Why parenthood turns us into outdoor types
“What kind of tree is this, Mummy?”
It is morning and I am hustling my two small sons up the hill to nursery because we are, as I keep reminding everyone, already late. Despite all this urgency, my four-year-old has stopped to pet a tree. He’s that kind of four-year-old.
“What kind of tree is this?” he asks, again. “Is it a deciduous tree?”
I squint at the tree. Its trunk is brownish; its leaves greenish. It is, as far as I can tell, definitely a tree. Beyond that, I’m stumped.
“It’s OK,” my four-year-old sighs, clumping wearily up the hill. “I’ll ask my teacher. She’s outdoorsy.”
I am not outdoorsy. I am indoorsy. My idea of summer fun is a dark, hermetically sealed room with the air conditioning on full-blast because I have a tendency for heatstroke, horrible hayfever and a shameful fear of insects. To see me at a barbecue is to see me again, five minutes later, sprinting into the distance because someone said the word ‘wasp’.
Having children has changed all this.
My boys are sweet and endlessly curious, and I want them to have a den-building, forest-exploring sort of childhood. Because I grew up in a coastal village and, before my allergies and insect-based neuroses took hold, I barely spent any time indoors, and I loved it.
So, I’m trying to be a bit more outdoorsy. I’m no Ray Mears, but we do decamp to our local beach almost every weekend now. We don’t set an agenda but poke around on the beach to see what the tide’s brought in. There’s something about lounging in the dunes and observing the progress of the clouds across the sky that evokes that childhood sense of summer holidays lasting forever, and it’s very calming.
Occasionally I am organised enough to set us ‘outdoorsy missions’, like going to the park to find ‘helicopter’ seeds from Sycamore trees to turn into art, but often we just end up playing at being dinosaurs among the bluebells, which is equally fulfilling.
We are on the way to nursery again; late again, with my children’s hair glinting summer-gold from all the time they’ve spent outdoors lately.
“This,” I inform them. “Is an Ash tree. It’s a deciduous tree – that means it loses its leaves in winter – and did you know Ash tree seeds are called ‘keys’?”
“Look at me!” My son interrupts, because he’s that kind of four-year-old. “I am a tree! I am the biggest tree in the world! I am a GIANT SEQUOIA TREE and I am from America and as big as a bus and I am three-thousand-and-four-eleventy-one years old!”
I wait till I’ve dropped the children off before I fact-check my son on Wikipedia. Well, what do you know? Giant sequoias can live up to 3,000 years. My son was only four-eleventy-one years out. I might not be outdoorsy, but I must be doing something right.
Robyn Wilder is a freelance journalist for the Observer, The Times and Grazia, among others. She writes a parenting column for The Huffington Post and edits The Naughty Step, an irreverent parenting newsletter and podcast. Robyn lives in Kent with her husband and two sons.
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