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I just ordered my kids back into the house in the middle of a sunny afternoon. The last straw came when a neighbor driving by stopped to yell at me that my baby was escaping, while her sister cried over a scooter-inflicted injury and I tried desperately to contain the chaos. I wound up throwing my cell phone into the bushes and tripping over the scooter myself.

“That’s it!” I shouted. “We are going inside! No more sunshine, no more scooters, no more picnic!”I scooped the baby up in one arm and the scooter in the other and marched right back into the house.

Which my two charming daughters proceeded to tear about is if bent on a mission of demolition. Within minutes they had broken furniture, skin, and what was left of my mind. But we are still inside.

What kind of ogre am I?

The kind of ogre that has to pay her mortgage, a task which involves finding the checkbook, writing the check and actually giving said check to her long-suffering housemate. The kind of ogre that has to make a phone call to a pediatric optometrist with the insane hubris to work only during hours that children are awake. The kind of ogre that has been wearing the same clothes for three days because there is nothing left in her drawers.

In other words, I’m an adult. And it turns out that those long lazy days of summer are not as idyllic for me at this point in my life as they were when I was five. Not only do I like games of tag and hide-n-seek a little less, but I find endless idleness less satisfying. Even on the days when I can spend the afternoon with other mom friends on a picnic blanket, knitting and chatting and passing time with pleasant grown-up pursuits while the kids play tag nearby… I don’t want every day to be an uninterrupted swath of play.

There is real work that must be done so that I and my family can continue to live well, and being prevented from doing it by a schedule of constant free play is, frankly, annoying. Playing all day long can be fun. Doing all the housework and finance work and personal work after the kids are *finally* asleep in their beds is not.

I believe passionately that my kids should have as much unstructured outdoor time as possible, every day of their too-short childhoods. I’m now running up against the reality that what is good for them is not always good for me. I know this of course, but here’s another opportunity to learn the lesson.

I realize it’s outrageous to be complaining that my day job is one that requires me to laze around at parks and playgrounds for nearly every sweet hour of warm sunshine the good earth gives us. It’s the very pinnacle of luxury angst, but once in awhile I envy my friends with office jobs.

rio’s reading game.jpg, originally uploaded by MzMuze.

Rio made this!

Background:
I’ve been reading an interesting book, published in the 70s, called the Home Guide to Early Reading. This is pretty much the opposite of the Waldorf approach I’ve taken with my kids thus far. The author advocates a playful but structured approach to teaching reading beginning at about four years old.

Rio seems to be on the cusp of reading readiness, and while I have complex feelings about this, I thought we’d try a few of the exercises in the book. The first one was an exercise to encourage children to develop a directional sense, so that they can follow the flow of text on a page.

Following the book’s instructions, I made a narrative picture with a series of dotted lines in it. She needed to trace my dotted lines to get from the house to the apple tree to the bridge to the fairy circle, etc.

Rio unexpectedly loved this, and spent a long time on it with me. When we’d filled an entire page with my story arc, she said, “Mama, I want to do the next one. I’m going to make the pictures and you have to trace it and write.”

And then she did it. She even made the right number of lines for me to write my name at the bridges (a little game-within-a-game we made up, writing one’s name to ‘pay the troll’ at the bridge).

I guess I don’t have to worry about her falling behind on the whole reading thing. She can teach this stuff!



fire pole, originally uploaded by MzMuze.

Last fall, Rio would climb up to the top of the climbing structure and then call me to help her down the fire pole. I’d put my arms up and gently lift her down, supporting her slow glide as she held on loosely to the pole.

Yesterday, she just flew down it like it was nothing.

“Look Mama! Look!”

“I see, you can do the fire pole on your own now. That’s pretty cool.”

Rio gives me her serious face and says, “Do you want to know how I do it?”

I do not in fact want to know how she does it. How she does it seems obvious – climb the structure, grab the pole, slide down. But I am pretty sure that somewhere in the Mom Contract there was a clause about always saying yes to this question.

“How?”

“Well, I go to the top of the thing,” she does this, to demonstrate. Standing up there, she looks down at me so gravely, with her hand over her heart. “Then, I say to my brain, ‘We are going to do this scary thing now.’ Then, my brain says, ‘OK’. Then, I take a deep breath. Then… WHEEEE!”

With that last bit, she goes flying down the pole, hitting the ground at a run.

“That’s great, Rio! I love …”

“No time to talk, Mom,” she shouts over her shoulder. “I’m doing my work.”

Her work turns out to be running, climbing and sliding at top speed for the next twenty minutes. I am glad I listened while she had time to talk.

Now that you’ve followed my earlier advice and gotten outside, where to go? If you’re in the Boston area, here are a few good suggestions:

Drumlin Farm, run by the Mass Audubon Society, offers a wealth of nature programs for kids, ranging from a “Walk on the Wild Side” into the surrounding woods to “Animal Yoga” classes to “Woolapalooza” with the farm’s own sheep.

Closer to home, The Somerville Growing Center offers children’s programming including after-school nature classes, morning concerts, and their annual Fairy Night.

Finally, for those who want to give something back while playing outdoors, Waltham Fields Community Farm holds weekly volunteer hours where anyone can come in and plant a row or pull some weeds. They donate a portion of what they grow to feed the hungry around Boston, and the rest goes into a local CSA program.

yes, the weather outside is frightful, but it still beats sitting indoors all day.

Here are two great sites for getting yourself and your kids out into the great outdoors:

The Green Hour offers suggestions for simple outdoor activities to do with kids. It’s updated weekly, and the site is a wealth of other resources for families interested in nature, environmentalism and play.

If you’re interested in something slightly more ambitious, The Outdoor Hour Challenges offer a series of weekly nature study lessons based on Anna Bosford Comstock’s Handbook Of Nature Study. This is a classic text on nature study that advocates simple observation and recording to learn about the world around you.

So go! Out into the cold, windy, damp spring! Enjoy its blustering beauty, frolic in its mud, play!

Yes, my mother cursed me with this, like most mothers do. Further proof that it worked came in the form of Rio approaching my desk today with a notebook in hand.

“I am selling food,” she said. “What do you want?”

“Pizza.”

“We do not sell pizza. We are an ice cream and veggies store.”

This sounded, to me, eerily reminiscent of Cake or Death.

“Ok, I will have ice cream. With chocolate sprinkles and cherries.”

Rio lowered her notebook and gave me The Look. The “you-must-be-joking-if-you-think-I-am-falling-for-that” look that she sees from me roughly 500 times a day.

“And what healthy thing are you going to eat before you have that ice cream?” she said, in perfect mimicry of my voice.

This was so adorable that I found myself hard-pressed not to gobble her all up on the spot. But somehow I managed to keep a straight face and order a spinach-tofu salad.

Flickr Photos

A little bird told me…

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