Friday, December 19, 2014
Find the Moments… and Seize Them!
And it’s not just us grownups. Our kids feel it too. Since I was growing up—way back in the 1970s—the amount of time kids spend in unstructured outside play has decreased by half. Think about that for a minute. Do you remember those golden moments of your childhood—riding your bike home under a darkening sky with the moon lighting your way, playing kick the can until it was too dark to see, sitting in the branches of your favorite tree, making snowmen, building forts or just hanging out with friends in the park and laughing? Too often the kids we love are being robbed of those free and easy childhood moments. On average our children now spend more time strapped into the backseats of our minivans than they do playing freely outside.
I struggle with this. I’ve been guilty of overextending my kids (and myself)—running from afterschool language classes to music lessons to sports practice before rushing home to gulp down dinner then scrambling to finish math worksheets and a book report before bed then getting up before the crack of dawn to do it all over again… Phew!
We add all these things to our lives because we love our kids. We want them to succeed. We want them to have every experience that could possibly benefit them, and we sometimes forget that letting them run out the back door untether to explore an adult-free world and get their shoes dirty is a crucial part of growing up too!
As a dad I think one of my jobs is to remember what it was like to be a boy, and to help my kids find moments like the ones I cherish most in my memories. If we pay attention, if we’re thoughtful, we can help our kids find and create moments of freedom and discovery.
I have two sons, one in middle school and the other in elementary school. I have morning duty in our family, which means I fry the eggs and drive the school bus, dropping my older son off at 7:20 and the younger one at 7:50. That’s a thirty minute window of opportunity. It’s an opportunity for me to help my youngest son get outside and find a few of those golden childhood moments. Thirty minutes isn’t a lot of free time (especially when you factor out about 10 minutes of driving), but over the months those short periods add up!
Some mornings we go to the beach or the park, and I let him chart our path and set the pace. Other mornings we go to his school garden and check out all the changes in the greenhouse and the raised beds. A couple times each week we take our mandolins (we’re taking lessons together) and we find a cool place to sit and jam for a while. Whatever we do, I try to make it his time. I try to let him call the shots. He has the opportunity to open his senses and lead the way.
Yesterday as I opened the car door to drop him off at school, he turned to me with a smile and said, “Dad, I really love our mornings together.”
I cherish them! Thirty minutes is a short window of freedom. We’re not doing anything extraordinary. But for a few minutes every morning we’re setting ourselves free, giving ourselves opportunities to observe things—like the groups of pelicans that glide in unison along the crests of waves, or the delicate tendrils of new life growing out of potting soil in the school greenhouses. And it’s a chance for us to connect, to each other and to the place where we live.
Life is busy. But if we stay aware, we can all find our moments. We can momentarily set ourselves free. We can get mud on our feet! Find your moments and seize them!
Jason Kapchinske is the author of Coyote Summer.