Sunday, August 3, 2014

Hey, you're in my space!

My husband and I had an interesting experience this summer while on our thirty day camping trip across several states. This encounter was all about personal space. We were pulling our travel trailer and had parked in our assigned spot in a crowded RV park. The following morning we went out sightseeing in our car for a few hours and when we returned, another family had pulled in and set up camp in the space next to us. We have a 17 ft. fiberglass travel trailer. They had an RV the size of a semi truck with bump outs pulling an approximately 16 foot open trailer for the kids' bicycles and a four-seater off highway vehicle. You get the picture!

We pulled into our spot and they immediately spoke to us in a friendly way when we exited our car. We exchanged some basic conversation with them about where we lived,  introduction of our names, etc. They were nice people. They'd put out a large area rug and in the center was a game table/footstool piece of portable equipment. Four people...a dad and mom and two teens were sitting around it  stretched out in comfortable camp chairs along with their large poodle who was on a leash. The five year old twins were supposed to be napping inside the behemoth of an RV, but our arrival had perked up their inquisitive ears.

It didn't take long for us to realize our camping space had greatly decreased in square footage since we'd left that morning. The picnic table for their spot had been moved so it was now definitely in our space....behind our trailer.

Although I admit to bristling a little, we really didn't need that space for anything. But I must say that there was little placid and pleasant natural space in between the two spots. You know....the space that has a tree, some grass, something that provides a little buffer zone. Our privacy had shrunk!

Because I'm ADD, sitting outside in our portable chairs which were pretty cramped was not an option for me as I could easily hear their gregarious conversations and found it impossible to concentrate. So I went into the trailer to read. Rich put in ear buds and stayed outside to read.

Later I was thinking about how difficult it could have been. They could have been drunk, used constant profanity, ignored "quiet hours" or had an annoying yippie barking dog. None of those things happened. Instead they seemed to be a pretty happy family enjoying each other, playing Battleship and making plans to go fishing. We were leaving early in the morning so it was no big deal. Rich and I both had a laugh about it....the fact that they made some assumptions about things and invaded our personal space.

As we were getting ready to pull out the next morning, I was making one last trip over to the trash bin area before we left the park and Rich said to me in a loud whisper trying not to wake the sleeping neighbors, "Oh, watch out. There is a big pile of dog poop right there behind our trailer." Again, I had to chuckle as that is a big "no-no" in campgrounds. You are supposed to pick up your dog's poop, right? I mean, that's a given.

Anyway, it got me thinking about personal space and how people have such different patterns of behavior. We are all raised in different families and families have different so called "rules."  That's where the conflict begins....assumptions, rules, etc.

It made me think of a conversation I had with my friend, Marty Moseley, a couple years ago. Marty said a cool idea for a tee-shirt would be "Create a traffic jam on the High Road." This was one of those "when in doubt, take the high road" moments. It feels good to give up rights and just let things go. Less drama, less stress. After all, we were on vacation. Actually, life on the High Road can be pretty nice.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Nature-Deficit Disorder

 "I go to nature to be soothed and healed, 
and to have my senses put in tune once more."   
       John Burroughs

We were at a Family Reunion in Yellowstone National Park last summer. One day we picked a steep, wooded hillside overlooking the roaring Yellowstone River for our spot for a picnic lunch. It was a feast for the senses. The noisy movement of the rapids below, the fragrant pines towering over us, the ants, the dirt....all of it was nature at it's finest. Our son in law, Matt, held his 10 week old son, Zane, as the breeze blew through their hair.

Later while in a bookstore in the park, I bought a copy of "Last Child in the Woods - Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder" by Richard Louv. Reading it had a profound impact on me. The past sixty plus years have brought about some huge cultural shifts away from our experiences with nature to the detriment of our physical, emotional and spiritual health.

What changed?
  • We moved from the farms, to the "burbs," to the cities. Our yards, if we have them, have decreased in size.
  • There is less open space in our communities and what there is is often not accessible to us for play or exploration.
  • Our careers became more time consuming. Our children went into daycare for longer periods of time.
  • We bought TVs and then computers, thereby dramatically increasing our time indoors.
  • We've made exploration in nature forbidden, illegal or scarey. When was the last time you saw a kid climb a tree? Remember when breaking your arm in grade school was a normal part of childhood? Now, the school, park, camp, etc., worries about being sued if your child breaks their arm on their watch.
As a result:
  • We are more stressed and experience more chronic health issues.
  • ADHD is an increasing problem. We've all experienced a shortened attention span.
  • We have a whole generation of youth who have never experienced things like random, unstructured play.
  • Children are not curious about nature as they used to be. Because they've not experienced nature-explorative play, they have no idea there is a whole world out there to be discovered.
It's not hopeless. Change is possible. But you have to be intentional in seeking it and making time for it.

Even in urban areas, there are ways to expose a child (and adults) to the beauty of nature and to give them opportunities to see, touch, hear, smell, etc. After getting rid of most of our camping equipment from our early-married years we bought a used Casita fiberglass trailer and have taken up the camping life again (which I never thought I'd do!). Part of our thinking is that not only is it going to immerse us in nature more, but it will provide more learning development and natural curiosity in our kids and grand kids as well, not to mention the relationship-building that will happen as we spend time together outside.

My 26 month old grandson, Jaksen, prefers to be outside. He is now able to walk a mile. No stroller needed. You have to be willing to take your time on the walk though as he has to check out his surroundings...the twigs, the water, the ants, the dirt. It's a feast for the senses.

"Teaching children about the natural world should be treated as one of the most important events in their lives." Thomas Berry


(I highly recommend "Last Child in the Woods." The author did extensive research and interviewing in preparation for writing it. It will be especially encouraging to parents who have children with ADHD.)