Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Outdoor Girl

The thing is, I don’t actually like Nature very much.

I was notorious as a child for my Bee Dance, notorious also for having gone home in a huff when my best friend and a visitor decided to play in the back yard, overruling my strong preference for remaining indoors. It wasn’t just about the bees, though my phobia certainly played a role. The stuff I liked best was always inside the house. That was where you could read books, raid the kitchen for Oreos and Ding Dongs, talk about boys, and play Connect Four. Outside was where grown-ups made you go for ritual humiliations like gym class, or torture sessions like day-camp, with its ice-cold lakes full of algae, its fly-infested outhouses, and its terrifying ponies walking around in circles.

So, yeah. I kind of sucked at being a kid.

I always knew I wasn’t sporty girl, and for the most part I was okay with that. I would relax my anti-outdoor policy once a year in preparation for track-and-field day (where I always had a shot at a ribbon in the 100-metre dash), but otherwise I was content to cede the field of athletic endeavour to those able to do more than hide in the farthest corners of the outfield, hoping to stay well away from any errant balls. (Gym class for me was an excellent training for the field of espionage: it was all about laying low, attracting as little attention as possible, and staying far away from the ball.)

I did experience some cognitive dissonance, though, over my lack of appreciation for the beauties of nature. I had read Anne of Green Gables often enough to feel that I ought to be forming passionate relationships to the local pine trees and birch paths. Except for brief moments in early autumn, when my neighbourhood would explode into fiery splendour, nature seemed to resist my attempts at attachment. It was too ordinary. Symmetrical rows of freshly planted maple trees just could not sustain the imaginative investment I attempted to make in them. I did better with violets and trilliums, but still it was an effort.

My mother claims that my anti-outdoor attitude can be traced to earliest infancy. When I was a year old, she tried to put me outside to play, only to be summoned moments later by my cries. I was standing on the patio, sobbing, pointing down at the little potato bugs inching their tubular bodies across my path. Outside was the realm of flying insects and scary boys with genuine-looking toy pistols. I preferred to stay indoors doing math problems and reading Nancy Drew.

Maybe you can see where this is going. My preference for the indoor life is not exactly an asset when it comes to the task of raising children – especially these children of mine who adore the back yard, who eat sand and like it, who see the outdoors as an adventureland populated by friendly dogs, birds, and squirrels.

I have managed so far too conceal my phobia of bees. It helps that Bub has so little peripheral awareness. I can shriek and run in a circle and he will pay little or no attention if he is absorbed in the task of pulling leaves off a bush and dipping them in a mud puddle. Pie, on the other hand, will give me quizzical look. "Mama is being silly!" I announce in response to the unasked question in her eyes. It’s an unlikely explanation, but one she is willing, so far, to accept. Certainly she doesn’t yet associate these lapses of mine with the furry creatures she sees in books prompting joyous shrieks of "Bumblebee!"

I have spent more time outdoors since my children were born than in the previous two decades put together. It’s one of the hidden perks of the job, this discovery of heat and sand and prickly grass, the pleasures of a cold spring breeze or a sun-baked slide. There is still a sense of relief for me when I return indoors, a certain lightening of the pressure of the outdoor world. At a restaurant, I continue to opt for the dining room instead of the patio. But Nature, so long a closed book to me, is opening its leaves shyly these days under the gentle sun of these adventurous little ones. I’m beginning to see with their eager eyes, to feel with their fearless hearts.

44 comments:

Christine said...

Oh, I get that gym class thing all the way. Gym terrified me to no end. I was not athletic in the least. It is weird to me know that i actually try SO SO hard to be athletic! (not that i am getting anywhere with it! LOL)


And I, like Anne Shirley, wished i could wander around the Lake of Shining Waters and revel in roses and violets. But our yard kind of sucked and a bunch of cactus and a snowball tree wasn't exactly the same.

Bees? For me it is wasps. ahhhhh!

bubandpie said...

Yes. Wasps (and hornets, ugh) are far, far worse than honeybees - but I've always referred to my phobia using the word "bees" as kind of an umbrella term for flying insects that buzz and sting. (The buzz is a very essential component - biting insects that don't buzz are nasty, but they don't make me panic quite as badly.)

Veronica Mitchell said...

Wasps (or hornets?) winter over in the siding of our house, and a few always confusedly find their way inside in the spring. One got in and stung my three-year-old two weeks ago. She cried desperately and kept saying, "What did that bug do, Mommy?!" So even staying inside is no guarantee. Currently she is now afraid of all bugs.

And my mom when I was a kid used to say, "Would you at least read outside!"

Magpie said...

Seeing the world anew through your kid's eyes is the great pleasure of parenting.

V-Grrrl said...

I am not outdoorsy but I enjoy being outdoors and wandering in the woods.

My children, especially my son, love being outdoors. They are outdoorsy--enjoying camping, gardening, and all things buggy, froggy, and dirty.

Jenn said...

There's magic out there...it's so wonderful that kids can help us find it.

Omaha Mama said...

This is where we differ, I now know. I LOVE being outdoors. Grew up in the country and spent my time being an "explorer" in our trees. Bugs, not a problem. Mud, loved it. Being dirty, the best part of the job.

I would spend all day every day outdoors with my kids if it weren't for the damn housework. Laundry, blech.

Thanks for sharing anyway, I enjoyed reading a different perspective.

Kyla said...

This post makes me think we are the very same person.

Bees, wasps, hornets...agh! I agree, anything that buzzes and stings. It triggers pure unadulterated panic, and then I think "I am releasing fearful pheromones, they will go crazy and attack me!" which makes me panic all the more.

Mad Hatter said...

Hated gym class and all things athletic as a child. You had a chance at a ribbon in the 100 yard dash? GLARES.

I only discovered athleticism as an adult although I must admit that I have always loved the outoors (except that I grew up in garter snake intense place. AHHHH!)

Mary G said...

I just hopped over to Omaha Mama's site (ah, an outdoors person) and her summer sounds marvellous.
But I'm with you on the whining, biting bugs. I stepped on a honey bee as a kid and have obsessively worn shoes ever since.
My kids loved all things outside, even slimy ones, but my granddaughter is more like me. I have a picture posted of her with a lilac, and there was a bee on the lilac. Her body language is most eloquent. She has a tiny bug suit, which helps, but she is still really uptight. And has been from six months old, when she pointed at flies on the window and said 'uh' and cringed. Weird.

nomotherearth said...

I am not outdoorsy, but I love being outdoors. I actually feel oppressed when I have to stay indoors for too long. I have a huge problem with snakes, but thankfully, they don't come around as often as bees.

The Blue Castle really opened up my eyes to the beauty of nature. Hmm, I think I should re-read that. Again.

Pieces said...

This is so perfect. I identify with so much of what you have written. I did choose to spend some time outside as a child--after I discovered a perfect tree that I could read undisturbed in.

I especially love the way you begin. I start most of my conversations with the words "the thing is..." The Loved mocks me for it.

Kit said...

I love teh thought that gym class is an excellent training for espionage, now I know what I'm suited for. I probably ran faster to get away from the ball in lacosse than I ever did when we had to suffer cross-country. At home we had a wonderful yew hedge to sit and hide away with a book, so outdoors was fine, as long as I didn't have to raise a sweat.

Great post and I'm glad to be discovering fellow gym-abhoring bookworms - if only we'd been able to hang out in those days - silently communing over our various tomes!

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

It's interesting how people seem either to be decidedly outdoorsy or decidedly not. I decidedly am, but it helps that I live in a climate with negative humidity. I grew up in Pennsylvania, where in August you practically swim through the air -- ick.

Like you, though, I love how my children expand my boundaries. Because of my son I am having to overcome my phobia of math!

NotSoSage said...

On the other end, one of the hardest things for me about being a parent was having to put forays into the outdoors on hold for a couple of years. Which was only compounded by the fact that our access to the outdoors was largely restricted because we didn't have a car to get out of the city for so many years. I'm really looking forward to this summer.

mamatulip said...

This is why I'm glad we have a sun porch here. The kids can be outside and I can be near them, not necessarily outside with them but outside enough...because I have a love/hate relationship with heat, humidity and the sun.

Gwen said...

I'm a sort of an in between person. I like the outdoors well enough but I don't want to, you know, live there. This is why I'm trying to decide if I love my husband enough to buy him the tent and other camping equipment he has been hinting for decades about. Can I really suck up my hatred of bugs and love of indoor plumbing to go camping? I don't know.

I DO know, though, that I am thoroughly done with cicadas. I don't even attempt to disguise my horror from my children when one of those chattering beasts lands on me. They actually cluck! Who knew?

Jenifer said...

Oh the similarities! When my Mom would eventually kick me to the backyard, I would pack up my snacks, take a pile of books and use lawn chairs and blankets to make a fort. No daylight for me!

I am not a huge fan of outdoors either although I am much better. My idea of roughing it is when we are a motel, seriously no camping for me.

As for sports I was a competitive swimmer witch covers it all, there are no bugs, it is very clean and inside.


I am a bit freakish about "bees" as well, shouldn't everyone be? It doesn't help that every time TLC airs the Killer Bees show I watch it...

Julie Pippert said...

I'm big into the indoors. I have a low heat tolerance (which rules out most of the year outdoors here), low humidity tolerance (see previous note), and am highly allergic to, well, everything outside so I get read-eyed, puffy and sneezy. (I sound like the new 7 Dwarves.) So I get you.

I love nature. I admire it. I have even found a few places and times to be outdoors when I am not instantly ill.

Also hard with kids, esp. where we live now which has hit DefCon 42 on the Highly Allergic Scale for me.

I like the age the kids are at now. I can watch them outside on the swing set through the window as I do indoor things, like fold laundry.

You'd cry at the number of large, stinging insects here.

slouching mom said...

Funny you should write about this (as well as ever, I might add).

I've been feeling guilty that my kids aren't outdoors enough. I wonder if they've been modeling what they see in me -- someone who likes the outdoors enough when she happens to be there, but someone who wouldn't exactly seek it out.

But when I tell them to go outside and play, they look at me like I am daft. With so many pleasures inside?

My hubs is of the mind that we need to drag them outside, that once outside they'll enjoy themselves.

And though they always seem to in the end, I don't at all like shoving them out the door.

Terri B. said...

For me it was worms. I was born and lived 6 years in Ohio where it rained a lot (as opposed to Arizona where we moved when I was 7). I remember being sent outside to wait for the school bus and had to cross a wet street full of wriggling worms. I ran back inside and refused to cross that street. To my 6 year old eyes the worms in the street formed a solid carpet with absolutely nowhere to place ones feet without stepping on them. Ewwww. Fortunately Arizona is much much too dry for worms but you learn to watch out for snakes instead. Sigh.

Love the picture of your little outdoor girl!

Jaelithe said...

We should trade kids. My son has developed a major bug phobia over the past month or so, ever since a June bug conked him in the ear. (it didn't hurt him, mind you-- it just scared the crap out of him because it was a loud, large, ugly bug.) And now he has to be forced to go outside, and the entire time he is outside, he keeps seeing imaginary bugs and screeching.

Jaelithe said...

P.S. Remind me never to tell you the story about the wasps' nest inside the wall of this 13th floor high rise apartment I once lived in . . .

Bon said...

i so dearly wish i had known you when we were children. we could have stayed happily inside, imagining the precise colour of the violets on the Lake of Shining Waters.

for me it is beetles. bees are acceptable...but beetles - and worse, cockroaches - make me squeal like a stuck guinea pig.

see? even my animal references are to indoor animals. but i, too, am trying. thus far O doesn't seem too into grass and such, and i pretend dismay...but i am definitely more on my own turf, inside. :)

Beck said...

I consider myself an indoors person - secretive, unwholesome, fond of books and tea and mean gossip. Children don't tend to GO for those sorts of things and so occasionally I'm dragged, shrieking, outside into the light and fresh air.

Blog Antagonist said...

I was an outside kid when I lived in Wisconsin, even though I was sort of like you, in that, I was not a fan of bugs, going barefoot, swimming in places where I couldn't see the bottom, and sleeping on the ground.

Here....not so much. It is so flipping hot here, and humid. And there are poisonous things. Slithery things. Prehistoric flying things.

Recently a friend suggested we take our kids camping. I said, "Sure! In a hotel."

Jenifer said...

Heh. Laughing at my type-o "witch" yes sports are witchy aren't they?

kittenpie said...

My mom used to throw me out of the house and lock the door, insisting that I must get fresh air. So my response to nature tends to be careful, up close examination. I would turn over rocks, collect the bugs, and look at them under my microscope, along with plant samples. I wasn't much of an outdoorsy type, either, one of the reasons I mock by supposed horoscope, which suggests I should be both outdoorsy and extroverted. (which, HA!)

painted maypole said...

Being tall, I was often chosen for sport teams the first time I played with anyone. Once they realized that when a ball came my way my response was "duck, hide or run" I soon was left at the end... the booby prize for whoever had to pick last.

Nature, however, has always been my friend. Try reading a book outside. It's a great way to combine something you love with something you're learning to enjoy. A book in a hammock - there's nothing better. Except perhaps, a beach.

Becky said...

I, too, can relate to the gym class stories. I strongly dislike organized sports... and I also typically opted for indoor rather than outdoor play.

BUT, when I was in my last year of high school, I realized that the world of "interior camping" was not nearly as terrifying as I thought it was. I just needed a few people around me to show me the ropes, and I became a true convert.

melody said...

I've always been an outdoors gal, but you know what...it is a completely different outdoors when shared with my boys.

Loved this!

Mimi said...

Ah, were you on the one-Nancy-Drew-per-day ration like I was? I always thought being told to go out to play was a punishment. Apparently other children like this.

But because I grew up in the bush, I early learned to love solitary wildness. The bush. That's for being alone in. So I love outdoors -- I just didn't like 'playing outside'.

And now the kids, they make us go out ...

Lady M said...

We've actually used up a tube of sunblock so far this year. In the pre-baby days, I used to religious buy new sunblock every two years, and throw it out unused because I never went outside.

Marian said...

Ooh, hey. Thanks for using the phrase, "cognitive dissonance." Truly. It is, weirdly enough, one of my favorite phrases. So descriptive, so applicable on so many occasions, so underused and underappreciated. It gives me pleasure to see it in print. I know, I know... strange. In any case, great post!

jen said...

never athletic, but i reasonably enjoy the outdoors, but not like some do.

that said, it can be many things that push our buttons, and it's amazing what we are willing to do (and risk) for them. i am always humbled by that.

painted maypole said...

i just linked to your sight after putting a link in my blog, which you so graciously explained how to do in my comments. Thank you. now THAT'S what I call "a good cooperation" :)

Aimee said...

Oh, I'm with you. I was the kid who always delicately spread a towel/blanket/jacket on the ground before sitting. There was no casual flopping on the grass or rolling in leaves, due to possible bug infestation.

And Gym Class was torturous for a variety of reasons, and not all of them have a direct correlation to my athletic ineptitude. Eg: Our gym teacher was a mannish woman (I know,so stereotypical) who, instead of trying to even act like she cared to know us, made us write our last names across the chests of our gym shirts with permanent marker. That way she could just look at our chest and bark out our last name with little effort on her part. Classy.

Kelly said...

I was totally an outdoor girl, but regardless, you still have a tendency to see things anew when it's your children doing the looking. I have a greater appreciation -- for the beauty and the danger -- when I'm outside with them.

Tye Anderson said...

curious if the children practice...

co-opition....a hybred of co-operation...and competition...

playing well...getting along, but always trying to best the other...

happens between mikhaila and i all the time...of course i usually win...until she headbuts me in the crotch.

mcewen said...

So many common [and opposite] threads. You've given me a couple of things to cogitate about.
cheers

Rock the Cradle said...

Ah, the acrid, yet musty smell of gym lockers. Never. Again.

I've never been what I'd term as "athletic" as in organized sports. I'm more of a canoe-camping sort, with a penchant for taking along good wine and cheese and the shelf of books I can never seem to finish reading so I can read in the shade of a primeval pine overlooking a glassy lake. Glad you are venturing out!

My insect hangups:
Wasps...major annoyance. Spiders, though...just *shudder*. And centipedes...major shudder.

Momish said...

I too am not an outdoorsy person, but have learned to deal with it due to my daughter's delight. Luckily, we live in the city, so the only nature I have to deal with even now is the occasional patch of grass or fly. I feel your pain (and you new found wonder).

Major Bedhead said...

I am not a fan of the outdoors either. I don't like bugs or dirt or being too hot or too cold or having it too windy or too rainy or, really, much of anything. I like plants and flowers and such, but I hate actually putting them into the ground. Dirt under my nails gives me the heebie jeebies.

When I was a kid, my mother used to kick me outside in the summers, too. My neighbours had an abandoned grape arbor in their back yard and I used to take whatever book I was reading that day and conceal myself in there. It wasn't ideal, but it sufficed until I could cajole my mother to let me back in the house. I'd come in for lunch and sneak up to my room when her back was turned, flop on the floor and bury my nose back in my book.

Since I don't have an athletic bone in my body and will fall over with no provocation whatsoever, I was also not a fan of gym class. At all. Pretty much my entire childhood revolved around figuring out how I could fit reading into the equation.

Susanne said...

I hear you. I have always wanted to stay indoors too. Only when I spent all my days indoors I finally surprised myself by wanting to take a walk once in a while. So over the last twenty years I have come to actually like hiking. Though I still prefer my outdoors not to be too wild.

I still like the indoor activities much more, especially since I suffer from hay fever for most of the year.

I'm really glad to have a mother-in-law who spends time in the yard with my son. And in preschool they stay outdoors all day long.