January 16, 2014

Bear with Me

Do you know what this is?

image from http://db.tigsource.com/games/minecraft/screenshots/1478
It's a screenshot from a video game called Minecraft, or as I like to refer to it - Mindcrap.  

Many of you have heard of this game - if you have a kid, chances are he or she is an addict, or on the way to becoming one.  Sorry for those of you who are in denial, but it's true.  My son, who is 10, would rather play Mindcrap than do anything else.  Except maybe watch Mindcrap videos from THE BIGGEST MINDCRAP GEEK EVER, the Bajan Canadian:

This kid clearly spends WAY TOO MUCH time in his basement, eating Da-reets and drinking Sunny D like it's water.  

The amount of time that my kid spends (or would like to spend) on Mindcrap depresses me; however, I am hopeful that he will get over his addiction.  My brother and I played Atari incessantly as kids and I'm no longer jonesing for it.  Confession:  I once permitted N to play Mindcrap for 4 hours in a row.   Contender for bad mother of the year, obviously.  

N would rather play MC than watch TV, hang with friends, chase a soccer ball, go skiing, go to Disney (well maybe not that) et cetera.  I have caught him hunched and squirming at the computer chair, legs crossed tightly, because he has to go PEE so badly, yet still he slays on.  I told him that he should start wearing diapers like they do in the casinos, then he wouldn't even have to get up, making his life THAT MUCH easier.  I am nothing if not efficient.  

Thank god he likes to read.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.  Actually, I have myself to thank for that:  Brown Bear, Brown Bear

We were at the library recently getting some new books and this one caught my eye -  Let Them Be Eaten By Bears:  A Fearless Guide to Taking Our Kids into the Great Outdoors by Peter Brown Hoffmeister:

Yes, people, I am aware that mid-January is not a traditional time to think about going camping with kiddies; however, the book looked interesting and after it passed my "read the first page test" (I was hooked), I grabbed it.

I LOVE THIS BOOK.  It is full of life lessons, funny stories, kooky lore and ideas to get your family outside.  More on that in a few paragraphs.  And I will make the connection between Mindcrap and the great outdoors too.

But first, a story.  Nathaniel camped for the first time when he was 9 months old.

We had a pack and play (portable playpen) to throw him in during nap time or when he became annoying.  It was mid-June, the nights were cool and I was still nursing, so he slept under a goosedown duvet with me (we're glampers).  I have an awesome 4-6 man dome tent that I bought for around $150 and that's what we slept in.

Until I had a "better" idea.

I thought the pack and play and the double air mattress took up too much real estate in the tent.  It was cramped and stuffy.  I thought it made perfect sense to set up shop in my friend's "food tent":

you can see the playpen in the tent
My husband (voice of reason) said that we would be eaten by animals if we slept in that.  Well, he didn't actually say "eaten" but he did suggest that we would have nocturnal visitors.  I couldn't disagree more.  Never mind that our campsite in Elora was overrun by raccoons, who were an omnipresent threat during all hours of the day.

image from owned.com  - only funny because my kids are obsessed with Carly Rae Jepsen

"We are not going to get eaten by raccoons!  I tree planted for five years... yada yada yada..."

Because my husband is not a smart man, he listened to me.  We put the pack and play in the food tent, and also dragged the air mattress over, turning our "real" tent into a large, walk-in closet.  At bedtime, the three of us fell asleep, the husband on one side, Nathaniel in the middle and me on the other.  I recall being very happy with myself as I nodded off...  this is so lovely and fresh and roomy, and I am going to sleep like the dead... maybe N will even sleep through the night... zzzzzzzzzzzzz

Who was I kidding?  It was not to be.

I woke up in the middle of the night - it was PITCH black - and I was instantly aware that there was something wrong.

FUCKING WRONG because there was something crawling across my torso.  NOT KIDDING.  It must have crawled under the flimsy walls of the tent.  Because the tent has NO FLOOR, animals can crawl in and out willy-nilly.

Keeping in mind that there was a leaden beast crawling across my prone body, I did exactly what anyone would do - I whipped that duvet off my body like a woman possessed, exposing myself and my 9-month old to the elements, and screamed murderously.  Well not that murderously, because who wants to wake a sleeping baby?  Even if they are in danger of being eaten by a killer raccoon / rakunk!

My husband didn't wake up.  Neither did Nathaniel.

I had to poke my husband in the ribs to rouse him (a raccoon just crawled across me!, I hissed).  He was totally annoyed with me: I told you so. Now be quiet!


While reading Mr. Hoffmeister's book, I was reminded of this and my many other animal adventures.  I will save those for another post.  Today, I want to talk about kids and the great outdoors and what is keeping them from going there.  Hint: it's not bears.

Some quotes from Mr. Hoffmeister:
  • "it is not uncommon for a child to play more than a thousand video game hours per year" 
  • it took one of Mr. Hoffmeister's computer-addicted high school students a full twelve hours before he realized he was in the actual outside world, before he started to reference non computer material in his conversations.  While he looked across a valley at a snow-covered peak in Oregon, he said:  "oh yeah, I looked at this mountain online, and it looked way prettier on my computer." 
I find this to be alarming.    

I do not think that my children will end up like one of my former library colleagues, who had never camped, hiked or swum in a natural body of water (and had only gone in a pool once or twice!).   I am fortunate because I had a Dad who loved the great outdoors.  He took us skiing, skating, sledding and ice-fishing in the winter, and camping, hiking, and fishing in the warmer months.  I have slept under the stars in the Niagara Escarpment, and caught and cooked my lunch over an open fire.  I guess there isn't really a chance of my kids being outdoorsaphobes, even if Nathaniel is a vidhead and Gwen loves the telly.  

What I do worry about is the subtle and gradual transition to becoming an "indoors" person", described by Mr. Hoffmeister as such:
You like temperatures between 68 and 72 degrees F.  Much colder or warmer, and you might start to complain.  You like a dry environment but not an environment that's arid or dusty.  You are used to urban noise, comfortable with the sounds of computers, music, phones, cars, electronic bells, TVs, YouTube, alarms and large groups of people.  This may sound strange, but you might even like the toxic smells of bleach or other harsh cleaners or, near the street, exhaust, tar, oil, and burned gasoline.  These smells are, at the very least, familiar to you and therefore comfortable even if you don't like them.  
People, we need to wake up!  Our kids are getting fatter and the insidious, pervasive nature of video-gaming is the problem, especially with boys.  I urge you to kick your kids off the screens and into the outdoors.  They won't like it this time of year, as it's coldy-woldy.  Things like skating, skiing, and sledding help, as do snowmen and snow-forting.  If I told my son that he could whap me in the face with a snowball, that might be enough to get him off Mindcrap.  And that, my friends, is a step in the right direction.

I did not intend to write this entry as a review of Mr. Hoffmeister's well written and engaging book but it seems to be turning into that so I'll just go with it.  Bears is full of great information.  You will learn all you need to know to take your kids on a weekend or if you're up to it, a two-week camping adventure.  The how-to guide is full of anecdotes, humour, pop psychology and life lessons, all of which will teach you something about embracing the great outdoors.

I hear a lot of parents talking about how when I was a kid, I spent all day outside.  I walked or rode my bike everywhere.  Parents - it can still be like that!  Times are NOT that different.  Kids are still kids and like to do kid stuff like riding around on their bikes, terrorizing the neighbours and playing nicky-nicky-nine-door.  By letting them explore, your kids will build character and learn to trust their instincts.  This cannot be taught by reading or by playing video games.

I am not a perfect Mum; I'm far from it.  I do not always have the energy to go outside and chase the kids and dog around but I'd like to leave you with some great ideas (and some self-indulgent family photos).  They're good reminders for me too.

1)  Camp in your backyard if you haven't camped before or you're out of practice.  Sleep outdoors on your deck on a warm night.  We did this at my Mom's house when Gwen was one.  I should probably not tell you that in the morning, I went inside for a cup of joe and left Gwen and her father "sleeping" in the tent outside.  I looked out the kitchen window and saw Gwenny toddling alone toward the house (husband was still asleep and didn't even hear Gwen exit).  My parents' backyard is ginormous, unfenced, bordered by farmer's fields, and a highway in front.  It could have gone horribly wrong.  It did not.
Kids love to camp in the backyard and if someone has a freakout, you can always return to the creature comforts of your home.  Here's my son "camping" on the deck outside my bedroom in mid-November of last year (his idea; I did not join him).

2)  If you want your family to spend more time outdoors, consider getting a dog.  The dog needs to be walked at least twice a day.  You will experience more sunrises and sunsets, and family time.

3)  Let your kids climb trees, help with gardening and get filthy.

Some of you reading this may have never had children, or you may be grandparents.  You may wonder how a book about taking your kids outdoors can impact you.  It can.  I would argue that you too can benefit from getting "eaten by bears".  Of particular interest is Work Less, Make Less Money, Play More; Different is Good and There is Never a Better Time.

Now get out there!

Musical pairing:  FURR by Blitzen Trapper (such a foot-tapping, thumping song! I love it!)