The sun is shining down brilliantly through the clouds. There is a slight, comfortable breeze making the leaves rustle and whisper in the trees. There is the distant familiar sound of dogs barking and neighbors mowing their lawns. As I sip my morning coffee serenely, I enjoy all of these sights and sounds from the comfort of my leather recliner chair in my living room with the ceiling fan on and A/C blasting.
You see, I am not an outdoorsy person. I’m really rather more indoorsy. And by extension, my kids are as well. I’ve never really seen this as a problem.
We enjoy popping popcorn and staying up late to have weekend family movie nights with Disney+. We like playing board games and card games together (and also playing nostalgic Super Mario Brothers games on our old SNES). We have Mario Kart tournaments. We turn the music up and have living room dance parties. We have even been known to have a karaoke party or two.
But whenever we try to take our family fun outdoors, the fun just seems to disappear.
We have dragged our kids on hikes through the Smokies that were supposedly rated “easy” (though you would never know with all of the grumbling and complaining and “how much longer?”). We have tried to have nighttime campfires in the backyard and dinners outside on the back deck, but they always seem to be overtaken with itchy bugs or scary wasps humming past our ears, and our retreat back indoors is fast and furious. Last summer, my five-year-old had a tick latch on to him in an…ahem…sensitive spot, and the traumatic tweezer extraction was enough to make him vehemently vow to never set foot in our backyard again.
He has done everything that he can to uphold that promise.
So we’ve been spending our time as indoorsy people, visiting movie theaters, arcades, shopping malls, and the Muse when we feel the need to get away. We like to make the occasional weekend trips to Nashville or Chattanooga and spend our time there indoors as well. But then the Coronavirus pandemic hit, and suddenly, staying in our own home was forced upon us. “This will be fine,” I thought. “We’re champion indoorsmen. We’ve been training our whole lives for this!”
But the mentality had fundamentally shifted. It was always the outside world calling to us, reminding us of social obligations and errands to run, school to attend and appointments to make. Staying at home in our pajamas felt like a secret prize — an act of rebellion, even against a world constantly bossing us to come out and partake in everything. But when staying at home was mandated, and the outside world shut down, I suddenly found myself longing to leave the house more than ever.
Enter, the great outdoors.
It is no longer enough to look through the window and see the sun shining; I want to feel it on my face. I want to smell all of the things that are blooming outside, and cook on the grill, and plant gardens, and restain my deck, and hang string lights like a romantic outdoor cafe, and spend time in the wonderland that is my backyard.
The problem is, my kids haven’t received the memo. They are enjoying permanent home life. They never ask when we’re going to leave and go somewhere. In fact, the few times we have left the house (to go on a bear hunt, to pick up drive-thru dinner, etc.), they whine and ask when we’re going to go back home. I have created two little shut-ins. Recluses. Agoraphobes. And it is entirely my fault!
Okay. Breathe. This is okay. They’re very young. They’re five and three. I can still fix this. There is still time! But how do I introduce my children to the great outdoors? How do I help them to fall in love with a place where they have never spent much time?
Time and practice are key to any new skill. I’ve heard many parents wax poetic about “locking” their children outside and telling them not to come home until dinner time. Neither of my kids own a watch or are old enough to tell time, but I try it, just to see what happens. I send them out to the backyard and then I watch them, sneakily, through the kitchen window.
They just stand there.
One of them sits down and starts pulling at the grass.
The younger one grabs a big stick and starts swinging it at random.
I occupy myself with washing some dishes (since I am standing at the sink anyway), and within five minutes I feel a tug at the bottom of my shirt.
“Can we come in now?” my five-year-old whines. “It’s hot outside. And itchy.”
“Yeah, we want to play inside!” echoes my three-year-old, hauling a giant tree branch through our living room. “Let’s watch a movie!”
Hmm…this isn’t working. And I forgot to lock the door — that part was crucial. Maybe I need to show them how to play outside? I can do a quick demonstration!
“Nope! We’re going back outside! Follow me!” I announce, two disappointed boys with shoulders slumped shuffling behind me.
I show them basketball. I show them T-ball. I show them sidewalk chalk and bubbles. I show them hopscotch. I show them how to walk across a fallen log in the woods like a balance beam and how to pretend to be knights defending the castle. I remind them that they can ride their tricycles in the street. (I remind myself that I really need to teach my five-year-old to ride a big boy bike, heaven help me. He has never had much interest.) I give them every tool that I have in my toolbox. We have a fantastic time. And then I walk back towards the house to leave them to it.
They start to follow me.
“No,” I protest. “You guys stay out here and play.”
“But it’s hot out here. You’re going inside. Why can’t we come too?”
I guess Rome wasn’t built in a day.
We’ll continue to work on this “outdoorsy” thing. It will take time. It will take practice. And I will have to participate. But this quarantine with no determined end date will give us plenty of time for that. My husband has plans to build a treehouse/fort in our backyard. Perhaps if we give our boys a way to be indoorsy in the great outdoors, they’ll grow fonder of it. It might work!