Thursday, July 9, 2009

Last Child in the Woods

I recently finished "Last Child in the Woods: saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder" by Richard Louv. I think I finally read this book because I was interested in an affirmation for how we live our lives. So many times I question myself. Should I be working full time? Would it be nice to have a bigger house, more money, or a greater sense of economic security? But taking me out of the equation so that I could be in the work force would drastically change our lives.

One of the greatest adverse effects it would have would be less time outside for me and for our kids. The way that we live works so well for us, with the exception that all the pressure is on my husband to be the bread winner. Both he and I have spent a great deal of time outdoors in all conditions. He works outdoors for a living. Our garden is just one big extra room to our house. We're outside as much as we're inside, whether it's perfect weather or not.

I try to hang back and let them explore. I give them a lot of space and freedom outdoors. It's always such a struggle to parent without being overprotective. I have to constantly remind myself that our kids don't need "props" or toys to play with outside. They're imaginative world so often evolves with the natural objects that they find around them.

But, I digress... which happens a lot. The last chapter was my probably my favorite. Louv discussed the "spiritual necessity of nature for the young." I was intrigued. Intuitively, I know that my kids (and myself) are at our best when we're outside. For myself, the spiritual aspect of being in nature is something I can't be without. Going to church on Sundays has never really been our thing. It's not that we don't believe in a higher power, or don't teach our children about different religions. It's really just that our spirituality is something we celebrate by being outside... in nature. (And I'm definitely not dissing anyone who does go to church. Every family has there own unique way of doing things.)

"Last Child in the Woods" quoted Professor Abraham Joshua Heschel and it summed up how I try to live my life and what I am seeking to share with our children...

"our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. Heschel would encourage his
students to get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes
nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never
treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed."
And that's it really... for us, to be in nature (and to be spiritual) is to "live life in radical amazement." I just sat down and cried when I read this. Nothing has ever so completely defined my spirituality for me.
Richard Louv recognizes how many of us face the challenge of sharing our spirituality in nature without "tripping on the tangled vines of Biblical interpretation, semantics, and politics." I had never really struggled with that until this year when my daughter entered public school Kindergarten. Suddenly she was exposed to a heavy dose of southern Christianity. Before that she had been buffered by more diversity among her friends and family... Buddhists, Quakers, Christians, you name it. Certainly, she had never encountered any heaviness about "how the world was created" or Jesus as a personal savior.

It became clear to me that we would be the ones providing the tether while she explores the worlds of religion and spirituality. I knew that, but it happened a little sooner than I expected. And I should add that I try to embrace every one's belief system without judging or alienating. I really do think that diversity is what makes this world spectacular.

Paul Gorman said,

"As a parent, you don't encourage children to experience nature because it's
pretty, but because your children are exposed to something larger and longer
standing than their immediate human existence."
This quote in the book struck me as such an obvious point that it is simply exquisite. Of course! I am always working towards helping my children understand that, to put it bluntly, they are not the center of the universe. I want them to know from a place deep within that there is so much more to this world than the single individual, and that they are loved immensely. I want to increase their sense of connection, so that they may not dwell long in any perceived sense of domination. I want them to live in radical amazement.... always.


Melissa said...

I'm going to have to read and re-read this post when I'm without my kids, but thank you for these words. I wish our outdoors was as beautiful as yours is...

Cheryl Arkison said...

I should have read this before I emailed you. The grass is definitely greener on your side of the fence!

Anonymous said...

Fabulous post. I'm with you sista.
A while back a posted about this book and the author sent me an email!!! Maybe he will find your post as well. Yours is wonderful.