Thursday, June 26, 2014

This is a harsh place


“Texas is a pretty harsh place,” said a native Texan – My Guy’s friend – when he stopped by our house for dinner one evening this week. There’s brutally hot weather, craggy limestone, humid gulf stream, wild animals (deer and bunnies don’t count, apparently), and drought. I also added quietly to myself, and too many Republicans.

While what he was saying wasn’t news, he also said it with a lot of pride, as most Texans do. I looked at My Guy and gave him the I can’t believe you brought me to Texas look, followed by the I’m going to kill you glare when his friend went into the particulars of critters we may have to watch out for when innocently traipsing along a nature trail. GAH!

I’m trying. I really am. After I wrote the post about pushing myself to confront my own irrational fears to model a healthy relationship with nature for my girls, I have gone out of my way to step out of my own comfort zone to do the things from which I would normally shrink away. And so I say yes to treks in forest-y greenbelts, wade in natural bodies of water, and continue to cultivate our yard, digging into the soil with my bare hands, holding my breath with each event, wondering what I might find.

So far, I have only discovered beauty. Harsh, yes, but in a beautiful way. In a way that says, yes, we get it, we’re kinda screwed, but we’re going to use the hand that nature dealt us and we’re going to make something of it. And that it did. Maybe that’s why Texans are so damned proud of their country state – despite the odds, they don’t just survive this place; they own it.

We’re not quite there yet, but, like I said, at least I’m trying. My girls, on the other hand, may love the trails and anything to do with water, but that’s about it for them. When it comes to our own yard, I think they forget it’s even there. Perhaps having the first part of their lives confined to the walls of our Chicago apartment without an outdoor space to call our own had shaped them to believe that their play zone belongs indoors. The only reason they’re outside now is for the pool, so for four days a week, you might spy them outside in their swim gear. The other three days, including the days I’m home all day with them? They’re inside. Underfoot.

photo 2 (69)

I make dinner; they play Chutes and Ladders.


I remind them to go outside to play, and they say, “no thank you.” I coax them, and they respond with “I don’t want to.” Even the shiny quarter with which I bribe them if they helped me weed has lost its luster for them. And now I’m running out of ideas.

Even though I didn’t have a yard growing up in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, my parents expected me to play outside, and boy, did I. In fact, I remember my mom having to search our neighborhood to find me and threatening to spank me in front of my friends because I almost never went home on time. I was too busy playing with four of the eight girls who lived next door, a Chinese family who we suspected was trying really hard to have a boy but never succeeded, but hey, more playmates for this only child. We played catch in football (ahem, soccer) fields, looked for tadpoles in puddles after a thunderstorm, played pretend games in alleys, mastered hopscotch and jumped over ropes made with rubber bands on sidewalks, and hurled ourselves off concrete stairs and down to the ground to see who could jump off from the most steps without hurting ourselves. If you’re wondering, no one ever got hurt, but I can’t imagine allowing my girls to do the same now—isn’t that funny?

There wasn’t much nature in that concrete jungle, but, as you can tell, we made it work. From age 7, I roamed the urban landscape as freely as one would in the country, but here we are, with our fenced in yards and manicured lawns, and rarely do I see elementary aged kids walking by themselves in our neighborhood. Or anywhere for that matter. But my challenge is worse: my girls won’t even leave the house!

These days, they’re perfectly content to color in their little creative corner that I’ve carved out in the living room just for them, and lately, they’ve been obsessed with this magnet game that they’ve had since Little Miss was three. They’ve showed little interest in this game for over two years, and now they collaborate to create different things, based on cards that show them where the pieces go to create a ladybug, a giraffe, a crane, a house, a person on bike, etc. A couple of days ago, Little Miss decided to come up with her own design and showed us this: “This is me and Pickle with a hat on our head; we’re sitting on a high stool at a restaurant, eating together.”

photo 4 (44)


I have to say, I was impressed.

I suppose there is an advantage to playing indoors. They finally play with their own toys now, especially ones that have been neglected for ages. Because there’s strength in numbers, they both choose to decline my invitation to go outside, they choose to play inside together, and more often than not, it results in a couple of hours of harmonious existence in our family. Last weekend, when My Guy and I were outside with our yard work, they stayed inside and entertained themselves for OVER. TWO. HOURS.

You don’t understand. They usually orbit around me when I’m home, which means they’re rarely further than a few feet away. They also crave attention, throwing pleas to “look at me, look at me” every five minutes so I can see them do the most ordinary things, like stand on one foot (yaaaaaaay) or jump off the bed onto their bean bag (I guess that’s better than jumping off concrete stairs). Instead, they spent that particular afternoon crafting together, which means plenty of tiny, colorful pieces of paper glued to a larger piece because three-year-old Pickle is now fascinated with experimenting with scissors and glue, then later Little Miss moved on to reading while her sister played pretend with her army of fuzzy buddies, and towards the end, they immersed themselves in the magnet game.

It was a miracle.

photo 5 (21) surrounded by books is this girl’s favorite state

So here I am, encroaching on the edge of my own discomfort for their sake, and there they are, retreating to their own comfortable, air-conditioned micro universe, oblivious to the world that’s happening outside. But as much as I want to push them, I have to respect this world they’re unconsciously building right now, away from the harsh Texas sun and away from an ecosystem that easily scares these once urban kids (“Look mommy, ants! Aaaaargh!!!” – I’m sadly not exaggerating).

They’re looking to each other for support, they’re finding that what they have is enough. That they will be okay as long as they’re together.

I suppose, before they’re ushered out to explore a harsh world, this too is an important part of their discovery.



photo 1 (73) Why picnic outside when you can picnic inside?