Hello Friends new and old. I’m so glad you have found yourself here at the very beginning of Summer of Saying Yes- Take 2! This has been my most read post so far and I believe that speaks to a deep longing for simpler days and the slow joys of Summer, both for our kids and us! Please read, be encouraged, join our little revolution, and subscribe to receive “30 Ways To Say Yes This Summer.” Let’s be friends and honor our kid’s childhoods together!
It’s kind of a joke with my friends that I start every sentence with, “I’m reading this great book…” I read. I read a lot of books about a lot of things. I buy a book a day. It’s a problem. But, let me tell you about this GREAT book I am reading right now none the less. It’s called “Last Child in the Woods” by Richard Louv. “Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder,” it says on the cover. If you are a parent or an educator of any kind, please get on Amazon right this second (I mean right after you read this post) and buy this gem. It’s like this man reached into my head and heart and scientifically validated all the things I have thought about our culture and hoped for my own 4 children. With every chapter I want to stand up on a chair and cheer!! I love this book so much I want to marry it! I could never summarize it all for you because it is filled with so much wisdom and goodness and genius, but let me try:
His basic stance, and one that many studies he researches and quotes is that “direct exposure to nature is essential for a child’s healthy physical and emotional development.” In the book Louv sites that our country has turned from a primarily agricultural society to a primarily urban society in a very short amount of time. As recently as the 1950’s most families still had some kind of agricultural connection. In this society children would have been “directing their energy and physicality in constructive ways; doing farm chores, baling hay, splashing in the swimming hole, climbing trees, racing to the sandlot for a game of baseball. Their unregimented play would have been steeped in nature.” For thousands of years the human brain and body have been trained for an agrarian, nature-oriented existence and neurologically we haven’t caught up with today’s over-stimulating, technological driven environment. We live in homes with small, fenced-in yards rather than open landscapes that invite free exploration. We design safe playgrounds and gate them in rather than let our kids climb (unsafe) trees. We buy playhouse “kits” and build it for them, rather than a bunch of 4 x 4’s and encourage them to figure it out. We get them a bike, but tell them they can only ride around the cul-de-sac. We put them in a thousand organized activities and give them no time to dig holes, find bugs, or lay in the grass and look at the clouds. We give them hours of homework and take away recess and P.E. We lift high learning through information (that is accessible with the click of a mouse) and discount the learning that comes from doing, from using their hands, from using their senses. We have “de-natured” childhood as we have over-regulated it. The results have been astounding. Obesity, a rise in ADHD, less care for and connection to the environment around them, a complete lack of knowledge of where their food comes from, a disconnect to their history and the history of creativity and the inventiveness of this country that is undeniably linked to nature, and so on and so on. YES!!!! All the things, YES!!!
When my first son was born a mere 13 months after my daughter, I had a hard time finding my bearings. The weight of these two babies, so far away from home, without real community left me lost, exhausted, and grasping. It was like I could see the mom I wanted to be; intentional, strong, creative, organized, (clean, dressed) but she was across a chasm I could not breach. So, all I knew to do was to pray in those sacred, scarce moments. “Tell me something, Lord. Give me ONE THING in this mommy gig I can focus my blurry eyes on.” Here is what I know He spoke to my heart a decade and 2 kids ago; “Honor Their Childhood.” How grateful I was for this simple mandate. It has become the filter that I attempt to view these fleeting years through. Honestly, it was the pulse behind the sacrifices we made to raise them on the Ranchito. I could have a newer home. I could have a fancier home with prettier floors. I could have less to keep up with. We could have more money in the bank and less in a mortgage. But here they have space to run, and to grow things, and to nurture animals, and be kids the way I want them to be kids. It’s not a right or wrong…. It’s just what the Lord had for us and a space in which I feel like we can honor their childhoods (and hopefully honor the childhoods of their friends). It was also the reason we chose to “do school” the way we do it; where they go 2 days a week and we home school 2 days a week. I like quizzing for history tests out on the rockers or doing math facts on the trampoline. I like Mondays in PJ’s. I like longer Summer and Christmas breaks. I’ll sacrifice for it. I’ll sacrifice some “me time” to honor their childhood. Again, no right or wrong here, just the way that filter has shaped our lives in this season. When the Lord gave me, “honor their childhood,” He did not give me specifics. There was no checklist, no definitions, no handbooks of what that exactly meant. I think He likes it that way because it means that with each of my children, in each new stage they reach I have to lean on him for clarity. I have to ask Him to give me wisdom in applying that filter in decisions and opportunities. But it was a clear word and you can borrow it!
As I press in to the (sometimes exhausting) intentionality of honoring the childhoods of these 4 kiddos we are stewarding, I have realized it has meant a lot of “no’s” along the way. As in, “No, you can’t have an iPhone in the 1st grade,” “No, you are not going to dress like a hooker even though that outfit is indeed your size (Y’all!!!),” “No, we are not going to have a gaming system in our home,” “No, you cannot watch that show/movie,” “No, you cannot sell your little brother.” What was a “no” a few year ago may be a “fine” now. What is a “no” for one kid may be a “yes, but don’t tell your sister,” today. As school rolled to a close last summer I was talking to a few tribe members about the long days of summer that lay ahead. I shared that with this filter of “honoring my kid’s childhood” and with the inevitable “no’s” that come with that and just parenting in general, I really try to say “yes” as much as possible. As in, “yes, you can wear your princess dress to the store,” “yes, you can help me make dinner,” “yes, we can tie-dye shirts,” “yes, we can have a picnic lunch,” “yes, we can invite 50 kids over for a swim party (once a week)””yes, you can invade the linen closet and set up a fort,” “yes, we can get a kitten (just don’t tell Dad.)”
No’s are inevitable. No’s are wise. No’s are important and safe and loving much of the time. But no’s can also be lazy. No’s can be habit. No’s can be self-serving to us as parents and the very vice that is dishonoring our kid’s childhood. We have to evaluate the no’s. It’s hard, right? It’s easier to just dish them out and not think about what if it were a yes. Much of the time the “yes'” takes a lot more effort on our part. We all know that a “yes” in the kitchen means more mess, more time, less efficiency. We all know a “yes” to a sleep over with friends means less sleep. My kids LOVE to sleep on the trampoline. I mean they may as well be camping in the Grand Canyon. They get snacks and sleeping bags, lanterns and pillows, and climb up there to bounce around all night.
It sounds awful to me but I am 39, not 7. Now please don’t have a romanticized ideal of what this looks like. They will come inside approximately 25 times in the night. They will threaten to bail on each other if someone touches them. They will spill a water bottle and have to change PJ’s. Someone will get scared. Someone will get cold. They sprinklers will come on for a fun little surprise. But, they LOVE it. That’s an easy “yes” for us. It costs nothing. Sometimes yes’s are a little more costly. Yes to an overnight camp. Yes to a pet. Yes to the purchase of a camper. Yes to a change in lifestyle that will honor their childhood.
So, last year, after this very real conversations about lazy “no’s,” my friend coined the phrase “Summer of Saying Yes.” YES! Let me tell you what this does not mean on the Ranchito…. I am not my kid’s cruise director all summer. You know, I am not coming up with a thousand cute activities and keeping them entertained every moment from May to August. This is not Disney World. I’m just looking for the yes. We have time and space for more yes’s. I have a rule that I will buy all the books and art supplies they want. They have to buy the crap toys with their allowance. So, on the first day of our summer break, we cleaned out the “school room” together, made a list of what we needed to turn it into the “art room” for the summer, and headed to Hobby Lobby. That was not a cheap trip for me but that was a yes that honored their childhood creativity. So, the next day it was yes to painting outside! All of my kids have fall and winter birthdays so I always get them a “Happy Summer” gift after school gets out because who wants pool toys for Christmas? This year the girls got mermaid tails they could swim in and the boys got water guns and scuba gear. That’s a yes! That’s a “go outside and play and be kids, and be mermaids as long as possible” yes!
We can’t just say no’s without a few yes’s. No to screens this summer may mean yes to a new bike. No to over-scheduled days may mean yes to a family read aloud on the front porch every night. (We are 7 chapters in to Priscilla Shirer’s Prince Warriors and they LOVE IT! You know, I’m reading this great book….) No to gaming all night on the iPad may mean yes to snow-cones and trampoline campouts. No to phones at the table may mean yes to creative conversations. We like to play Bible trivia, “would you rather,” or “high and low of the day.” A yes to a little intentionality.
Summer also gives us the time and space to “train up a child in the ways they should go” (Proverbs 22:6). Obviously this is a “yes” in regards to discipleship in the faith but I think this is also a yes in very practical areas. Train them up! For us that will mean training in important tasks that will make them capable adults one day and contributing family members right now. There will be training in how to make a bed (well, correctly), how to dust blinds and clean baseboards, how to set the table, how to pull the weeds in the garden, how to blow the leaves off the porches, how to clean the chicken coop, how to clean the pool…. It’s training time y’all! My oldest knows how and when to pick the okra from the garden, how to cut it, coat it and fry it up. Talk about some productive training!!!
Could I do all of these things faster, more effectively, with less mess? Of course, but in this summer space I want to say yes to some training. One day it will pay off!
We love the idea of throwing the kids outside and locking the door…don’t we? A little throw back to 1983? A little, “back when I was a kid…” Listen, I am the anti-helicopter mom. What is that called? A “free-range” mom! Yes! Chickens and kids free-ranging around here. But with the “No’s” we have to provide some “yes’s.” Remember my guy Richard Louv and “Last Child in the Woods?” It’s not 1983 and our culture has criminalized free play in nature. Our kids may literally not know how to do it. As we lock the door and tell them to play outside, make sure you have provided some yes’s. It may be as simple as sidewalk chalk and feeding the ducks at the pond, if your kids are little. If they are older, it may be a little more involved like a roadtrip or a telescope or camera. We can all plant a tomato plant in a pot and watch the wonder of it grow. We can all take a walk and turn off the TV. My kids love the butterfly kit where you can watch the whole life-cycle of a caterpillar (and by kids I mean ME)! It never gets old. I think we are getting bees this summer to help pollinate the garden. Our favorite form of entertainment right now is watching the mocking birds dive-bomb the dogs when they walk beneath their nests. Seriously, nothing on Netflix can beat it! Everyone can look at the stars at night. You just have to have eyes to see. Everyone can go to a nursery and plant some flowers and smell the roses. Let’s not let “nature-deficit disorder” happen on our watch Moms. It may take some stretching. It may take some thought. It may take a few yes’s but it will be worth it. Our kids are worth it.
So, will you join our little revolution of #summerofsayingyes? Can we shift gears this summer and begin to honestly evaluate our “n0’s?” Can a yes introduce your kids to creativity, beauty, ingenuity, and fresh air? Can we simply turn off the pull of the virtual and put a stake in the wonder of real? Can we de-criminalize nature and be a vessel of God’s creation to this generation? Can we train up some sous-chefs, some gardeners, some laundry sorters, some helpers in the space and time summer affords us? Please don’t go all “cruise-director” on me here… Just look for the yes. Look for it outside. Lay down the lazy “no’s” and pick up the mantra of “honoring their childhood.” If you’re in, let me know! Post some pictures of your yes’s and use #summerofsayingyes. I’m for you! I’m for your kids! I’m for their childhoods! I’m for your summer! I’m for the yes! I bet you are too… Let’s do it!