By Anna Van Devender
We eat our breakfast outside. Every summer morning around 6:30 my two young boys and I schlep a simple meal to the backyard, pick a place to sit, and celebrate the company of birds, opening blooms, and warming-up cicadas. After eating, the boys zoom around on their bikes or invent games that naturally combine toy cars and the fish pond. I water the butterfly garden, marvel at my kids’ energy, and guide that energy as the need arises.
We live in Tucson, Arizona. For a good three months of the year, the heat is uncomfortable by 8:00, exhausting by 9:00, and dangerous without extra precautions by noon. In prior summers, I felt trapped and defeated by the time it took to start the day with a toddler and preschooler while the slim hours of enjoyable weather baked away. Gardening, breathing fresh air, and simply being present for the sun rising over the mountains are core desires of mine. Feeding the kids, getting them dressed and “ready for the day” are equal needs. The challenge became to allow for both time in nature and time for other needs.
Bare feet are OK in the mottled shadows of early morning. Shoes can wait. A muffin can be savored along with conversations about the clouds. Brushing teeth can wait. PJ pants actually help keep off the mosquitoes. Getting dressed can wait. These are the allowances I made starting last summer and have instilled daily in Summer 2016. Time has passed too. My now 3- and 6-year-olds are not only more capable, but also have come to expect breakfast outside.
Deadlines aren’t out the window. We take our selves and our stuff inside and resume preparations for the rest of the day by 8:00 a.m.. My kids’ behavior and my peace of mind depend on certain routines that some parents may feel more free to ease up on. That outside hour or so first thing, though, has become an important part of the daily routine. It is sometimes the only time outside until we emerge again after supper.
The result? My 3-year-old voluntarily practices the words “dove”, “hawk”, and “woodpecker”. My 6-year-old and I briefly speak the same language while checking on his sunflowers. I get my precious fresh air fix. Then, I can better manage myself and my kids inside during the day. My attention is less split while taking care of them or doing my own work. I still take myself outside for the satisfaction of gardening projects later in the morning, but I allow the kids a choice of whether to join me. Because we all got a good dose of “Vitamin N”, a pressure has been lifted from the rest of the day’s activities.
Modified from an essay submitted to Children & Nature Network in June 2016. Check out www.childrenandnature.org for lots more Vitamin N resources.