“Siblings are who you share your childhood with,” my husband commented, as we talked about possibly having another kid.
“I never thought about it that way,” I responded. Tilting my head, you could practically see the classic cartoon lightbulb above it. As an only child, that aspect of having a sibling honestly never occurred to me. But now, years later, I see its truth reflected in the relationship between my two young children. Even at one and four-years-old, they have a bond different than I’ve ever experienced.
When I was a teenager in the late 1990s, I thought I was born in the wrong time. In my mind, I should have been coming of age in the 1960s, the height of the Civil Rights era. I imagined myself as a fierce crusader for the rights of others, on the front lines of the marches and sit-ins to confront white supremacy.
Dear Lord, I was a fool.
Admittedly, that’s pretty common among teenagers. But this was a special kind of foolishness. One that seems especially relevant in this rather terrible time in our nation’s history. This past weekend, a white supremacist plowed a car into a group of anti-racist protestors. There are three people dead (one protester and two police officers in a related accident) and many others in the hospital.
To me, this incident highlights how ignorant I was back then and yet how common my views still are. My naivety illustrates everything about why white parents need to talk to their kids about white supremacy. (By which I don’t mean just the literal Nazis, but also the cultural aspect of valuing white people and white culture above all others.)
Reading a party invitation, I look up at my husband and ask, “Whose turn is it this time?” We both struggle to remember who went out last. In the end, we just pick one of us, figuring that even if it’s wrong, it’ll work out in the end. And it always does. Paying a babysitter would be easier, but we’ve never gotten around to hiring one.
While we’re too busy to have extensively vetted a babysitter and too cheap to pay one anyway, we’ve remained committed to seeing our friends on a regular basis. Here’s some of the ways we’ve managed to maintain those relationships, our wallets and our sanity:
“Look, there’s a rabbit!” I exclaim to my four-year-old son, trying to keep my voice down.
“Where?” he asks, as I point to the animal.
“Do you see it? Let’s be quiet so we don’t scare it away.”
“Yeah,” he replies, as he watches the bunny twitch its tail. It looks at us, then goes back to munching on the clover. It doesn’t think we’re a threat.
While the rabbits in our neighborhood do tend to be bold, my son’s calm demeanor definitely allowed us to watch it longer than if he had a louder reaction.
While we may think of a “wild child” as boisterous, exploring nature isn’t limited to adventurous extroverts. In fact, more quiet or introverted children can get just as much, if not more, out of being outside. While he sprints and yell-sings inside, my son is naturally a bit cautious and calm outside.
Here’s what I’ve learned from exploring with him:
My toddler eyed the cow warily. What was this creature? Sure, it said moo, but this was so much larger than he expected! Seeing him back away, we didn’t push it. We knew he would have plenty of other opportunities to visit a local farm or two along the way.
Visiting a local farm is a great way to connect kids with their food, especially if you don’t have the ability to garden. They get to see how fruits and vegetables grow and experience real, live animals. That helps them appreciate the hard work of the people who grow their food and put more thought to where it comes from.
Plus, it’s really fun. Some of my favorite childhood memories are of picking giant blueberries and slurping strawberry smoothies at a local farm near our house.
We’re particularly fortunate because our county actually has a large agricultural reserve set aside just for farming. Since that incident, we’ve visited many farms. Here’s what we’ve learned in the process:
The fairy-like White Queen gazed at me intently. Lying on a table, her look invited me into Wonderland, a place of childhood on the edge of adulthood. Then she shoved herself backwards, flew across the table, and jumped to her feet, towering over us.
This was all quite literal.
Last weekend, Chris and I took our first trip by ourselves since Sprout was born. The trip was nominally celebrating our eleventh wedding anniversary. So we were in New York City, watching a play put on in a former mental institution. The play – based on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, and the real-life relationship between Lewis Carroll and Alice Liddell – sparked insight for me about childhood, parenting, and how both are more complex than they seem.
Sinking into our couch, I look at the clock. 11:15. 11:15 PM. I had literally spent our entire night getting our kids to bed. Metaphorically, we had tripped and fallen hard on our faces. While this was an exceptionally bad night, our whole bedtime routine with Sprout is always a delicate dance.
I love gardening so much that I nicknamed my kid after a plant. (No, Sprout is not his real name. Yes, I’ve had people ask me that.) So of course, it was natural for me to continue it when I had kids. And like all things that I both like and are good for sustainability, I love to write about it!
So I was thrilled to bits when the Washington Post accepted my piece on the science of why you should garden with your kids. As I researched the article, even I learned a lot about the benefits of getting outside, having a healthy relationship with germs, and eating fruits and vegetables.
Here are the first few paragraphs:
When our cherry tomatoes blush red each summer, my son eagerly plucks them from the vine and pops them in his mouth. He points at random plants and proudly declares, “That one’s mine!” And occasionally, he yells in panic as the hose from the rain barrel overflows his tiny watering can.
Admittedly, gardening with kids isn’t always idyllic.
But even when it’s chaotic, it can be tremendously beneficial.
Read more of How Gardening Can Help Build Happier, Healthier Kids over at the Washington Post’s On Parenting section!
A trip with cabins, right?” asked my friend. She was responding to my message about a camping trip our family was taking in a few weeks with her husband and son.
“Hahahaha. No,” I answered. I thought it was a joke; it was not. Knowing her general dislike for the outdoors, I had assumed she wasn’t coming. I was wrong.
Changing my tune, I said, “Well, cabins it is then!”
That was just one of the many ways I learned to tweak our routine and expectations to accommodate our first camping trip with another family. Because of the following lessons learned, our family ended up having a great time.
Are you a green parent or want to be one? I’ve launched a Green Parenting Facebook group just for you! Okay, not just for you, but for you and other folks like you.
The Green and Sustainable Parenting community is a group of parents and caregivers who are trying to live environmentally and socially sustainable lives. To build a clean and healthy environment for all kids, we engage in everything from lifestyle changes to political activism. We’ll be sharing thought-provoking articles, challenges, and lessons learned.
To kick it off, I’m running a contest! I’m giving away a copy of the new book Dirt is Good, about the importance of kids getting exposure to the outdoors and germs. I recently interviewed the author and his publicist sent me a copy. Head over to the Green and Sustainable Parenting Facebook group to find out more.