Friday, April 4, 2014

Thank you to the couple in San Clemente, CA who gave our 3 lost boys a safe haven and a ride!

Two weeks ago I traveled from Phoenix, AZ with one of my best girl friends and our 3 boys (one 14 year old and two 11 year olds) to stay at a State Beach campsite in San Clemente, CA. It was the beginning of spring break so the boys were beyond excited when we told them of our beachside destination. We arrived mid-day, set up quickly and headed for the beach. While my friend and I spent most of the afternoon lounging and chatting, the boys boogie boarded in the chilly ocean water. Eventually she and I took a long stroll on the beach, heading towards the pier just south of the campground. As usual, the pier was further away than we thought. At some point just before we reached our destination, we decided to turn back, wanting to be near our boys. We couldn't kick that motherly sense that we needed to keep an eye on them, especially around water and we'd lost sight of them. When we arrived back at our towels, they were happily digging a giant hole and building sand castles together, oblivious of our absence. It was a wonderful first day on the beach.
For dinner we headed to a local pizzeria for some delicious food and to catch my alma mater playing basketball in the NCAA tournament on TV. We left before the game ended since it was a blowout (in our favor luckily). Upon returning to the campsite the boys immediately asked to take a walk on the beach...but without their mothers. Looking back, I realize not a lot of debate went into allowing the three of them to take off together to explore, even though the sun was quickly slipping toward the horizon.  They left our campsite with only one of them wearing shoes. The other two insisted they didn't need them. "Ok, don't wear shoes then." was my natural response. They didn't take water. They didn't have a cell phone. They didn't have any money or ID's. They were visitors in a new town, ready to explore and they couldn't wait to get away from us. I admit I wasn't the least bit concerned about them journeying off together. I'm not real sure how my friend felt, but she didn't express any concerns to me at the time. She and I sat by the fire visiting, seemingly worry free while our growing boys stretched their boundaries, exploring a new place independently. That is until it became very dark, very fast...and it seemed to be getting kind of late and they hadn't returned yet.
She was the first to notice the time and that the boys probably should have returned already. Her phone was dead, but mine was charged and turned on sitting next to me, but they didn't have a phone. We didn't panic. Instead we waited and continued visiting for a bit longer. Then my phone rang. "Unknown Number" showed up and I immediately answered it. It was my 14 year old on the other end. "Mom, we got lost. We finally went to a house in a neighborhood and asked for help. They offered to let me call you and gave us water. I'm so sorry for getting lost mom." He had no idea how thrilled I was to hear his voice yet I detected that he was thrilled to hear mine too. I asked to speak to the homeowner who immediately calmed me as he told me he, his wife and two sons lived just a 1/2 mile from the entrance to the State Park. He assured me that it was easy to get lost in the streets because they don't all run in the same direction. He offered to drive the boys to the campground entrance to meet us as it would be easier than giving us directions to their home. I thanked him and told him "yes, absolutely." My girlfriend and I immediately jumped into my car and drove to the entrance, excitedly awaiting our children's return. Within a few moments, their Toyota Sequoia rounded the bend and upon seeing the boys I was overwhelmed with gratitude at the goodness of kind strangers. I'm still overwhelmed today as I recount our story.

We chatted with the kindly couple who shared their version of how 3 young men showed up at their doorstop at night, only one wearing shoes, saying that they were lost. They told us we had wonderful, funny and well mannered children. I laughed and hugged the man (a quintessential tanned surfer) and went over and thanked his wife (a peaceful looking, natural beauty). They drove off and our children jumped into the car and began excitedly recounting their tale, all 3 talking at once.

The boys said they made it to the pier but it was further than they'd thought. By the time they got there it was already dark. They wanted to call us to come and pick them up, but didn't have a phone. The crowd around the pier was a bit dicey and the homes near the beach seemed to have a lot of partying and smoking, so they avoided those homes. The train tracks scared them as they imagined accidentally crossing them and being run over. Eventually they decided it might be faster to walk on the streets than along the beach to get back to the campsite, so they took off into the neighborhood...and this is when things got confusing. They went down one block and then the next and realized they were completely turned around. They debated as to what they should do. One felt they should approach a home for help, the other two not so sure for fear they'd be "taken" or worse (yes, too much TV). Eventually, realizing they were truly lost they decided to ask for help. They said they saw a woman through the window cleaning with her dog nearby. They said she "looked nice and like a mom" so they knocked on the door. The couple immediately invited them inside, listened to their story and offered to help. They chose to help our children because that's what good people do, and I believe there are still a lot of really good people in this world. This is one reason why I'm not a strong advocate of the "stranger danger" teachings of recent years. If it hadn't have been for these kind "strangers", who knows how long the boys would have been lost or how our night would have unfolded.

What happened next is the reason I'm sharing this story because I hope that it can serve as a teaching opportunity or talking point for parents with young children and teenagers. Instead of telling the boys how worried we were or how disappointed in them we were (for getting lost), we told them how proud of them we were. We told them we were proud of them for staying together which is exactly what we'd told them to do. We told them they should be proud of themselves for handling the situation without panicking but instead staying calm and being willing to ask strangers for help. We pointed out that they had smartly used their intuition and common sense to pick a home that appeared safe with people that looked "nice." They admitted they were afraid when they realized they were lost and yet it was exciting. My youngest admitted he became tearful at one point, realizing "I may never see you again!"

We all learned something from this experience. The boys gained a great deal of self-confidence, knowing that they can handle being lost by keeping their cool and being willing to ask for help. My friend and I realized that our kids are growing up fast and it's ok to loosen the purse strings and give them the room they need to grow and learn necessary skills for survival in today's society. Everyone learned that there are plenty of good people who are looking out for all children and not just their own.

I can go on and on about what a cool experience it was, but instead I will end with this. My sweetheart recently shared an article with me titled The Overprotected Kid by Hanna Rosin. It is a lengthy and very well written piece about how our preoccupation with safety has stripped childhood of independence, risk taking, and discovery, yet not made it any safer. I read this article last week and one section jumped out at me immediately. Rosin discusses a study by Ellen Sandseter that identified six types of risky play that children engage in, the last one being exploring on one's own. This last one Sandseter describes as "the most important for children." She told Rosin, "When they are left alone and can take full responsibility for their actions, and the consequences of their decisions, it's a thrilling experience." Thank you Ms. Rosin for validating what felt natural, but often seems contrary to what our society is telling us these days, not to let our children out of our sight for fear they'll be taken by strangers, injured or worse. Please take the time to read this wonderful article and also to talk with your children about what to do in case they get lost.

I openly admit that next time I'd probably make sure one of them had a cell phone and we'd likely discuss a "plan" of some sort. But, I'd gladly allow them to venture off on their own once again and I'm confident they'll ask again too.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Through the eyes of a child...

As I was hiking this weekend a small caterpillar crawling on the ground near my feet caught my eye.  I immediately stopped to observe and said out loud "Thanks Jack!"  I was referring to my 8 year old son who's constantly discovering tiny little creatures right at his feet.  When he makes these discoveries, he immediately stops in his tracks and takes the time to observe and investigate whatever he's found. A few of these furry little friends have become reluctant "pets" providing hours of entertainment before being released back into the wild.  While Jack wasn't with me on this hike, seeing the caterpillar reminded me of a recent epiphany I'd shared with him.  

I'm an avid photographer always scanning the horizon for the perfect shot. I'm quite observant, taking in the details of nature that surround me; everything from colors to textures draw my attention. But, I've come to realize that I'm often so caught up in the bigger picture that I sometimes miss the tiny details right in front of me.  Jack has taught me to slow down and pay more attention to my surroundings.  And the shift has been amazing! I love sharing my tiny discoveries with those around me and of course I also love photographing them.  But I'll be honest, more often than not it's my boys spotting the really cool stuff.  I guess I'm just lucky to have such amazing kids as my tour guides!

Take the kids camping but leave the toys at home!

Ladder Toss, cornhole, paddle ball, croquet, badmitten, bocce ball, Frisbee, horseshoes, ring toss, wiffle ball.  These are just a few of the many outdoor games you'll find at your local sporting goods store.  I admit I have more than a few of them. But recently I've started leaving them behind when we go camping.

When we started camping more, especially in large groups, I thought I needed all these great games for the kids to play in the outdoors, but what I discovered is that kids are creative enough to invent their own games. Quite often I would cart the various bags full of bright, colorful plastic pieces only to spend time assembling, searching for lost pieces, taping up broken (cheap) pieces and eventually disassembling...after very little actual usage.  

Finally I've realized that many of these games and toys are actually only serving to further separate or cushion children from nature. Do I really need to constantly provide forms of entertainment and organized activities for them? No, I don't.  It's time I take a step back and allow children the freedom to explore, investigate and create while I kick back, relax and refuel my spirit!  Now there's a concept. I'm going "old school."

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Nature-Underprivileged Kids

I had an interesting conversation recently around the idea of the "underprivileged" or the "underserved."  This typically refers to those that have fewer resources available to them.  Less money, less formal education, fewer opportunities, etc. But, when it comes to children and Nature Deficit Disorder I think that many financially privileged children will fall into the "underprivileged" category primarily because they are over-scheduled by their parents thus not allowing them enough unstructured play time in the outdoors. These children are also more likely to have the latest video games, computers and cell phones vs families that simply can't afford them.
I'll refer back to my own family some 5 or 6 years ago.  At the time we were doing quite well financially as the economy was on an upswing and the housing market in Arizona was booming.  I thought I was doing my children a great service by providing tons of extracurricular activities to keep them busy and broaden their little minds.  These activities included:  dance (ballet, tap, jazz and hip-hop), acting (classes and private coaching sessions), basketball, soccer, baseball, guitar and piano.  Exhausting just to list it!  I kept a folding chair, a box of snacks and a bag of magazines in my car to occupy my time while I waited patiently each day.  Some days we had little to no downtime after school. We rushed everywhere and often attended 2 activities back to back.  We were all exhausted by the end of the day and our weekends were booked solid with games, tournaments, play rehearsals, etc. Sometimes there were tears and begging "please, can't I just SKIP IT today?"

I thought my kids were LUCKY, PRIVILEGED, and HAPPY.  I thought I was "supermom."  But deep down, I knew I was wrong!
Skip forward a few years.  I find our lives changing as the economy has tanked and we have less disposable income.  I begin cutting out unnecessary and expensive things.  When my son begins begging me to stop going to dance and music lessons I decide it's not worth it if I'm having to force him anyway.  Eventually we eliminate almost every "organized" activity...and our lives changed for the better.     

Now I don't want this to sound like I think organized sports or extracurricular activities are a bad thing because I don't. Playing on a team teaches a great deal of fundamental life skills including how to simply BE part of a team.  It teaches you the importance of practice in order to improve your skills, patience with yourself and others as you learn something new, how to handle losing and winning graciously, how to celebrate in others successes and how to set goals and achieve them.  But, it also takes a major time commitment.
So why do I think our lives have improved since we freed up our schedules?  Well, my kids now have time to play after school.  They come home and do their homework but then head outside to play with kids in the neighborhood or simply go exploring...and I don't insist on watching their every move.  I give them freedom to roam and check out the neighborhood (they are 8 and 11).  They dig, climb, run, bike, investigate, learn and mostly just de-stress after a long day at school. And they're very well rounded, well-adjusted and bright children who don't seem to be missing out on anything.
Our family is less stressed because we're not rushing from one activity to the next.  Our weekends are also free from tournaments, practices, games and recitals so this leaves more time for what we really love doing which is camping, hiking and just about anything else that involves the outdoors.  We also eat most of our dinners at home now (we used to do a lot of drive thru dinners).  We have more family time and we've gotten to know one another better.
I guess what I'm suggesting is that people find balance.  I know I lacked this in the past so I'm speaking from experience. Parents, don't make it about you.  Just because your kids are in a ton of activities doesn't mean you're a great just means you're a busy parent and a busy family.  And maybe your child truly loves every activity they're involved in...but I doubt it.  Parents need to stop and listen to their children and actually ask them what they think and what they like and don't like.  Then they might consider paring down the list of extracurricular activities.  This will allow families to spend more quality time together...preferably in the out-of-doors!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Nature's Water Park

This summer I bought water park season passes for me and my kids at $50 a  pop.  I thought for sure we'd use them to help us get through another Arizona summer.  I even suggested that a couple of my girlfriends buy them too.  We'd all go together, right?  Wrong.

Fortunately, the boys did go about a half dozen times with their dad.  I took them once on a Friday night for the dive-in movie.  The crowd was unreal, the lines were outrageous and the food was unbelievably expensive and unhealthy.  It was seriously like a form of torture for me to get through the night.  I think we only rode 4 slides in the 4 hours that we were there and I dropped nearly $30 on dinner.

I never went back this summer and I have no interest in ever going again.  Sorry kids.  I know they had fun but it's just not for me.  I don't have the patience to stand in long lines where the payoff only lasts 30 seconds.

But, twice this summer I took the kids to Fossil Creek outside of Strawberry, AZ.  Talk about a water park! This beautiful natural spring set in a lush, green canyon is truly one of the most beautiful places in Arizona! Who needs a water park when you have places like this to visit and spend the day.  I'd much rather spend my money on the gas to get there!

I don't normally enjoy swimming all that much.  I more prefer to sit on the side and watch the kids splash and play.  But, at Fossil Creek you can't help but feel like a kid again.  I found myself jumping off of cliffs into deep blue pools, borrowing child sized goggles to get a better look at all the native fish so visible in the clear waters and simply relaxing and listening to the glorious sounds of the area.  The rushing water splashing over the rocks, the loud buzz of the cicada's and the glorious sound of children laughing and playing.  I look forward to returning again and again to Nature's Water Park!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Flower power and insect surprises

I love this picture that Rich took of me last weekend.  I'm totally in my element and engrossed in capturing the perfect photo of a little purple flower.  I had just crawled out of bed (actually the back of his Sequoia) and threw on my clothes to capture the morning light before it passed.  I love how the flower matches my shirt too!  Funny thing is I didn't even notice all the little bugs crawling around on it.  I was so focused on the flower itself it was a wonderful surprise when I uploaded the photos and noticed all the tiny creatures so at home on that perfect bloom.
This reminded me of a section we just read in The Nature Principle by Richard Louv in which he reminds us of the importance of native plants to our insect population.  Insects truly make the world go round. I often forget the "golden rule" as I find myself aggressively killing off ants at our campsites, forgetting that we're guests in their home and not the other way around.  I'll keep working on that one.  In the meantime, I'm hoping to start some gardening in the back yard soon.  I'll be going with natives and flowers to attract butterflies and hummingbirds.
I played around a bit this weekend with the manual settings on my camera.  I realized I've had my Nikon D60 since June 2008 and I still haven't learned how to get past the automatic settings.  While I know I'm an excellent photographer I often find myself slightly disappointed with many of my pictures, knowing they could have been better or simply more clear.  I think later on this year I'll have to take a real hands on photography class.  It actually sounds therapeutic!  Anyone want to join me?

Mud Pies on a cloudy day!

The daycare kids are having a blast today making mud pies in the back yard. This summer has been a scorcher and has really been hard on us all as we've spent way too much time indoors. It's incredible how much easier my job is when we can play outdoors for a good portion of the day. The kids get along better as they play more cooperatively and creatively.  They laugh and smile more. They're also more tired when they go home, unless they've napped here and if they do nap they nap longer which is a blessing. Just another month or so and we'll move most of our activities back outside. Until then, we'll gladly take every overcast hour we can get before the temps climb past 100 degrees. We give thanks to the clouds today!!!