Tuesday, June 8, 2010

June Carnival of Natural Parenting: Outdoor fun

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.

baby in Ergo carrier on mom's back on beach

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?

pregnant on the beachWe 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.

daddy with newborn in Ergo baby carrier walking along beach

wearing newborn baby in wrap on beachOur 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.

newborn baby on sailboatWe 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.

dad playing in the sand with baby

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.

toddler using sticks like walking canesWe 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.

sand encrusting toddler's shoe on beach

     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.

toddler boy in winter hat and mittens on the beach

     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.

toddler throwing rocks into ocean

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.

toddler chasing seagull birds on the beach

If we had to drive to the beach, there's no way we would have gotten to know it in so many toddler running to dad's arms in oceanmoods, 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.

family silhouetted on beach at sunset

How far do you travel to get to your preferred outdoor space? How often do you get outside with your kids?

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:


Marita said...

Beautiful. I love the beach, it is like a giant sandpit as you said and it is right next to a giant swimming pool :) We are crazily looking at purchasing a home of our own for the first time also and being near the beach is high on our must have list.

seekingmother said...

You have absolutely inspired me to consider what I most value in outdoor space. I would have to agree with you that the ocean and the beach are spaces that seem to open something more in us. I feel most alive when I am in Martha's Vineyard with water surrounding me on all sides. And yet, I've always put my idea of living near the ocean aside for the time when...

But what if I could live the dream now? Something to consider.

Your story was incredible. I love how you designed the piece around the beginning of your mother life and brought it forward to this day. The writing is rich and vivid and brought some much imagery forth in my mind. I can completely envision you and your family living these seasons on that stretch of sand. And the photos, as always, were beyond beautiful.

Deb said...

Lovely. I really admire people who get out to places like the beach. My own yard is essential to me, somewhere private. We spend most of our time out there and I can't imagine living where the back door isn't always open. But I can see that wild spaces, like beaches or national parks, are richer and more varied. We actually have a park/dam about 10 minutes drive but I've only been there a couple of times, I really need to make the effort more.

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

Your blog needs a "love" button - love! Sometimes I feel like we are anchoring ourselves to this house - our attitude right now is "well, we are living the dream of having Dionna stay at home with Kieran, so what more *should* we ask for?" But you're right - with creative budgeting, I know we could be in a location that would be happier for us, because this house - this urban-y/child-unfriendly area is not our ideal. I think our first step is to decide what *would* make us happy. You've always wanted to live by a beach - I could be happy lots of places, as long as there was some open space and room to roam. And sun. And stars. Ok, maybe I'd better narrow my choices down ;) (Your home/neighborhood sound beautiful, if only Tom could find a good job in Seattle, I'd be your neighbor!)

Joni Rae said...

We love the beach too- I would love to live by a beachy area. I've always thought "maybe someday" but now you've inspired me to look into it again.

I grew up in marshland, beside a cove. I loved exploring and digging in the mud and sand.


Jamie said...

beautiful photo of pregnant-you on the beach!

sounds amazing. i felt the same way when we lived downtown. we didn't really need our own yard because there were parks all around us that i could walk to at any time and call home. but when we were thinking about starting a family we wanted a little corner for ourselves (well, more for the dogs, honestly).

so now we have a house on a double lot. in the heart of the city, that's big doin's. we have grass and space for my garden and trees to climb and holes for dogs to dig.

i didn't mind sharing my outdoor space but it does feel good to have our own little corner.

Holly said...

I think you just convinced me to move to the beach! If only I could take my family with me...

Anonymous said...

Now you've got me thinking about what outdoorsy space I'd most love to live nearby. I'm like you in that it needs to be space within walking distance otherwise I'd rarely go there. Hmmmm....

Although I like where I live now, even though it's more urban-inspired than not. Like, I can walk to the movie theater, but's most assuredly not an outdoor activity.

Sybil Runs Things said...

Though we don't live THAT close to the beach, you've said everything I feel about the beaches here in Seattle. I couldn't imagine anything else.

I grew up until 5th grade with Lake Michigan in my back yard. It's just what I knew so it wasn't that special at the time. Now, though, I realize how truly lucky I was. It is thrilling to know you're giving your child a small piece of something precious that they will carry with them the rest of their lives. You KNOW your little guy will remember that beach.

I need to get down to Alki more. We always just go to Lincoln Park, but Alki is just so lovely, AND there's coffee nearby!

Danielle said...

I love it when I hear about people living their dreams. Good for you guys for making that happen. That, in and of itself, is an important lesson.

We are outside every day. While we do live in an urban area, we are lucky that tall trees line the streets and parks are plentiful (our nearest, less than a block away). While we don't have the wild, unadulterated nature of a beach or national park, we do have plenty of space to roam, grass to walk barefoot through, and trees to touch. The bonus of urban nature, its easy to stop for a latte or a sandwich after a nice long walk out.

Deb Chitwood said...

Wow! Those are some priceless photos! I loved all the photos and the blog article. We’ve lived in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Vail, Colorado, and now Colorado Springs, Colorado. It’s definitely an amazing experience for children to grow up having the beauty of nature at their doorstep. I still enjoy it. Just yesterday, I saw a brown bear sitting between our neighbor’s house and ours. And my children always loved watching the deer and fox family in our yard.

Paige @ Baby Dust Diaries said...

Wow, you and Milkmaker are making me want to visit Seattle! It sounds so beautiful! I love your challenge to think about why you live where you live. Be intentional. If you aren't getting something out of where you live then a change is worthwhile. I had a great life in Florida but just knew I had to be nearer my Mom and Dad. I moved back to Ohio and the next year my Dad had a heart attack. I was so glad I was here! I worked from his house and took care of him when my mom had to go back to work. What a blessing.

As far as outdoors - people around here always want these huge yards. I have a tiny yard but North East Ohio has a vast and beautiful collection of parks and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park is right up the road from us. We take Aellyn hiking all the time in the Summer. Unfortunately our winters do not lend themselves to outdoors but then we have the Rainforest at Cleveland Zoo which is an indoor rainforest or the Cleveland botanical gardens. It is great to feel the outdoors in the cold winter.

Great post! Always a treat to see Mikko's adorable face. Wish I lived near you and Milkmaker so we could all go for a playdate on the beach!

Unknown said...

Goodness what beautiful photos and words! I too labored on the beach (Lake Michigan beach...a mini-ocean in my opinion!) it was one of the best and most centering parts of my labor.

You've described my near-future plan, though I want to move someplace with woods - lots and lots of woods! (and close to family) I like the idea of living intentionally, as another blogger put it, and you've illustrated its benefits beautifully!!

Melodie said...

I grew up going to the beach all the time. My Grandma lived within walking distance too and I spent many a time collecting driftwood for her fireplace with her in the winter and swimming with my cousins in the summer. Yet as an adult my spirit and love is for the forest. Right now where we live we have a little forest all to ourselves. I think there are 63 trees. And behind the fence more forest. We have it on two sides and a lake in front of us. It is my paradise. However, due to an unexpected financial gift we too are moving because we can no longer afford this paradise. I cry inside everytime I picture myself not here. Guess where we're moving to? One block from the beach. Also a very pretty house, but it's not my thing anymore. Maybe if it was sandy I would think happier thoughts. I love rocky beaches too but this is just outcroppings - rocky cliffs really. I feel guilty feeling sad about the move. it is truly a gift we have received, but I look forward to a time when we can live in the forest again. Beautiful post!

Julie said...

Oh my goodness! You wrote in a way that made me feel like I was there, awesome!

I lived on a beach once. And on a small island once. (my dad was military). I wish I could go back to those places/times again to really enjoy them, not just take them for granted.

My favorite spot is about 20 feet from my front door, in the shade of my husbands shed. There is always a breeze and I can see pretty much all the places Paul likes to dig. Soon we will be moving to our own piece of land and I look forward to finding my favorite place there.

Anonymous said...

We live about 2km from our beach. Which does mean, with two little children, that we tend to drive there. Still, for me, it's much closer than the hour+ it took to reach the sea in my youth. And so I'm tickled that we're so close.

Although, I do have a dream of a house on the water. Maybe one day.

mamapoekie said...

I can't remember if I already commented.
I loved the article, how great that you can live where you dream to be! This is a question I have and am seriously struggling with for the moment. I seriously don't know whwre I want to live, that's why we keep moving around

Kate Wicker said...

I don't know how I missed the June Carnival deadline. Sorry about that. :-(

As for your post, wow! You're living MY dream. What a beautiful, breathtaking place to raise a child. Mikko is very lucky not only because he's not far from the beach but because he has you as a mom.

Rachel said...

I love the fact that you figured out a way -- in your particular case, the only way -- to give your child the easy access to the outdoors that you love without having to own it. I'm so used to the idea that if you have kids and want them to love the outdoors, you have to get a house with a big backyard, even if you have to move way out into the boonies and commute an hour each way to make it happen. You've decided that the space outside your house is more important to you than having more space inside it, and you've arranged your lives to match these values. Bravo!

Luschka said...

Oh wow! This post tugged at both my heart and my soul and left that odd spot in my stomach feeling a little prickled. I love your labour story - I can't imagine a better place to labour, with the power of the waves keeping time with you. Amazing. As for the rest? Well, it speaks to my soul. We have our dreams of where we want to go and what we want to do and we've been stuck for so long. I guess this is what I was getting at in my post... the life you're talking about is one that I dream of, as it's one I once had. Now I just have to figure out how to reclaim it, but in the meantime we make the best of what we have. Love this post Lauren. It moved me.

Faythe said...

Wonderful story! I totally can feel why you chose to live where you do. It looks so inviting and free! Thanks for sharing your story.
Faythe @GrammyMousetails

Momma Jorje said...


I found your post to be both inspiring and depressing (perhaps I can use that as an extra motivator). Honestly, I'm not even sure what I want! I've often said I want to live in the country, but with a Quik Trip convenience store nearby. I would love to go back to telecommuting, but my current career path doesn't allow for that. Also, my husband and I both have children whom do not live with us. So we feel rather stuck here, close to them. So the beach sounds so wonderful, but I'd be happy to live close to any outdoor play area!

Lisa C said...

I'm almost jealous of you. Well, I'm jealous you are in your dream spot, but for me, it would be a wooded area, not a beach (beaches are great, just not my favorite). We really wanted a big woody yard, or at least have a trail nearby. But we couldn't afford those options without giving up on other important things. However, I wouldn't settle for a house that didn't have SOME outdoor place for my son to play, and we ended up in a house with a park nearby, although I prefer walking through the nearby field. I'm lazy, too. I need to be able to just go out the door and walk somewhere. Even a three minute drive is enough to hinder me. It's not a time issue...it's a 'getting in the car' issue.

Anyway, I hope to fulfill my mini-dream (house with a bit of land) with our next home, and then my big dream (house with A LOT of land) by the time we retire. I believe if you want it enough, it can happen, and you don't need to win the lottery.

Lauren Wayne said...

Thanks for your comments, everyone! And thanks so much to our carnival participants. This month was wonderful, filled with inspiration and ideas!

the grumbles: We only ever had our own outdoor space at our last apartment, where we had a nice-size patio out back. Narrow, but enough room for a porch swing and two little garden spaces. Like I said, it was our first time ever having it and we can live without it, but I was surprised to find it really appealing. I do miss that, but finances are what they are! I dream of one day having a house WITH a yard near the beach. ;) (This is when I make millions by selling my novels, of course!)

mamamilkers; Totally about the coffee! I love going out to the beach and "accidentally" winding up getting huckleberry ice cream in a waffle cone from Pepperdock's or eating a tasty bowl of pho from Saigon Boat or winding up the stairs to Siam Pura (best Thai restaurant ever). There are definite advantages to an urban beach! :)

I will add to those who don't know Alki that just a couple blocks behind, sometimes less depending, the shoreline area is a huge tall hill. There were many more housing options for us up the hill, but we knew we would never ever hike down to the beach from there — because we'd know we'd have to hike back up when we were through. ;)

Deb: Sounds like you live in a nature preserve! I love it.

Paige: Anyone who wants to visit me is welcome! :)

Andrea!!!: Woods would be lovely, too! One thing I love about Seattle is you don't have to go far to find varied landscapes. There are evergreens all over and mountains within driving distance, plus all the different water options. I love having the variety, though of course I had to choose just one to live next to!

Melodie: I'm sorry you have to leave your forest! I hope maybe you can find some peace on your cliffs. Maybe you can imagine yourself an imprisoned damsel there and get some mileage out of that. ;)

Julie: Love the simplicity of your image! My dad was military, too. Funny how we don't always appreciate what we have when we're little, isn't it?

mamapoekie: We kept moving around, too, until we landed here, and then we just knew. So I'll trust you'll find your place, too.

Kate: Aw! Sorry to miss you this month, but thanks for coming on by to comment.

Rachel: Isn't that funny? Especially with Realtors, of course, the expectation is you want to own as much of your own space as possible. I like "forcing" myself into more community living, and in fact still dream of one day living in even more of a community way, with some sort of co-housing. (Yes, a commune-ish thing. I am officially a hippie.)

Mamma Jorje: I totally hear you on being near your children. I can see why someone would willingly make sacrifices for the good of their family. Here's hoping you can find a place and lifestyle at some point that's a good compromise for you all. At least you can keep looking and dreaming, so that you'll recognize it when you find it!

Lisa C: Yes! It's the getting into the car thing, exactly. And finding parking (sometimes an issue for us in the city). So much hassle just to get out again to walk!

Thanks again, everyone! Best wishes finding your perfect spot. :)

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