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It’s early evening, and a cool night. The usual routine has been to put the girls down and go out back to water the garden. I’m sitting in the backyard, contemplating how much my lifestyle has changed in these past 4 years. As I look at my dirty feet in flip flops, I wonder when exactly I traded my aspirations to achieve something, that looking back now, in it’s deepest core of motivation, was purely selfish. I traded them for something altogether void of my own glory, my own achievement. I wonder how exactly we went from One to Three. In that fleeting thought the process seemed instantaneous. What had happened to that time, the time I often feel I work and struggle and toil in the mundane repeatedly, and my disillusioned doubting self is bitterly resenting it’s for nothing. That time, suddenly the realization hit that Araiya is just about to turn 4. FOUR!?! Pia, 1- nearly out of the baby stage forever. The years and months have gone so fast. I am not okay with the speed at which their little lives are progressing. Nor my own. But this season is much like the garden I am cultivating- we worked hard in the hot daytime sun after long days at doing real-world work, and in the wet rainy times to prep this space. We planned and dug and lifted and placed and moved and hoed (tee hee) so we could plant seeds and grow food. The garden is growing a plethora of vegetables that I wasn’t sure would even sprout. And some didn’t. So far, it’s pretty amazing to see the results! Even when I had little doubt that one sad looking tomato plant I waited too long to get into the ground would survive, but yesterday Araiya, Tallis and I found two tiny tomatoes on it.


Though there is still the heat I often feel overwhelmed with. When my rebellion strains at these perceived bonds, trying to escape the stresses, trying to figure out what would make me feel more like I was here for a reason (other than my kids, that is), trying to deceive myself that I somehow am justified in lacking satisfaction in the work that has been graciously put before me. And I contemplate the idea of escape. I see this in Araiya too, even how she instinctively runs from me when I catch her trying to get ahold of the nail polish in the refrigerator. How we fight so hard to hold onto the perceived comforts we cling to even at the expense of other people, when we love ourselves and the things we think will make us fulfilled even though in reality taking possession of those comforts rains detriment down on those we have sacrificed or disregarded to get it. If I were left, or would leave my kids, in the grasp of what they think would make them most comfortable, we’d all too quickly become devoted slaves to empty, meaningless things. Perhaps I think that is the biggest deceitful lure to those things- they promise meaning and fulfillment yet can only deliver emptiness and selfish entrapment. I remember as a kid I was extremely fond of playing out in the woods. In a sense I wanted to taste a sense of that which dramatized the lives of fictional adventure characters. One element that was almost universal in these stories was the vast amounts of time the figures were alleged to have spent wandering with bosom companions, through the once-mighty wilderness, entirely free of adult supervision so they could be left to their own devices to overcome whatever obstacles had been put in the path of them achieving those idilic dreams and aspirations they desired by their own self-sufficient cunning and ability. 


Though I look around this postage stamp-sized in city lot as I am standing within it’s fenced in yard and realize the wilderness available to me (and therefore my kids) has shrunk to a mere scrap of its former enormousness, as though so much about childhood has changed in the years between the days memorialized in stories I read my youth’s adventuring, my own mountainous exploits and this urban world my kid’s formation of the outdoors will be based around. It’s purely a world of fantasy to hinge my hopes as a child on the notion there was still a connectedness there, a continuum of childhood- Narnia, Neverland, Prydain- that even in the 100 acre woods behind my house, it was all the same Wilderness. Those wanderings, games, exploration and survival I read about, complete with dramatic frightening encounters with genuine menace, portrayed as far from the help or interference of engaged parents, seemed to me at the time (and I think this is my key point) absolutely familiar to me. The thing I was longing for about the Adventures of Childhood is the incredible degree of freedom it offered, therefore it became a false comfort in my attempts to escape. And I say false comfort because in all honesty looking back it was a very lonely place, perched on a rock or in a fort all by yourself.


Not only culturally has there been a significant shift in our idea of childhood as the generations have worn on, in the basic sense we can’t let our kids do the same things we or our parents did (like walk to the grocery store or school by themselves) because also our sense of control and safety has been violated. A very grave reality has come to understand the notion of the Wilderness set in stories about childhood is gone; or at least never really existed outside of the books and movies we filled our heads with. The days of Adventure are not only past, but non-existent. The land ruled by children, to which a child might exile themselves for at least a portion of every day, has all but been given up because in the end it became a very lonely place when everyone else moved on. I struggle with the impact of both the aftermath of dealing with the disappointment that comes when a head full of fantasies cannot deliver and also the lack of adventuring on the development of children’s imaginations. I think neither adventure or imagination is restricted nor cultivated solely on freedoms hinged on being left to one’s own devices. This is what I worry about the most. I grew up with a perceived freedom always on the brink of being sucked away, a liberty that now seems impossible that I ever really came as close to self-actualizing as my younger mind thinks I wish I might have. The cold hard facts is that comfort and fantasy in the end just can’t deliver. Not to mention sending my kids off by themselves is just plain more unsafe today then ever before, regardless of where you live.


But on that note, so much of how we designed this back yard is in hopes to cultivate a sense of adventure. I think back to the first two summers we lived here, how it truly was unsafe to be back here simply because it was not tended to, cared for- rather overgrown, unruly. It’s our job as parents to create and ensure safe and edifying environments to show our children the limits of their abilities and simultaneously guide them into new ones as they grow. We were very purposeful in this yard to create some good play spaces, the main one is the dry creek bed/play pit. Recently, Tallis, after the usual struggle and exhilaration, learned to climb up and out of the rocks retaining the back of the cove. The other night after dinner Matt was watching them play and Tallis starts up, one rock at a time, wearing one of Araiya’s Croc’s and with a plastic shovel in one hand. He starts to warn Tallis not to do that with the one shoe on, she stops, contemplates and decides to continue on, making it to the top with confidence. Matt felt the joy at her achievement, that we in making this space and setting it before them, have cultivated so many learning opportunities to discover themselves and the way this world works. Our world and choices my involve more constraints, but it also offers just as many creative solutions. And I think they too are realizing it by gaining a deeper understanding of things beyond themselves, their own comforts and wanting their desires to be instantly attained. 


I do feel it is integrally important to have outdoor space, to get dirty, to experience trial and error. If children are not permitted — not taught — to cultivate adventurers and explorers of the everyday world they are in as children, I wonder how they will be able to effectively face and navigate the bigger trials of the world as adults without the urge to escape so a notion of fictional simplicity and freedom? I wonder how many other families even think about stuff like this. What struck me many a lovely summer evening, as we sometimes walk along the streets of our in-city residential neighborhood around that after-dinner hour, in the twilight and magic hour of my own childhood, was that we didn’t encounter a single other child, yet through open windows glanced in at many TV’s flickering across living room ceilings. The question I end up contemplating that night is not, Should I send my children out to play? But even if I do send them out, Will there be anyone to play with?


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