Last month, our family left our suburban digs and spent a few days getting “back to nature” in Yosemite National Park. Even though I’m not very outdoorsy (I’m more of an indoor cat), it was pure heaven. We spent hours hiking and smelling the fresh mountain air. We watched sunsets, got dirty walking on dusty trails, and cooled our feet in mountain streams. We all felt calmer, more relaxed, freer. It was like a cool shower and a cold beer on a hot summer day.
Now that I’m back to the daily grind, I sometimes wonder how to recapture some of that mountain zen. When I’m bogged down with a work project or the kids are bickering over whose turn it is to choose what to watch on Netflix, I daydream about unplugging and getting away from it all. I have visions of our family hiking through the hills, riding our bikes on country trails, and jumping through waves on the beach. In my mind, a little time away from it all is what we need to snap out of our everyday doldrums.
But making that happen isn’t always an easy feat. Those idealized visions of frolicking in the meadows like a family in a stock photo don’t look anything like our reality. My kids balk and complain about wanting to play video games. My husband and I spend hours schlepping things to the car for the outing. Pretty soon we’re all exhausted before we’ve even headed out for our should-be therapeutic foray with the great outdoors. And then once we’re actually outside, someone is too hot or too cold, too tired, too hungry, too itchy, or too in need of a bathroom.
Let’s be honest, unplugging, getting away from it all, and spending some time in nature is easier said than done. Especially for those of us who dislike things like bugs and dirt and schlepping and outdoor toilets. And especially for those of us who are kind of lazy and like being clean. Yet despite its challenges, there’s no denying the fact that spending some time in nature is good for all of us. At least that’s what I’ve heard.
So for my fellow non-schlepping parents, I offer the lazy parent’s guide to getting your family outdoors:
1. Start small.
I have a propensity for grand plans and master schemes. Go big or go home, right? We start with “go big” ideas. We won’t just spend a little time outdoors, we will be like Von Trapp family singing and frolicking in the fields. The hills will be motherfucking alive, dammit! But our field-frolicking usually looks more like stumbling through weeds amidst the bugs while someone complains about being too cold (usually me) or too hungry (also me), and then the “go home” option sounds pretty damn good.
So I’m trying to readjust my expectations, or in other words, lower my expectations. Expectation management is the key to happiness, after all. And my lower expectations mean going small — like teeny tiny small. Sometimes it’s enough to sit in the grass in your backyard and watch fireflies (with a glass of wine, of course). There’s no real transportation or schlepping involved and an indoor bathroom is within close proximity. And best of all, when things fall apart (as they most certainly will) and someone has a tantrum or gets hungry, you already are home.
2. Be curious.
Our kids are little sponges and they soak up our attitudes and enthusiasm along with our information. There is a natural tendency for parents to teach our kids and tell them what we know, but there is a whole lot about nature and the great outdoors that is just so incomprehensible. As much as it pains me to admit that I don’t know everything, letting my kids see me awed and curious gives them the freedom to be awed and curious as well. So don’t be afraid to say “Holy shit! This is really awesome!” every now and then.
3. Plant something. Or delegate.
I have the blackest of black thumbs ever. I hate gardening. I can never remember to water. And I have yet to meet a houseplant that I didn’t manslaughter with neglect. So I pass this one off to my husband. Each spring, he plants a small garden and each person picks a vegetable for him to plant. My sons choose strawberries or watermelons (neither of which have ever actually produced edible fruit). I choose cherry tomatoes, which, oddly enough, thrive in spite of my neglect. My husband chooses cucumbers. If by chance we are luckily enough to harvest any vegetables, my sons are responsible for picking them — one of the few chores they actually don’t mind. It’s a win-win for everyone (most of all me, since I don’t really do anything but eat the food).
4. Stop complaining.
If there is one thing we humans are really good at, it’s complaining. And there is no shortage of things to complain about these days. The world is a mess and Mother Nature is hurting. I’m no scientist, but even I know that climate change is a legit concern. But if all we ever do is talk about the problem instead of doing something about the problem, we’ll get nowhere. But maybe if we get out there and do something — pick up trash in a local park one afternoon or bike around town instead of driving — maybe we can actually help improve this situation and stop the shitstorm from getting worse.
5. Just do it!
As lazy as I am, I’m also a planner. I like to talk about what I’m going to do. I make lots of lists. I start thinking about dinner at lunchtime. I plan out my weekends on a Monday morning. I daydream and think about all the time my family will spend unplugging and reconnecting in the great outdoors. And then something will come up and those big ideas will fall out the window. Best laid plans and all that, right? Sometimes you’ve got to stop with the planning and just fucking do it.
Look, I’m just an average mom dealing with your average run-of-the-mill shit show that is raising a family. I’m busy, you’re busy — we’re all busy. And sometimes we just have to turn it all off and get outside. So if you’ll excuse me, I’m about to shut off my computer and get my ass outside. Even if it is just to take the dogs for a walk around the block.