We’ve done it. We have left the house. I look at my husband, his eyes squint against the sun, but I know the frown lines are not just from UV rays. It’s been a rough few weeks. He is weary. The kids are strapped in, rummaging through the things they packed in their backpacks and already asking if they can drink the vibrantly colored sugar water they chose at the gas station. I’m glad we are doing this. I am weary too.
The last few weeks, maybe months, have been a grind. We live each day in the routine: school, work, extra curricular, social engagements, etc, etc. How can life go so slowly and so swiftly at the same time? I’ve been floundering and overwhelmed. There is a constant tension. We are quick to speak and rarely pause to listen, smile, or care for one another. We distract ourselves with our phones, tablets and streaming TV.
What happened to us? Do we even remember how to have fun together?
As we drive further, the traffic lessens. We start to relax. The kids ask me to read a chapter of "The Chronicles of Narnia" aloud, so I do. We open a snack. The landscape grows more evergreen and we begin to watch for wildlife.
Soon, conversation starts flowing more easily and we settle into comfortable silence between stories. My son picks up his math homework we brought along, without my prompting. My daughter giggles with her stuffed animal friend. It seems strange that less than an hour before we were a hot mess as a family. How can something as simple as going for a drive into the woods bring so much refreshment to our souls?
John Muir wrote, "Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves."
Nature has a way of pushing our re-set button. It powers us down and starts us back up, a natural reboot when our system gets overwhelmed or freezes up.
In a world in which almost half of our kids are not getting daily time outdoors with a parent, but where “Most American children spend about 3 hours a day watching TV” and up to 7 hours of total screen time a day we need to remind ourselves to hit re-set.
If you are someone who struggles with tech addiction like I do, sometimes the only way to disengage is to go far enough “off the grid” that you run out of cell service. Regardless, it is important that we are intentional about making the time to disengage with technology and to engage in the beauty of the natural world around us. When we fail to do so, we may miss the adventure of exploring and discovering together. We may miss the fullness of life and relationship outside of our screens.
Our favorite activities include:
Hiking & Backpacking– As your children get older, the options become more plentiful. My seven year old backpacked into a small lake with his Dad last summer, but even the smallest walkers can enjoy a stroll through the park. The goal is not to summit K2, the goal is connecting. Not everyone can live in the wilds of Montana. However, most metropolitan areas offer beautiful green spaces and parks to help you get into nature. For example, Phoenix has Camelback Mountain jutting up in the middle of the city. Find a place to explore, shut off your phone, and enjoy your surroundings.
Biking – This has become a new avenue of exploration for our family. With the invention of baby bike seats, bike trailers, and trail-a-bike attachments, biking can be fun for the whole family. Leisurely rides along paved bike trails in our area have provided hours of fun. It also doesn’t have to break the bank. All of our bikes were purchased off of Craigslist and mine for less than $100 (baby seat included)! Have you ever noticed it’s hard to ride a bike and check your Facebook simultaneously?
Camping – Camping is my fountain of youth. I transition from grouchy tired mama, to tadpole hunting, s'more making, rock skipping super mama in the blink of an eye. It does take work, especially if you have small children. However, the reward of intentional, off the grid, time together far outweighs the preparation. We may return home with tired bodies, but our souls have been refreshed.
How do you get into nature? What refreshes your soul and helps you escape the grip of technology?
By Jesica Swanson, Kudoso Kontributor