or acknowledge when I was hurt.

 Just as those sorry thoughts appeared in my head my youngest daughter, 6 year-old Emory, appeared next me. Her face was aghast as she took in my injuries and placed her hand on my arm. She didn’t say a word- simply standing next to me and looking at me as  though she would take away my discomfort in an instant. I could feel the pain seeping out of me suddenly, as if by magic. And, it made me remember that the magic of motherhood was never about the kisses or the band-aids in the first place. I wonder if maybe the magic is in the presence of another human being who is willing to stand beside you and bear your pain as if it were their own. If the magic in is the soft cadence of their voice soothing your weary soul. If the magic is in knowing that you don’t have to face this moment of pain alone.

As adults, we tend to hold each other to the unspoken tenants of adulthood- courage, managing your own problems without complaint, responsibility. But, maybe- as adults and as children- each of us needs moments where we can drop our problems messily upon the floor for all to see, bear our injuries- both physical and emotional- boldly outward and have someone, anyone, just be present with us and bear that moment of pain. That simple presence is an emotional tourniquet, the likes of which will never be trumped by a piece of plastic and cloth.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Harper Lee’s New Novel Will Never Live Up to Our Expectations(and I'm reading it anyway!)

I am a voracious reader. There is rarely a day that passes without my nose being deeply imbedded within the pages of a book. I have loved many novels, some so strongly that I cannot bear to hear ill words spoken about the work or it’s author.   I know that I am not alone in my abiding love of “To Kill a Mockingbird”, the novel oft described as “the greatest novel of our time”, written by the reclusive Harper Lee. I have a dog-eared copy of the novel that I has been read so many times that the edges of the pages are now soft with use. The characters in the novel are so familiar to me that they seem like friends or family members that might some day jump off of the pages to join me for dinner.

So, when the news broke earlier this year that a novel written by Harper Lee had been unearthed and would soon be published, I literally jumped for joy. I scoured the internet for details and became even more excited as I learned that this upcoming novel had been written even before “To Kill a Mockingbird” and was full of the very same characters, a novel written about Scout(who now goes by her given name, Jean Louis) as an adult visiting her hometown after a time away. I knew at that moment that I would be pre-ordering a copy and standing in my local bookstore on the date of release in order to read the freshly minted pages as soon as possible.

However, in the past couple of days, the first chapter of the novel was released to the public and the first of the full book reviews have gone live on the interwebs and many of us find ourselves in shock at what appears to be inside the pages of the soon to be published novel “Go Set a Watchman”. Many of my fellow readers must have had their jaws drop along with mine as we read the New York Times’ review that revealed this novel’s portrayal of our beloved Atticus as having “a dark side”. . Other reviews speak of Atticus in the forthcoming novel as “as an aging racistwho once attended a Ku Klux Klan meeting, holds negative views aboutAfrican-Americans and denounces desegregation efforts”
 After reading such reviews and a reading of the first chapter, many of my bookish friends have decided to forgo reading the new novel altogether and I can understand that decision. Atticus Finch is, perhaps, one of the most loved characters in literary history and I can deeply understand a longing to not have that character in any way tarnished.

In spite of these concerns, I have decided to keep my pre-order and to read the novel, primarily because my curiosity about the novel outweighs my fear that it may tarnish my ideas of these beloved characters. The response of the literary world to the newly published novel does leave me asking myself more questions about the book, however. I find myself wondering if there was any way for this novel, with the same or different characters, to truly be loved by readers in the way that the original is, even if the new novel had contained a completely different set of characters.  “To Kill a Mockingbird” is a nostalgic, beloved piece of literary history and I feel very strongly that no other novel written by Harper Lee, no matter how wonderful, could ever live up to more than 50 years of readership and a passing on of what has become more than just a book, but a vessel into the lives of beloved characters that seem to have become a part of our very lives. I feel as though there could never be any sort of novel that could ever live up to the hype and expectation that this upcoming novel has spinning around it and it seems like a losing proposition all around.

No matter the discussions surrounding the novel, I will be in line on Tuesday, July 14th with my fellow book lovers and will rush home to read the pages and, hopefully, lose myself inside the novel and forget about my own life for a few hours. I will remind myself repeatedly that the two novels were never meant as sequels and should be taken as two completely separate works, even if the pages are filled with the very same characters. I know even before reading “To Set a Watchman” that it will not be as treasured by me as  “To Kill a Mockingbird”.  I also know that there is nothing within this new novel that could, in any way, take away any of my love for “To Kill a Mockingbird”, as it will live inside my heart forever. This is what we must remember as we open the pages of Harper Lee’s newest published work- that nothing inside these pages can in any way diminish the light that she brought into the world when  “To Kill a Mockingbird” first hit the shelves.