On Tuesday at 4:59pm I felt burned out from the numbing inefficiency of working remotely via my personal laptop. (I’m grateful in a dozen different ways, believe me, but virtual working has its challenges.) I walked down the stairs — my new and improved 15-second evening commute! — feeling a bit discombobulated. Rain had been in the evening forecast, but the weather was somehow clear as a bell.
So I shimmied the kids’ shoes onto their adventure-seeking little feet in order to whisk them outside while Danielle made dinner. Greyson wanted to bring some animals along, so he filled a small plastic orange bucket with some of his favorites.
With Violet in one arm and Greyson’s hand in mine, we ventured to our favorite place — the wooded area in the park across the street. Or as I’ve variously dubbed it: Greyson’s Glade, Violet’s Valley, and Wingert Woods. A quarantine-friendly nature getaway just 100 yards from our house.
Almost immediately, I felt un-discombobulated (or would it be combobulated?) by the fresh air and the innocent joy of my children. We sat down on a wooden park bench and Greyson eagerly unpacked the contents of his orange bucket — a gorilla, a scarlet macaw, a moose, a cheetah, an elephant, a raccoon, a deer, a lion, a giraffe, and an unidentifiable bird from some Dollar Tree grab bag. For 20 minutes I watched their imaginations run wild as they arranged wild animals into a wildly shifting tableau.
There was a gorilla sitting astride the top of the bench, King Kong-style. There were two carefully delineated habitats, safari and forest, nestled in the pine needles at the foot of the bench. There was a rainforest based around a vine-covered pine tree. Greyson was determined to put the scarlet macaw in an actual tree but he couldn’t reach any of the branches, so I suggested tucking its tail feathers behind a vine so that it could perch there on the trunk.
He also put a giraffe at the base of that same tree, but a few minutes later he chuckled and said, “Why is there a giraffe in the rainforest?” So my budding little zoologist transported the misplaced giraffe to a more suitable ecosystem — the “hot Africa savanna” at the base of a bare tree nearby.
At one point, Greyson started saying to no one in particular, “Where are you, oxpecker birds?” (I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone with a more voluminous knowledge of obscure animals than my 3-year-old has. It’s uncanny!)
Meanwhile Violet truggled around gleefully in her pink sneakers, tightly clutching an elephant and periodically pointing up in the trees with wide eyes whenever she heard bird sounds. My nature girl is in her element when we’re outside, rarely fussing, eager to explore, and constantly observing, pointing, and making monosyllabic utterances of giddiness and wonder.
Sitting on that park bench under tall trees, I couldn’t even remember exactly why I had felt out of sorts 20 minutes earlier. Being out in nature with my kids is the ultimate reset button. It recalibrates my dulled perspective. It rejuvenates my faded emotions. It reminds me of everything that matters in life. Because nature is life.
And like that barrel of monkeys in the old adage — or Greyson’s plastic orange bucket of monkeys and assorted other creatures — it’s also just plain fun.
As we all know, fun is a little hard to come by these days. So find it wherever you can.
Which is to say, make your own.