Be a Child of the Woods
I have no idea how to tell you the best way to go shopping with your toddler. First of all – me, personally – I try not to take my toddler shopping. When I do, I bargain with her from the parking lot: “This is a store. I want you to sit in the cart. If you sit in the cart, we’ll have a dance party on the way home.” So far, this pre-emptive settling has worked. But she’s only 26 months old. Shopping is what makes her frazzled. Not incidentally, it is also what frazzles me.
So, this is not a post with advice for how to awesomely induct your child into the world of shopping. I do know, however, when is the best time to go to the woods with your frazzled toddler. Right after shopping.
I full time parent on Mondays and Tuesdays. Mondays are the day when many things like museums and libraries are closed. Mondays, therefore, are the days when I’m always looking for something to do. On a recent Monday, we ran a few errands before going on our real adventure: a walk in the woods.
Full disclosure here: Frazzled is the gentle way to put it. I actually hate, loathe, despise shopping. While shopping, I see people all around me in stores, seeming to greatly enjoy their hunting and gathering experiences, engrossed in labels and price tags, engaged in conversation about products. I do not get it. When people ask me what I’d do if I won the lottery, I always say I’d hire a tailor to make all of my clothing and a personal shopper to do the rest.
So when both my toddler and I started to go bonkers recently in a store, I didn’t hesitate to end it. Time to go. Anywhere. How about to the woods? Yes, she said. Go to da woods, she said.
We have a patch of woods by our house where I see evidence of humans (footprints and forts) but rarely actually see another human. It’s strange and wonderful. This is a heavily populated area, surrounded by a vibrant neighborhood, and near a college campus. From the woods you can hear traffic and airplanes, woodpeckers and owls screeching, backyard projects and soccer games, rabbits hopping and a creek babbling. It is a special thing to live in an urban area and have super easy access to wilderness. My toddler now calls it the Hundred Acre Wood, referencing Winnie the Pooh. These woods are a beloved spot in our family and we all go there regularly. Today when we arrived rather fried and irritable from the errands, the woods just absorbed that stress within a few minutes.
My toddler, who 20 minutes prior struggled to sit still in a cart, sat like a statue in my lap in the leaves for 10 minutes calling to a woodpecker and expressed delight and surprise every time it called back. My toddler, upon finding rabbit droppings in the snow, exclaimed “IT’S MISTER RABBIT!” referencing a favorite song, whereas in the store she had shown total disregard for a rabbit sticker book I’d used to try to placate her.
I remembered The Last Child in the Woods, a book that “explores the increasing divide between the young and the natural world, and the environmental, social, psychological, and spiritual implications of that change.” It is a book I have only ever actually perused. I was reminded to finish it. I was reminded that our quick reset on that morning is an effect of the frequency by which we are able to engage in nature more than frantic commercialism. How I know that in my core. For me, this is muscle memory.
I had a feral childhood. I roamed alone in the woods for hours on end on the weekends and summers. I was an only child in a rural area in a small town, but I do not remember loneliness or isolation. I remember warding off tarantulas and rattlesnakes with hoes (this was East Texas), making paper boats to float down the swollen creek over and over again, brushing off many smacks in the face by a prickly branch. I developed grit and self-reliance in those woods, not loneliness or fear or anxiety. I do, however, to this day often feel lonely, antsy, and insecure while shopping. No surprise there.
So, take your children to the woods. Or whatever form of nature you have access to. At the risk of sounding preachy: I implore you. Take them. Regularly. Let them know the paths of a trail more than they know the brands in a store. Let them know the names of wildlife they have seen with their own eyes. Let them see a creek go from full to dry, from liquid to frozen. I was a kid who got all of that, and looking back it was perhaps the biggest gift I got as a child, as it shaped my ability to always reset when the daily mundane parts of modern life get stressful. I am good at knowing when enough is enough and how to take care of myself, and I’m now committed to teaching that to my child. The trees serve as a very useful tool for practicing that valuable life skill.