Welcome to the June Carnival of Natural Parenting: Outdoor fun
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared their stories and tips for playing outside with kids. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.
A home by the sea
I always dreamed of living by the sea. It was one of those dreams that I assumed would never come true, or only if a number of other unreasonable dreams somehow did — like I won the lottery, or traveled back in time, or moved to England. Or all three, somehow.
When Sam and I moved from landlocked Indiana to Seattle, we were confronted with water everywhere. Lakes and bridges, rain from the sky, temptingly adorable houseboats, even the reservoir we passed every day, and above all, the lovely and calm Puget Sound turning into Elliott Bay downtown. We took ferries across the Sound like pleasure cruises. We loved to cross Deception Pass onto Whidbey Island and glimpse the actual Pacific Ocean through the break in the distant Olympic Peninsula and dream, someday, of retiring on the island in a little cottage on the water.
When our apartment up north flooded (more water! too much water!), we had to discover a new place to live, and fast. We could have gone anywhere, but we took a gamble and headed down to an area we'd visited only twice before: Alki Beach. Was it even possible to find an affordable rental in a neighborhood that had the word "Beach" in the name?
We were astounded: It was! We ended up paying more than we'd paid for our previous place with no water view, but we were able to find a lovely and vintage one-bedroom and we moved in when I was four months pregnant with Mikko.
I labored on that beach, walking along the paved path along the street, deserted on a cool and cloudy June morning. Sam and I walked down to the sand and sat on a log and watched the waves swell like the contractions. I obeyed our midwives' directives to turn that stubborn baby and did lunges on the concrete steps, holding on to the rail and Sam. We slow danced our way back to the house, pausing on benches to wait out the surges and drink in the peace of sand, saltwater, driftwood, and occasional encouraging strangers.
Our first walks with Mikko were along the beach, down to the water in various baby carriers. His first jaunts on the water happened within weeks of his birth: ferries and sailboat and tour boats.
Last summer, a confluence of events — our landlady's irksomeness, an unexpected financial gift, news of available assistance, and the depressed real estate prices — led us to consider buying our first house. Sam and I talked it over, and despite the apparent inanity of this decision, determined our main criterion: It must be within walking distance of our beach.
We had to decline real estate agents who told us we were being foolish, that we would find much more interior and exterior space further inland. We had to turn down one in particular who implied we were beach bums akin to the skeezy surfer in Gidget. (Anyone ever seen that movie? Hoo boy.) We're not the type of people who lie on blankets all summer perfecting our tan; I'm too Irish and Scandinavian to bother trying. We've never even swum in the water here — too dang cold on 363 days of the year without a wet suit. We just knew:
(1) Our son needed to go outside.
(2) We are lazy.
(3) If we do not live within walking distance of a pleasant outdoor space, we will never take him.
We are just not the sort of people who drive to a nice outdoor space. No matter where I've lived, I've walked to whatever was nearest me (in Indiana, my own apartment complex was all I had; in northern Seattle, it was a gorgeous ravine in a nearby park). If we could live within walking distance of the beach, we knew we would use it daily, particularly as Mikko grew and demanded the full share of outdoor time allotted to each fresh-air-craving youngster.
I don't mind not having a yard, because I've never been one to take full advantage of hanging out in a yard, and mamamilkers is being kind enough to let me use her gardening space this year, which was the thing I most craved out of a personal patch of land.
So we lucked into a small condo half a block from the beach and settled in to enjoy our public-private stretch of surf, maintained for us by the city of Seattle as a park so we have no lawn to mow or leaves to rake and can just enjoy.
We have a huge sandbox all to ourselves on most days, certainly throughout most of the winter, when it's still usually mild enough to go out for a time each day. We don't need our own grass to sit on, since we have communal picnic areas. We don't need our own barbecue, since there are plenty of grills scattered about. We never use our indoor fireplace (how do you light that thing, anyway?), but the beach boasts a half dozen fire pits for cheerful flame-lit gatherings on summer nights, complete with marshmallows to roast on sticks.
We have our home on (OK, near) the beach. I'm living my dream.
The best part is, Mikko never needs to think of it as a dream.
He'll grow up thinking it's just normal to live in a place where seagulls wake you through the skylights.
Where you walk out the door and cross a street to an expanse of sand.
Where low tide means exploring for octopuses and crabs and starfish.
Where all his trucks have sand crusting the wheels and all his pants cuffs have to be unrolled carefully outside and yet still — still — our couch and sheets are always collecting gritty reminders.
Where summer shoe attire is chosen for its ability to walk straight into the Sound without damage either to shoes or tootsies.
Where we learn the tracks everyone makes in the sand: big mama feet and little baby feet, illicit dog feet, tiny three-toed bird prints and webbed flat seagull prints.
Where we can wave to the distant Space Needle and passing cruise ships and remind ourselves that, even in urban settings, we are natural creatures who need natural surroundings.
Where, no matter what the weather, we head out nearly every day to listen to the waves, to walk along the ridge that overlooks the sandy slope down to the water, to see the sun set pink behind Vashon Island.
You don't have to be creative to find things to do on the beach. Mikko immediately plops down and begins digging with his hands or any nearby stick. We tend to keep a handful of sand toys — a shovel, a mold, a small truck — in our bag on walks. But even if we've forgotten them, the beach has shells to find and branches to make into impromptu walking canes. You can balance driftwood on top of other logs to make seesaws and obstacle courses. You can marvel at the different colors and textures of seaweed washed ashore. You can toss stones into the waves. You can watch the other kids playing and borrow their toys for a bit (with or without their permission, our bold little one has found…). There's usually someone out with a kite that you can lie back and watch fly.
If we had to drive to the beach, there's no way we would have gotten to know it in so many moods, in every season, through high tides and low. We've seen the water gray and blue and black and pink. We've walked into the waves and run away from them; we've splashed through shallow tide pools warmed by the sun and shivered in arctic currents. We've seen the sand packed with volleyball players and pirates and sun worshipers and ice cream hawkers, and the beach entirely empty except for us. I've never embraced a small portion of land the way I've rooted here. I hope Mikko will take his personal beach entirely for granted, even as he continues to enjoy it every day.
Even knowing that I write this from a place of privilege and choices and options, I urge you to consider where you live in terms of what is a priority for you. It might not be outdoor space nearby, but presumably you have something that's just as important to you: pursuing a dream job, moving near (or away from!) family, living overseas, living off the grid or in an RV or on a houseboat. Don't accept that your dream can't come true until you really pursue it and see if you can't come up with something that works for you and your family. Maybe the time isn't now, in which case you can tuck it away until the future opens up the answer.
Wherever you end up, I hope there is something natural around to inspire your soul — within walking distance.
How far do you travel to get to your preferred outdoor space? How often do you get outside with your kids?
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
- Garden Treats — Asha at Mom Costume has once again been bitten by the gardening bug — and this time her baby's tagging along for some fresh air and dirt exploration. (@titbagsandsnoot)
- Outdoor Free Roam — Mamapoekie at Authentic Parenting follows her daughter's lead whenever they go outside. (@mamapoekie)
- Summer fun in Austin with a toddler — Jessica at This Is Worthwhile is brainstorming ways to beat the heat in Texas. (@tisworthwhile)
- summer fun… — Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children is looking forward to spending the summer outside with her children the way she used to spend summers with her mother.
- Outdoor Fun for Pre-Walkers — Maman A Droit has figured out ways to let her pre-walker enjoy the outdoors. (@MamanADroit)
- Summer Homeschool Fun at Camp Review — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now discusses how Camp Review motivated and captivated her homeschooling family. (@DebChitwood)
- Digging, Tree Climbing and Puddle Jumping — Laura at Laura's Blog bemoans the loss of her girls' climbing tree but knows they'll find something else just as naturally tempting.
- The Sweet Smells of Summer — Erin at A Beatnik's Beat on Life is looking forward to the many smells of summer she and her daughters enjoy and identify. (@babybeatnik)
- June Carnival of Natural Parenting: Outdoor Fun — Sybil at Musings of a Milk Maker is a confirmed couch potato who can't help but be inspired by the outdoor opportunities Seattle offers her family. (@sybilryan)
- Take a Hike — Michelle at The Parent Vortex connects with her family and the Earth on frequent hikes in their Pacific wilderness. (@TheParentVortex)
- Following Paul — Julie at Simple Life gives her kids unstructured time to dig in the dirt and pick mulberries. (@homemakerjulie)
- Instilling a Love of the Outdoors in Your Baby/Toddler — Tessasdad at Stay At Home Dad in Lansing offers a photo book of tips for helping your little ones enjoy the outdoors. (@tessasdad)
- Camping, baby! — Jen at Grow With Graces has easy tips for tent camping with a little one. (@growwithgraces)
- Think Outside the Easel for Summertime Fun — Acacia at Be Present Mama finds several ways to bring art fun to the outdoors.
- Outdoor Learning in our Urban Environment — Andrea at Ella-Bean & Co. has found ways to get grass between her daughter's toes, even in the city.
- Outdoor Education — Alison at BluebirdMama offers parents tips and resources for making each outdoor excursion a learning experience. (@childbearing)
- Turning Inside Out — Christie of Childhood 101 finds kids get a kick out of taking indoor toys outside. (@Childhood101)
- Watching Peas Sprout — Deb at Science@home combines fun with purpose in this educational outdoor activity. (@ScienceMum)
- How To Create a Pirate Treasure Hunt & Other Easy Outdoor Pirate Activities (June Carnival of Natural Parenting) — Dionna at Code Name: Mama has pirate-themed play ideas for ye scurvy landlubbers. (@CodeNameMama)
- What We Do — Luschka at Diary of a First Child has managed to expose her 8-month-old to a wide variety of outdoor fun, even with the notoriously dreary UK weather. (@diaryfirstchild)
- Summer Fun — Darcel at The Mahogany Way finds her family's visits to the beach refreshing in so many ways. (@MahoganyWayMama)
- Playing outside without a backyard — Sheryl at Little Snowflakes doesn't let the lack of a backyard stop her family from enjoying the outdoors. There are plenty of things to do outside of your yard! (@sheryljesin)
- Having Fun Outdoors, Playset Free — Guavalicious at They Are So Cute When They Are Sleeping has resisted a backyard playset in favor of the regular backyard. (@guavalicious)
- Moon Gazing with your Toddler — Paige at Baby Dust Diaries is keeping her toddler up at night, but it's for a good reason: to share the wonders of the night sky! (@babydust)
- the great outdoors — The grumbles at grumbles and grunts wonders whether her urban child can experience the same free-range childhood she enjoyed. (@thegrumbles)
- Let's Take It Outside! — NavelgazingBajan at Navelgazing is looking for ideas: how can she spend time with her pre-walker outside this summer? (@BlkWmnDoBF)
- A home by the sea: June Carnival of Natural Parenting: Outdoor fun — Lauren at Hobo Mama is living her dream of a home near the beach, and taking full advantage of it. (@Hobo_Mama)
- An Outside Girl — Zoey at Good Goog moved her family to (almost) the middle of nowhere so that her outdoor-loving girl could have more grass and less concrete. (@zoeyspeak)
- Neighborhood Nature — Kelly at Kelly Naturally has learned to connect with the nature she has instead of mourning the nature she misses. (@kellynaturally)
- Building Lovely Memories of Swimming, Spiders and Gravestones — Joni Rae at Tales of a Kitchen Witch and her family are simply outdoorsy people. (@kitchenwitch)
- "Buh-Bye" Season — Danielle at born.in.japan must leave laundry behind and follow her son's call to the outdoors. (@borninjp)
- Backyard Camping — Becoming Mamas took her family camping very close to home! (@becomingmamas)
- The Color of Dreams — Seeking Mother at Woman Seeking Mother makes gardening magical by teaching her son that each flower is a faery. (@seekingmother)