This is a guest blog by Maureen Eich VanWalleghan, who has a daughter in 4th grade here at Santa Fe Waldorf School. "Notes from a Parent" will be a reoccurring column here throughout the school year.
Recently at the monthly parent education meeting with Kay Hoffman, Pedagogical Director at Santa Fe Waldorf School, the group was discussing media—always a hot topic. Parents were sharing how they personally use media. When I shared, I explained that I use media to unwind. As the meeting was taking place just after the Richard Louv event, his discussion of how important nature is for kids and adults was present in everyone’s mind. In response to me, another parent mentioned going for a walk to unwind instead of using media.
Brilliant, but that can be oh so hard to do.
Getting connected to Louv’s message in a personal way involves changing habits. It’s possible, but it takes work and commitment. My own media consumption can sometimes involve either watching a movie after my daughter has gone to bed or surfing my Facebook feed on my phone for news to read.
Taking a walk doesn’t seem like an option unless I recalibrate my day—and my thinking.
Soon after the Louv event and that meeting—I had a particularly awful morning with my daughter. I hated leaving her at school when we had had such a difficult morning. I am particularly haunted by Sandy Hook at those moments. For me, there is nothing worse than a school drop off when a child is upset. Driving away I had that feeling of inflicting damage—but for what—at this moment I can’t even remember what was at stake. Clearly, my own triggers as a parent were fully activated. Tiredness, financial stress, having no physical backup with my husband working on the road were all contributing to the unhappiness of moment and the tone of the situation—a bad mommy day.
As I drove away, I had the quiet I needed to collect myself and think about what I could do to mitigate the situation. As my own anxiety was still present I felt that to leave the situation unresolved for the whole day was a mistake. After meditating I decided that I needed to do something different and I reasoned that being outdoors could be a new and possibly healthy antidote to address our stress. I returned to school to pick my daughter up for an appointment and I also planned to take her for a mini hike in Hyde State Park.
After arriving at our favorite little spot, I watched as the healing and restorative powers of being outdoors had an immediate and direct impact on her. The snow covered trail; the gurgling stream peeking through ice formations; the clearness of the air; and the brightness of the sunshine were truly restorative. She was so in the moment scrambling up the hillside shouting back at me “Mom, look at this.” “Mom can you still see me? Look how high I am.” And on it went—the awfulness of the morning melting away.
I felt myself relaxing too, but at times my adult brain was replaying the morning over again trying to think of how I could have handled the situation better. Bit by bit, through her infectious enthusiasm of exploring the snow covered scene, I became more mindful, present and just enjoyed focusing myself on really connecting with my daughter and all the beauty around us as she called out things for me to come and see.
My hope was that the angry intensity of the morning was obliterated by the unusualness of a quick outdoor moment during the school day. I think it was. I know for myself by the time I was driving her back to school I felt peaceful and she too was ready to head into her day more relaxed as well. This recalibrating to bring the restorative properties of nature into the everyday is something I am working to translate into new habits. It’s the notion of taking a walk or just getting outside to unwind or reconnect to one’s peaceful center.
In my ponderings and quest to recalibrate with nature I was also struck how different my life is now that I live in Santa Fe. Since my daughter was born our family lived inside a park, first at an Arizona State Park and then at City Of Prescott Park inside the Prescott National Forest. In these locations we just stepped outside our door into nature. We rarely “planned” to hike. We went for a walk on a daily basis to see what work my Park Ranger husband had done for the day. We took our dog for a run through the woods after the park was closed. We sat outside regularly to a wonderful fire in our backyard. Nature surrounded us. Being outdoors was easy.
Now getting outside in that kind of wilderness takes effort—planning. Last Sunday while doing errands, my girl asked to go to our second favorite spot in Hyde State Park. I hesitated. We both weren’t dressed for “hiking,” but I said yes. It was warmish and felt like spring was finally arriving. I decided—since “hiking” was not going to happen—that we would get food for a little picnic during our last errand at Trader Joe’s.
While parking and walking to the picnic tables I was reminded that in many ways childhood is a collection of many small memories that create a tapestry of feeling. Big events definitely have impact, but it is the accumulation of the nearly invisible moments that create a sense of happiness.
The spontaneity of just getting outside and frolicking at the edge of a very cold stream and the having a mini picnic can be as fun as if I planned for a whole outdoor day. Picking up trash; climbing on logs; and exploring can be as relaxing as doing a more traditional outdoor activity. Again I am seeing how easy it is to recalibrate my thinking and just get outside to unwind.
On the way home we decided to that we needed to put together a “spontaneous” hiking kit: old boots, socks, water bottles, hats, and an old TJ bag for picking up trash could just live in the truck so that whenever the mood struck us we could go outside and play.
For a few outdoor ideas consider checking out the link here at the bottom of the Santa Fe Waldorf School Louv event page, which has a regularly updated list of outdoor activities for kids and families and ideas for getting outside.
As a final thought—though some may consider it incongruous in a Waldorf blog post about getting out into nature—below are two video links (from nature-rx.org) about using nature as a prescription for what ails us. The shorts are funny—the deep belly laughing kind, so laugh out loud and then go take a hike… NatureRX Part 1 and and NatureRX Part 2.