Last week I had an eyebrow archer-type conversation with a massage client. We were chatting about the impending March Break and she expressed disappointment in the change in kids over the span of her teaching career. “The children are just so anxious now. They don’t know how to play anymore.”
Today, I was combing through press trip opportunities on a site called Media Kitty. At Clayoquot Wilderness Resort, guests are invited to get “their wildhood back.” Reconnect with time spent in nature and the wilderness!
The resort is cashing in on our detached population and the sage ways of our terra firma-tuned in grandparents. They are the Last of the Mohicans, the ones who remember a life spent deeper in nature, void of technology. In June and September, Clayoquot Wilderness Resort’s Elder’s Package covers the cost of “the stay for up to two grandparents (when travelling with six or more adults), excluding the cost of the floatplane trip from Vancouver to the resort. Rates for other family members start at $4,750 CDN for a three night all-inclusive package, with children under 12 staying for $2,375 CDN when sharing a tent with an adult. Rates for four and seven night stays are also available.”
In a stream of synchronicity, my friend Denise sent a link to a book she’d just read about “Nature Deficiency Disorder”—Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv.
Nature Deficiency Disorder? Wildhood? Anxious kindergarten kids? The only time I was anxious in kindergarten was when we lined up alphabetically to use the washrooms and I pissed my pants (well, skirt actually. I’m a “T”—and the rest of the alphabet was dilly-dallying).
The teacher I spoke with enlightened me further. Apparently her school is ramping up their emotional awareness curricula with “mindfulness sessions.” Each morning, via the PA system, students (and teachers) are led through a mindfulness exercise, encouraging them to focus on their intention, their breathing and how to be present.
Holy Eckhart Tolle! I recall doing mindfulness sessions in grade 10 drama class with a spunky teacher ahead of her time. I thought for sure I was ready for the hippie commune after that exercise. It was truly “out there” and something I imagined occurring in the intense heat of a sweat lodge or on a solo journey to Kilimanjaro. In kindergarten we were innocently sucking back juice boxes, handfuls of Oreos and taste-testing the Elmer’s glue and poster paint. We were IN the moment, by default. I didn’t even know the term “mindfulness” until the day I laid on the floor of the drama classroom, a bit too icked out by the carpet to be totally centered and mindful.
Do kids need mindfulness session? Shouldn’t they just be pushed outside and away from their tablets and iPhones? I know there’s probably an app for tree-climbing and grass stains, but c’mon. We need to be told to rediscover our “wildhood” and introduce kids to earth basics like dirt, worms and trees? Wow.
I was born in 1974. We lived in childhood postcard. I had to sit down almost daily to have sticky sap cut out of my hair from perching in the pines behind our house making crappily constructed tree houses (or, dodgy ladders to wobbly platforms at least). We had chronic gouges and scrapes from endless hide n’ go seek sessions at my cousin’s farm and hiding in the belly of the combines, under greasy farm trucks in the barns. At day’s end we were ripe with pig manure, swamp mud, full of burrs and scratched all to hell from racing through the corn field rows. Our faces would be stained with orange or purple Kool-aid. Nobody was allergic to peanuts. We survived on peanut butter alone.
We were immunized because we were supposed to be. We were subjected to nit checks by some public health nurse every so often. Once a month the “Swish Lady” would appear at school and we’d gargle fluoride and chew on tiny red tablets that would reveal our tartar. At age 10, that same nurse would return and have all the girls bend over to check for scoliosis.
Nobody had ADD. If anything, you were genuinely bored and twitchy from math or history class. More often, you were a dreamer—and excited about the prospect of getting back outside to the places where all the neat things were. Where you could catch pollywogs in makeshift nets. Dig for arrowheads in the tilled fields. Make loon calls with cupped hands and blades of grass held just-so.
Nobody was overweight—and in the 70s, whole wheat bread hadn’t even been invented. We ate our share of pre-packaged sugary things, so that can’t be to blame. We LOVED neon Kraft Dinner and Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes (to which we would add even more sugar). The 70s and 80s were all about white bread, Swiss Rolls, fish sticks, Fruit Roll-ups, Pop Tarts, Jell-o everything, Freezies and iceberg lettuce. We survived.
Our parents were responsible. They made sure we could print, read and say thank you before we started kindergarten. They made sure we were curious, interested and interesting. My dad ensured that we could swim, ride bikes, swing a bat and do a snow plow stop when we played hockey. They weren’t Dragon helicopter parents force-feeding us piano lessons, karate, dance, etc., etc. Despite my dad’s affection and accolades for baseball and hockey—we all chose soccer. We chose. My mom would be the first to recommend quitting if we weren’t enjoying something anymore. I still think quitting is great. It means you can start something better.
“Only boring people get bored” My mother tattooed that into our young minds.
Fun was a trip to the library to get as many books as we could carry. I tore through choose-your-own-adventure novels at night (yes, under the covers, with a flashlight), inspired to choose-my-own-adventures the next day. We went to Port Dover for hot dogs, went skating at Lion’s Park, fished the Grand, stayed up past our bedtime to look for Haley’s Comet and built birdhouses at the local nature centre. Our Christmas and birthday gifts were things like telescopes, bird guides, blank journals, microscopes. Dax was always experimenting with how to make dill pickles glow in the dark. We’d grow sea salt crystals, build terrariums and attempt getting avocado pits to sprout.
Sure, we watched TV, but only at night and barely on Saturday mornings (my brother, sister and I all chose sleep over cartoons). When my mom did a revamp of the living room and moved the console TV downstairs, we lost even more interest. However, back then, didn’t we all watch the exact same shows? Were there only six to choose from? Facts of Life, The Cosby Show, Family Ties, Growing Pains, Silver Spoons?
We had one rotary dial phone that was more of a nuisance than necessity. However, my pre-teen sister was quite obsessed with it and, after clogging the home phone line in excess, she was forced into purchasing her own phone line if she wanted to gab that much. But still, she was talking, not texting. She’s still a talker and not a texter. And, I’m still without a cell phone.
When Nintendo and Super Mario Brothers was all the rage, my brother sunk money he had earned from selling produce from his garden into a play station. Wisely, he charged my sister and I to play— 25 cents a game. My coveted item was a cassette player—so I could record the spring peepers in the pond. My version of a tablet was an Etch-a-Sketch. Did we feel hard done by? Out of the loop? Hardly. We had it all. We had a Rubik’s Cube, a dog, a cat, a pond and Hostess Ketchup chips for Friday night.
Back then, we EARNED our pleasures. And they were pleasures, not demands. Kiley worked the graveyard shift at Tim Horton’s to have that fancy phone line. We picked gravel out of the grass (from the snowplows) and pinecones from the forest floor (to avoid shin shrapnel from the lawnmower). We Turtle Waxed the car and scrubbed the white walls of my dad’s Cutlass Supreme with a toothbrush for maybe $5.
We weren’t anxious. Pizza night was a treat, not routine. Going to McDonald’s was a big deal. I had three pairs of rugger pants and a pair of Kangaroo shoes. I alternated my Dallas Cowboys sweatshirt and cowboy fringe shirt. We were want for nothing—we weren’t obsessed with name brands. Everyone wore Kangaroo shoes then.
Life was innocent and simple. Lawn darts and charcoal barbecues started with lighter fluid. We didn’t sanitize our hands. Xanadu, our dog, washed our faces.
We were mindful, without even knowing it. And perhaps that’s the best way to be.