In early April, my six-year old daughter Ember and I had a rare weekday off of work and school together, with no errands or other obligations on the agenda. These are generally the days that we get caught up on everything, but getting caught up on each other is equally, if not more important. Several months of cold weather had finally given way to a 74 degree day with the clearest blue sky, and we left home with no definitive plan, other than to get out in it and play. On this particular afternoon, we left the tablet at home (and not without a debate), and I put my phone on airplane mode.
Parenting young children has always come with challenges, but in our current era of tablets, smart phones, games, and YouTube, keeping kids present and engaged with the world around them is a constant and unprecedented battle – we are living in a world that is completely different than it has been for most of human history, and research indicates that we are being rewired for distraction, and that developing minds are especially susceptible. Inundation from peers at school and any number of other sources makes it nearly impossible to unplug entirely, and this doesn't teach children how to balance their interests. Some degree of capitulation is necessary, and our home is no exception: the Minecraft struggle is real. While we are connected in ways that we have never been, the price tag for this is disconnection in other ways, and nature is often the first thing to go, especially while cities expand and natural spaces shrink.
We headed into Salem to look for a park of some kind. Luckily we didn't have to go far: it seems that there is a beautiful park every few miles. We get out at Bush Park, and Ember makes a beeline towards the trees. Bush park is located in the heart of Salem, and beautifully woven into the city with its preserved natural spaces juxtaposed to playgrounds and historical structures.
It's the beginning of spring, and everything is in full bloom. Blossoms rain down on runners, people pushing babies in strollers, and walking pets. We talk about what it might have looked like here before there was a city, and before the land was set aside as a park. It isn’t hard to imagine. Ember’s vision of what this might have looked like includes many, many, more animals, and no cement (or paths). We walk through oak groves and past carpets of Camas while Ember chatters about details that are sometimes hard to extract at home - her friends, school, and plans for the future, before running off to play: childhood is returning. Being outside helps me to reground myself, and reconnect to my family. When I think of “being present”, this is what I want to show up for. On the car ride home, there’s no mention of Minecraft, and I leave the phone turned off.
About the author: Gretchen Boyer
Gretchen Boyer is a lifelong lover of nature and outdoor exploring. Gretchen graduated from Western Oregon University in 2011 with a degree in Ecology (marine emphasis) and studying in the Salmon River Estuary was one of the happiest times of her life. Gretchen grew up in Northern California and developed a deep respect for nature by playing in one of largest municipal parks in the United States in her backyard, roaming the Sierra Nevada’s and camping in Redwood National Park every summer. She hopes to share this sense of natural wonder with her children and through her position at Catholic Community Services, where she supports adults with disabilities. During her free time, Gretchen is a dedicated volunteer at the Straub Environmental Center.