I faintly remember, like a faded image from a tiresome dream, my 5:00 work commute. Navigating rush hour traffic. Listening to NPR crisply recount the day’s political indignities. Clenching my teeth (and the steering wheel) at each slowdown and each stoplight, wanting so badly to be home with my little family.
These days, 5:00 looks a whole lot different. Every day, while Danielle makes dinner, I whisk the kids into the woods for some nature time. It’s my favorite highlight of the quarantine routine we’ve established over the past 4 months. Each of us gets exactly what we need by the late afternoon, especially on a weekday — wide open spaces for the kids, alone time with the kids for me, and actual alone time for Danielle (a nearly unimaginable concept for her). A win-win-win if there ever was one!
We are deeply fortunate to have a spacious wooded area directly across from our rural home, complete with a scenic 0.2-mile paved loop, a gazebo, and multiple park benches. Greyson and Violet adore every square inch of their utopian miniature forest filled with oak and pine trees. It’s adjacent to a park with pavilions and a playground located down the hill, where the kids sometimes enjoy swinging and sliding. But they’re just as happy staying under the cool canopy of the trees and making their own fun.
Greyson has an endearing level of affection for the scattered park benches where we station ourselves each day — and where he now has accumulated years’ worth of nature memories. We’ve given each one its own name — Pinecone Bench, Horseshoe Bench, Swamp Bench, and so on. His favorite one by a good margin is Gazebo Bench, due to its proximity to both a tree with a low branch (to sit his birds on!) and the titular gazebo (to sit himself in!).
The items we pack for our daily woods “trip” have changed a bit over time. In the spring, Greyson would bring about a dozen little animals that he would carefully arrange on benches, tree roots, and low branches. Now he’s primarily obsessed with avian creatures, so he brings a combination of small stuffed birds (Quinn the quail, Hummy the hummingbird, Patel the peacock) and cut-out, laminated birds that my mom lovingly crafted for him. He carries these birds in a small plastic orange bucket, occasionally spilling his feathered friends on the ground when he runs too fast or gets distracted by something in the woods. And little Violet clutches a stuffed bird of her own, perhaps wanting to emulate her big brother.
For the last few weeks I’ve also brought along bubbles to blow. Both kids enjoy watching the floating silvery orbs hang in the air, and Violet finds amusement in poking the ones that land softly in the grass. Greyson once said, “They look like fish! Or like round animals with no tail and no head!”
I’ve also recently started bringing a small rubber ball, about the size of a grapefruit, because it suddenly occurred to me that I derived a lot of fun as a kid from the simple act of rolling a ball down a path or hallway. This has proven to be a good addition to our repertoire since Greyson likes to kick the ball and Violet gets a kick out of watching me roll it down the walking path or throw it up onto the gazebo roof to see which side it will come down. I have dubbed this game “roofball.” (Patent pending.)
It’s fun to see Greyson show his first interest, however faint, in the sporting realm. We’ll see if it turns into anything, or if he stays singularly focused on nature and books. I’m thrilled either way. Meanwhile, Violet can throw like a softball star, and I’ve also learned that she can drag heavy branches around like a weightlifter! Clearly she is her mama’s tenacious daughter.
Greyson and Violet love to play together, but their styles of play are different. This can be seen clearly in the woods. Our ardent little zoologist wanders around in bird-based reveries, just as he does at home. He lists facts, makes up stories, and sometimes composes little songs about whatever birds (stuffed or laminated) he has brought along on a given day. This is how our nature boy plays. I’m glad he snaps out of his reveries long enough to laugh giddily at his sister’s shenanigans. Violet, meanwhile, likes to pick up big sticks, dig in the dirt, feel tree bark, examine mushrooms, stand on tree stumps, climb atop anything she can, and interact as closely as possible with nature. This is how our nature girl plays.
Greyson’s engagement with nature is more cerebral, while Violet’s is tactile. I love both of their approaches, which are notably divergent even though we’ve raised them identically. (Hey, it’s true after all! Every child is different! Nature supersedes nurture when it comes to identity!)
Spending 30-45 minutes before dinner in the woods with Greyson and Violet is the ideal way to pivot out of my work life and reenter my family life. (Although the line between the two is blissfully blurred these days.) I couldn’t ask for a more refreshing or convenient shady glade in which to luxuriate during the dog days of summer, or the dog hours of late afternoon. And I couldn’t ask for two more engaging and endearing nature buddies with whom to savor that luxury.
The two of them are more fun than a barrel of monkeys. Or, you know…
A bucket of birds.
One thought on “Balls, Bubbles, Birds, and a Bucket”
That was a very enjoyable read. You are a great dad and husband. I have observed both. Your kids both love you and Dani. Keep up the good work. I am very proud of you both.
LikeLiked by 1 person