Letting Your Child Be Wild

dirt

When I was a kid, maybe 8 or 9, my parents took my sisters and I with them when they went to visit a friend of my Dad’s. This friend lived way out in the middle of nowhere, on over 1,000 acres of woods and there was this awesome creek that ran through most of it, complete with a natural waterfall. Next to this waterfall the homeowner had built a gazebo. Even though it was fall when we went and kind of chilly, my sisters and I spent the entire day we were there playing in that gazebo next to that partially frozen creek. We had no toys except the leaves, sticks and dirt around that structure, no screen except our imaginations, no other friends but ourselves and we had so much fun that the memory of that day still sticks with me more than 20 years later.

When I turned 12 my Dad started taking me deer hunting with him. Every year when the air would start to turn crisp and the leaves would begin to turn colors and the days started to get shorter I would get so excited because I knew that hunting season would soon begin. That day would dawn bright and early and Dad and I would get up before dawn. I’d dress in so many layers that I’d feel like the Michelin Man, we’d load all of our gear in Dad’s rickety old truck and drive out to our hunting spot. Once we were there, we’d strap on bags holding our lunch, extra ammo and all those various disgusting smell liquids that my Dad was convinced would cover our scent and make our hunting more successful. Then we’d hike for miles through the pre-dawn woods, trying to be as sneaky as people wearing 50 pounds of clothes could be, stopping every few hours to listen with the breath steaming up in front of us in the chilly wind. Then we’d sit on the cold, damp ground for hours; barely moving, not making any noise, just listening to the woods around us. We rarely actually bagged anything but that wasn’t the point.

I had so many wonderful experiences out in the woods with my Dad. Probably my favorite was when we had a pair of chipmunks playing on the log we were hiding behind. The two little guys ran and played barely 5 feet from us for nearly 20 minutes before they ran off. Then there was the time that we watched a doe and her twins graze in the clearing down the hill from us. And the time we watched a coyote catch and kill a turkey. Those experiences, being that close to nature, helped to shape me into the person I am today.

When I was a child I just knew that I was going to be a veterinarian and one of my favorite things to do was to rescue animals, try to patch them up, and let them go. My Dad ran a glass lizard over with the lawnmower once and cut it in half. He brought it to me, I sewed it’s two pieces back together with cross-stitch floss and bandaged him with Kleenexes and, by God, he survived. I was never so proud as I was when that snakey little lizard slithered away after he healed. I had many more failures – I never could seem to keep injured birds alive – but I always tried nonetheless.

I remember going creek walking when I was a kid and staying behind while everyone else went ahead so I could bang rocks together and try to make arrowheads. I would collect animal bones that I found in the woods and try to identify the species. My sisters and I once spent hours digging a trench through a creek bed so tadpoles trapped in a small pool could swim down to the main creek. We went rock-hunting and mushroom hunting and rode our bikes around town for hours.

My sisters and I weren’t your “typical” girls. We loved to walk and swim in creeks, we were overjoyed at the thought of going creek walking and arrowhead hunting with our parents. We climbed trees and played in mud puddles and touched dead things just to see what we could see. And our parents encouraged our natural curiosity. They never discouraged us from getting dirty, from asking questions or from exploring our world.

People like to blame electronics for the fact that kids these days don’t do the things that I did when I was a kid. But I don’t blame the electronics. We own an PS3,  a Wii, three computers, and each of the kids have their own laptop and they would still rather go outside and play in the rain or ride their bikes through puddles or climb trees than play on the Playstation. The key is for we, as parents, to ignite in our kids the spark of imagination that will carry them throughout their lives. We need to be out there with them, in the dirt and the rain and the woods, learning, exploring, teaching. Making those memories that our children will never forget.

So remember, kids and clothes are washable. And those scrapes, bumps and bruises will heal. But the memories your child makes while getting them will last a lifetime.

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