I am sitting in my kitchen right now looking at a picture of my three boys. The picture was taken in December while we were at my brother-in-law’s ranch house in West Texas. It has become one of my favorite photos of my boys. When I look at it I see many things. I see my oldest son with a smile that tells the story of how much he loves hanging out with his brothers, I see my youngest happy about being away from the city and being outside in the wide open spaces, and I see my middle son with a proud look on his face that says, this is my gig, and I just showed you all how to shoot clay pigeons. Even my mom. If you look a little closer, what really makes me smile about this picture is that they are all covered in mud.
We had spent some time, many years ago at my sister-in-law’s family ranch house and had been looking forward to some outdoor fun exploring the property like we had the last time we visited. (We have cottages on the lake in Michigan, they have ranches in Texas). Unfortunately, our outdoor activity was delayed as we had one flight cancelled, one flight delayed, and then when we finally arrived, it started to snow.
Fortunately, snow doesn’t stick around long in Texas and we were able to head out. Thirteen of us dressed in boots and warm clothes piled into some sort of moving vehicle. It was cool outside, but the air was fresh, the sun was shining, and the scenery was nice. As we drove around, shot clay pigeons, got stuck in the mud (twice), and returned home caked in mud ourselves, I was reminded about how important it is to just get outside every now and then.
If you grew up around the same time I did, you can remember all the time we spent outside playing and exploring. Whenever I am with others my age we reminisce about staying out until the street lights would come on. I got to thinking about my own adventures and can remember swinging from pine trees, swimming in a pond, building tree forts, and just simply climbing a tree. I cringe at the thought of my own boys doing some of the things we all did. But, I think these memories stayed with me, not only for the thrill I remember, but the pure fun I had.
I have written previously about the importance of getting out in nature and cannot understate how true that is for all of us. Every time I am with professionals that work with young people this line of discussion comes up. We often end up talking about what would help our children and teens be successful, and getting outside always is mentioned. I would never advocate for anything that could cause great harm, but as one teacher recently stated, “What’s wrong with a skinned knee every now and then?” I know for myself I learned to ride my bike after practicing the balancing thing and having the worst wipe out I can remember.
It is well documented that when young people have the opportunity to play and explore outside the benefits abound. They learn to navigate their world, use their senses, soak up some vitamin D, improve their mood, lower stress, become more creative, soothe their souls, and do better in school. It also increases courage and confidence. Many of these things hold true for any age, adults included.
Yet our kids are spending less time outdoors and we as parents try to “bubblewrap” them, for fear the worst will happen. I know for my own family, we quit going on our annual ski trip Up North once my boys started playing travel hockey because we were too worried about them having an injury that could end their season. I recently, even started to tell my twenty-something boys to be careful on the four wheelers, when all I should have said was have fun.
It is equally important that parents and children get outside together. It is a great time to enjoy time away from technology and gives families an opportunity to make some wonderful memories. My husband and I cannot help but laugh every time we picture our oldest son riding his bike straight into a pond on one of our camping trips or the time we went on a “short” hike in Gatlinburg.
The picture in my kitchen tells a great story and is a constant reminder of how wonderful a time we had. This is the perfect time of year to get outside. Where will you find your great outdoors?
Now, I hope I have another great story to tell in a couple of weeks, when I go to visit my son who lives in Texas. He has planned a hike in a canyon for my other son and I. As he told me recently, “We are going to hike to the “Lighthouse” rock formation, but we will take another way back, it’s a little steep.” “Okay, I say, “what about rattlesnakes?” I remind myself, practice what you preach, I will be outdoors, soaking up some sun, and hanging out with my adventurous sons. I will let you know how it goes.