Our next family excursion into the great outdoors is weeks away as I write this, and already, the whining has begun.
Will there be bugs? I hate bugs. What if the sun is too hot? What if something bites me? Are we going to be out all day long? What if it rains?
That’s the 57-year-old. The 9-year-old has an entire additional set of concerns, mostly dealing with how far we’ll be from McDonald’s and why we can’t take the iPad in the canoe.
I’ll admit that I’m generally a wimp when it comes to the outdoors. Even though I grew up traipsing through Ozarks farmland, swimming in rivers and exploring caves, by adulthood I proudly described myself an avid indoorswoman.
Then I met the man I would eventually marry and realized that by comparison, I am the goddess of the forest.
This is a guy who moved from his native Los Angeles to the Midwest at age 40 and realized for the first time that rural highways don’t have shoulders or streetlights. (Who knew?)
He made it clear early in our relationship that he considers only two outdoor settings to be fit for human beings: beaches and golf courses. Preferably in Hawaii. When I once mentioned in an offhand way that maybe it would be good for us to get away for a weekend and try camping, he reacted as if he were in physical pain.
“Jews don’t camp,” he said with exasperation, as if explaining a widely known fact to a child. “You’ll have to go without me.” (Apparently, those legendary 40 years of wandering in the desert were enough. But I doubt that Moses had to put up with half the whining about the wilderness that I get to hear.)
So ours has been a largely indoor existence. We have a lot of company here in southern Johnson County, where I’ve noticed that when people describe themselves as “outdoorsy” —which everyone seems compelled to do — what they really mean is that they like to sit by the backyard pool and sip wine while watching the game on the high-def TV built into the outdoor hearth. If they’re feeling really adventurous, they’ll go down the street to the paved trails, bug spray and high-tech water bottle in hand, to rake up a few more miles on their smartphone GPS fitness apps. (Those things are addictive, by the way.)
For the first few years of our son’s life, I was determined that he would not become an indoors child, physically unfit and addicted to television and computer games. He was not going to develop what “Last Child in the Woods” author Richard Louv calls “nature deficit disorder,” and he most certainly was not going to be afraid of exploring the woods and learning about bugs and climbing trees. He was going to be a real kid, the kind of kid who begs to go outdoors and pleads for more time outside after it gets dark, so he can catch fireflies. The kind of kid I was.
Oh, and he was also going to love reading, have a thirst for knowledge and speak three languages by the time he was 10. Along with playing at least two musical instruments.
Well, he does take piano lessons, so my grand plan was not a total failure.
And he actually sometimes enjoys going outside, under certain highly controlled conditions — namely, that we stay in fully developed neighborhoods with lots of cul-de-sacs, trampolines and driveway basketball goals. These are the landmarks of his world. Even as a toddler, he was a true suburbanite, always happiest in environments where the roads are paved, the lawns are mowed, the sidewalks are smooth and fast-food franchises are never far away.
Our canoe trip will no doubt be a test of his fortitude, not to mention his father’s. It will involve driving on a dirt road, which horrifies both of them and leads to panic that the car’s engine will be destroyed by dust. It will involve hot sun and weird-looking bugs, along with plenty of what I call “fresh air” and they think of as “raw air.” There will be no McDonald’s or iPad in sight, and it will be my job to keep everyone’s spirits up.
Moses never had it so tough.
Sarah Smith Nessel, a 913 freelance columnist, writes The Bubble each week.