Navigating 'Island' Parenting: Nature is the best playground

Navigating "Island" Parenting is a submission of insights, quotes, tips and parenting advice that I have gathered over the years as a source of inspiration and as tools to deal with the daily challenges of parenting. This week’s issue: Nature is the Best Playground – Instilling an Appreciation for Nature. The hope is that this submission would cause you to reflect on your parenting skills and also make the journey of parenting a bit easier or brighter.

Nature is the Best Playground

Over the years I have been asked by family and friends, “What do your children do all day if you have such strict and limited screen time guidelines? How do they survive? How do you survive?” I ask, “What did you do as a child? How did your parents survive while raising you?” I then respond in the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “They live in the sunshine, swim in the sea, and drink the wild air.” 

I continue, “My children basically do the same thing that I did as a child. They play outside and I provide lots of opportunities for them to interact with nature because I have found that nature is the best and most inexpensive playground. It is a lesson that I have brought over from my childhood years and I take full advantage of it.” 

You see, as a child, I spent most if not all of my childhood outdoors. As long as the sun was up there was no reason to be cooped up inside, even when it rained, I was out exploring. I was always off on some adventure with my cousin Jermaine, who is just a month older than I am. 

We explored Willets’ and Belmont’s estates, looked dates at ‘Church’ which is what we called the Anglican Church yard, and foraged for guavas at the guava patch just past the ‘Pavilion.’ He was the climber or the one who stood afar pelting stones up the tree to get that desired fruit and I was the one who dashed under the tree to collect the fruit, as there were also other brother and sister or cousin teams who were foraging at the same spot. 

I recall an instance, as the mark is still quite visible on my forehead when a misguided missile/stone landed right smack on my head from one of our many adventures. To this day the debate still ensues as to whose stone it was that ‘chopped’ me. Was it my cousin’s or was it our childhood friend, Chafee? We spent so many days frolicking ‘down the Bay.’ During crop we would break or as we say ‘bruk’ cane and have a feast. 

On your way to or from an adventure you may hear a mother or grandmother ask, “You see So and So?” The response, “He was going down the Bay when I was coming up,” or “I pass him on the line say he going go look cane.” There were days of going to my great-grandfather’s ‘ground’ or plot of farming land to help out. I was quite young but I do remember. 

There were also days of ‘pulling pinda’ or peanuts when Mr Smith my neighbour had harvested. There lengthy talks with him about what was going on in the MacDonald’s Farmer’s Almanac, when he was going to plant or reap a harvest. There were also so many lessons about nature. 

A friend and I were going down memory lane recently when she jokingly reminded me that my lovely grandmother would reply when she had telephoned for me, “She isn’t here she went up the road to feed her pigs. I will let her know that you called.” My school friends who lived in town found this quite amusing but I was quite proud because I was a country girl. The pig, a birthday gift served as a great source of income as she had many piglets, a great lesson in economics and entrepreneurship but that’s another story. Thinking back, they were simple and fun times.

Now I say all this to say that I am quite aware that my sons will never have the same childhood experiences that I have had. But why can’t they have something close? They live on an island after all. I will take this opportunity to share with you a most recent encounter, which prompted this edition of Navigating ‘Island’ Parenting. 

The Encounter

How the definition of childhood fun has been grossly distorted

A most recent encounter with the brash 13-year-old son of a friend, who thought it fit to provide an unsolicited and rather scathing critique of my parenting set me thinking. The young man saw it fit to inform me that he was “very sorry” for me sons. He continued, “I am concerned that they are going to grow up not knowing what ‘real’ fun is.” I literally gasped. 

The thought that immediately flashed across my mind, apart from, “The nerve on this child,” was, “hold it one moment there, was I missing something?” My boys, self-described nature explorers were always off on some adventure, by land or sea. They were always laughing, or tussling playfully with each other. They are happy kids. They looked happy. Didn’t they? I couldn’t help but wonder. What was this boy seeing that I didn’t see?

Although I was quite taken aback by his ‘brashness’ I engaged him as I wanted to know what his idea of fun was. He was a boy after all, an authority figure of sorts on the subject. A Cheshire cat grin on his face and posturing, he said, “I have never seen them watch television and they don’t even own a Nintendo DS, PlayStation or video games. All boys love to watch television. All boys love to play video games. This is fun. This is what boys do.” He continued, “Look around what are the other boys doing at the picnic, playing video games, talking to each other about video games. Where are your sons?” I smiled and replied, “Swimming in sea, which is where you and the other boys need to be.” The conversation ended. 

I will go further and share the response of a friend when I informed her that we took the children to explore the bat caves at Barren Spot with the St Croix Environmental Association. Her expression, “Why you don’t stop harassing the children and let them be normal children; buy them a video game or something. You are always taking them on some white people thing.”

There was also another incident that troubled me about our attitude toward nature, the environment and how we are raising our children. My younger son had career day at school. He wants to be, in his words, “a nature conserver” but I suppose he means a conservationist. Dressed in his full conservationist gear, the comments were, “What is he supposed to be? Why does he want to do that? Why don’t you encourage him to become something like a doctor? I would expect that you would want a doctor.” I tell you, we West Indians can really be something eh. 

Continue reading the closing insights, as well as nature quotes and recommended reading, here.

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