Monday, August 23, 2010

We Gotta Get Out of This Place

I've always thought of myself as an "outside" type of person. Not "outdoorsy," mind you. That would seem to entail hiking, biking, and the sorts of things that would make people move to Colorado. Not exactly me. I do, however, enjoy puttering around in the yard and basking by a pool. Bugs don't really bother me that much, I'd much rather have windows and doors open than the air conditioning on, and I've always been a fan of alfresco dining.

That is why I've spent a lot of time lately frustrated with the small amount of time my family and I have actually spent outdoors. I always seem to forget that in addition to that awful stretch from January through March, there's also a second wave of annual cabin fever when you live in southwestern Ohio. It comes just when you think you should be out there enjoying a gorgeous end of summer.

I guess I have these idyllic images of my kids running around in the sprinkler on an August afternoon, happily slurping up popsicles on lawn chairs. I picture my husband and I relaxing after a family walk while sitting out on the driveway or on the deck sipping a summer cocktail. The kids chase fireflies and join other neighborhood children in games of tag, Red Rover and the like, and we all retire well after dark, everyone so tired from all the sunshine that they just collapse on their pillows.

Instead, most days seem to involve me coaxing or cajoling someone or another to PLEASE come outside with me so that I can PLEASE just water my flowers before they all shrivel up and die.

N. is usually willing to go along, but must first make at least one wardrobe change, usually insisting on a bathing suit or a nightgown. O. actively and vocally objects.

"I don't WANT to go outside. I HATE to go outside!! There is NOTHING to do out there! It's so BORING! NOOOOOOO." And he flops himself onto floor or couch, yowling and squirming as if I am actually attempting to pull his toenails out.

I shove both them out the door anyway. I haul out first the bubbles, then the chalk. Show O. his various riding vehicles, and help him put on his helmet and walk his bike down to the end of the driveway. I get out balls, jump ropes, and buckets. I open up the sandbox, wipe spiderwebs off the swing set, and supervise a few runs down the slide. I referee fights over the baseball tee, and throw a few pitches. I scoop the poop out of the traffic areas. I show them the vegetables that have grown in the garden, and line them up to go in the house. And, just as I've unreeled the hose to actually start watering the plants, I look up and one or both children have disappeared into the house and are standing inside the window waving at me.

"I had to go potty!" one says, pants clearly showing she didn't head in quite soon enough.

"I'm not coming back out!" says the other.

And I'm left, 3. 7 minutes after we first set foot on the front lawn, alone in a mess of plastic toys and flowers that are still parched.

I tried a lot of different approaches to improve this situation all summer. Bribed them with water play as much as possible: water balloons, buckets and sponges, you name it. Set up tents and forts and beach towels. Offered lots of snacks to be enjoyed on the lawn. I even started to believe O. that maybe our outside toys just weren't cutting it, and gave them free reign to bring anything outside that they wanted to, hoping to replicate a more "living room" feel outdoors. No strategy worked for any length of time. Mostly, what they want is to torment each other with the hose, fight over any toy that there is only one of, eat an entire box of popsicles in one sitting before lunch, and to pee on the grass.

If the truth be told, lately I don't really want to drag my heavy old self out there in the oven-like temperatures anyway. By the time I convince the kids to turn the TV off and put clothes on in the morning, it already feels, to borrow a phrase from my husband "like you're sucking on a hair dryer." It doesn't let up most days until well into the evening. I'm always suggesting an after dinner family walk, but as you can tell from J's favored phraseology, he's not exactly all that comfortable outside when its hot. He makes pointed vocal protestations when he sees people drinking Starbucks on a July afternoon, and is threatening to wear seersucker to my cousin's upcoming outdoor wedding ceremony.

It's also not as if we live in a neighborhood full of children gathering to play, and our children are also young enough that they require a lot of entertainment and supervision. I'm aware of that, and have high hopes that someday most of this will change.

So, I'd basically given up for this summer, stopped ranting and fighting, and dragging the kids along on "walks" that were more a parade of me alternating catching a tricycle before it swerved out into the path of an oncoming car and begging my big kid with the training wheels to just try to pedal up that little incline so I don't have to push you this time, all at a top speed of 2.2 mph.

We get outside, but it's more for trips to the pool or the park or other planned outings with friends. And we spend a lot of time indoors coloring, their latest obsession. We've filled an entire ream of copy paper, and stacks and stacks of coloring books in the last couple of weeks. I've gotten pretty good at sitting in the air conditioning, and my flowers are hanging on by the threads of a few spotty showers and my very occasional watering.

Then, last week when we were outside for one of those watering sessions on a morning that wasn't so scorching, lo and behold, a little boy from down the street started doing slow circles on his bike around our driveway. Clearly hanging around trying to check out whether O. might be of interest to play with. O. was kind of oblivious, even though he's pretty much constantly desperate to have a friend over to play with. I pointed the boy out, sent O. down on his big wheel to chat, and soon the little boy was exploring our swing set with O.

And suddenly O. has a new best friend. Guess who now wants to be outside all. the. time.?

We're still at that awkward, hanging around hoping the other will come out to play stage, though J. and I have now met both of the other boy's parents. I still haven't decided how I feel about letting O. out of sight to go play at his house. He's one of a large family of children, and of course rely on the supervision of the older kids quite a lot. Luckily, this also means the other boy isn't shy, so he isn't above coming to ring our doorbell to see if O. can come out.

So, the summer's basically over (the friend headed back to school today), and we're finally learning to be outside. The temperatures dropped into the lower eighties today, and O. initiated putting together an obstacle course for himself in our driveway. And both O. and N. participated in a lengthy round of Simon Says after dinner.

But it's not all carefree play and catching fireflies before bed. No, N. overheard a conversation between O. and the friend about a report of an aggressive dog loose in our neighborhood, something I hadn't brought up with the kids. We've had enough drama around dogs, and we're never outside anyway, RIGHT?

Five minutes later, N's pulling on my shorts, her lip quivering as it does when she's trying to keep from crying when someone has hurt her feelings. Like when her uncle suggests it might not be a good idea for her to spill an entire bag of pretzels on the coffee table.

I asked her what was the matter, and she pulled me toward the house, saying "I want to go inside!!"

I tried to get her to tell me what was bothering her, but she wouldn't.

Finally she says, "Let's go up in my room and talk about it."

So we did. Sure enough she wanted to know "What were they saying about a mean dog, Mommy?" And now, anytime in the last three days I have suggested going outside to N., I get a very worried expression and a conversation about police, and fences, and dogs not escaping.

And another kid that doesn't want to be outside, peering out at me from the window.


Heather said...

Yep, August in Ohio is not really so much fun. My kids are even sick of the pool; we head over to the YMCA, scout out some chairs, lather up with sunscreen, get some snacks, and fifteen minutes later, they're all ready to go. Sigh...

At least this week looks to be cooler. I'm with you; I LOVE to be outside. My younger two are pretty oblivious to the heat, but my oldest is just like O. It's BORING out there!

Good luck with the new friend!

mep said...

The break in the heat has hit here, thank goodness. My kids don't seem to mind being outside, though not always at the same time. I hate it when it's hot and get really worried about the baby. If hubby says one more time that she spent "9 months at 98.6, she'll be fine," I'll wring his neck. I'm not even sure if his statement is true. One advantage of having a newborn during summer is less guilt about not taking advantage of the outdoors.

Loved the last line of this post.

One problem we do have is