I remember leaving the house in the morning with my brother as the sun was just rising in the sky.
We were in grade school, but it was summer. And that meant we lived each day from sun up to sun down outside.
First, We’d play catch in the driveway, bouncing the ball back and forth in a million different ways. Sometimes, we had to make sure the ball didn’t touch the driveway cracks. Other times, we had to see how far we could throw it or how high we could bounce it. Then, we’d use mitts and bats and tennis rackets to alter our game again and again.
As we moved further apart to test our throwing and catching skills, one of us would always be closer to the garage in the backyard. There, the allure of the vines growing over the next door neighbor’s fence into our yard was always too great. We’d sneak ripe, green grapes from her plants. They were warm from the sun and their tart and sweet flavor burst in our mouths.
My grandfather would usually come outdoors by midmorning, and we’d follow him through his meticulously managed garden, marveling at his big, ripe, ruby tomatoes. We’d even help him collect the delicate fruit into a basket and carry it inside. We’d carefully line up the ones that weren’t as ripe along all of the kitchen windowsills – rows of greenish-red globes.
Back outside it was time for hide-and-seek. The hiding places were endless. The long, narrow panel of grass behind the garage where we kept the garbage cans. Underneath the short stack of steps leading from the back porch to the yard. Behind the bench and planters full of colorful annuals on the big front porch.
Mom would interrupt our game with lunch. We’d eat our peanut butter and jelly on a picnic table outside and enjoy the shade.
Then it was time to race our bikes up to the stop sign and back. After hundreds of thousands of races, I think we finally broke even. But I’m not sure we were ever really keeping score.
There was always time for exploration. We’d catch bugs and butterflies. We’d use magnifying glasses to observe worms crawling in the mud, watch water glisten on the finest lines of a spider web and follow bees and butterflies from flower to flower.
Our imaginations buzzing with the bees, we’d get out our big tub of chalk and begin to draw. Across the sidewalk, we’d create animals hidden in a secret forest. We’d ask passers-by not to step on them. Then we’d draw out the perfect hopscotch board and jump and skip our way to the end over and over again.
The world was our playground – every part of it full of its own kind of magic.
I’ve been thinking about these days in the sun. I had taken my own children – ages 2 and 4 – to play at the park on a recent warm day. Everything held such wonder. The way the mud collected in puddles, creating shapes that looked like the numbers 6 and 8. How the soggy grass made squishy sounds as we walked through it. How daddy always seemed to be able to flick his wrist in just the right way to make a flat rock skip far across the water. And how watching the repetitive circular patterns each pebble made as it was thrown into the pond never got old.
As a parent, I want my children to enjoy the mysteries of the outdoors and feel that same excitement I did growing up. I get them outside as much as I can. Sometimes we have an idea – like using a pinecone to make a bird feeder or planting seeds in the garden – and we act on it. Other times, we just run around and play. I never know if I’m doing enough. I know one day the competition for my children’s minds in today’s world of limitless technology and numerous screens may grow. Will the blue sky and something as simple and primitive as a rock be able to compete?
Then, the wind picks up as we’re walking down a hill back to the car and my daughter starts running and says, “Momma,” as she raises her arms out to the side, “it’s like we’re flying.” And I throw my arms out and run right alongside her. She’s right. We’re flying.
And I realize as long as I encourage a love of nature in my children and continue to embrace it myself, there will always be a desire to pull away from the screen and connect with something real, something grounded, something only the dirt, the sun and the magic they conjure can provide.