I’m a bad parent. That’s how I feel when I take Mitchell out exploring.
Why you ask?
I feel I have let my children down and denied them the simple pleasures of getting down and dirty in the outdoor world. They’ve never truly bush-bashed, been knee deep in mud, tromped through a gently flowing creek hunting for eels or tadpoles. They’ve never gone off the concrete track (let alone beaten). They’ve never chased an ant trail to put a stick in the hole, or dug for worms in the front yard. They’ve never had the delight of hiding in the bush, finding tree fern fronds and building a makeshift hut. They’ve never picked their own apples and discovered a worm crawling inside one. They never get to simply run around in dirt and on grass and scream like banshees going wild just for the fun of it.
But the real dilemma I have is my son is afraid of the outdoors. He is petrified of the bush. He hates the sun – wailing like a vampire when exposed to it directly. He loves to play outdoors … but he likes it overcast, or shaded and concreted. And if an insect should appear he freaks out, running from it rather than taking on the curious mantle of most boys who want to catch and dissect them. Heaven forbid we come across mud – puddles he will gladly jump into, but the idea of getting himself dirty is something he just can’t handle.
This came to the fore on a recent trip to Penang where we were exploring a remote and isolated beach only to have Mitchell freak out at every turn because of the sand hoppers, ants and various other insects flitting around. Our feet were covered in sand from jumping out of a fishing boat onto the rippling waves of the beach and he hated it. He couldn’t wait to get back to the ‘safety’ of the boat and the urbanisation of the resort we were staying.
I have failed him as a parent. I have kept him too isolated from the real world. Living in the sterile enclosed and often indoor environment of Hong Kong I have realised we aren’t doing enough to expose our sprogs to the harsh realities of nature. We do take our kids out exploring Hong Kong but more often than not it is urban, not rural. When it is rural it is controlled, not spontaneous. Our kids do understand the natural environment; But they don’t EXPERIENCE nature up close and first hand very often. They see an enclosed and controlled environment, sterile in comparison to a country like New Zealand.
The recent typhoon brought a snail out of hiding in the park near our apartment as we were walking by. My first reaction was “Oooh – come check this out!”. Mitchell wouldn’t get within a metre of the snail until I showed him it was harmless. He shuffled closer slowly and reluctantly as I encouraged him – “Can you see the snail moving?” … he shuffled a bit closer … “Look at the eyes … see how they move?” … he came in closer still. I put my finger in front of one of the the snails eyes so it would follow my finger. Mitchell squealed and stepped back, eventually becoming intrigued again and shuffling closer. He watched mesmarised as the snail retracted it’s eye when my finger got too close but was completely unwilling to touch the shell or put his finger anywhere near the snail. Despite not wanting to touch the snail, the questions started to flow as his curiosity flared.
How is it sticking to the side of the wall? Where did it come from? What does it eat? What eats a snail? – at least I know my son is an enquirer. And yet I can’t help wondering if had he been brought up in Australia whether he would actually have touched or picked up the snail to look at it.
On the other hand, Bethany, who only had three and a 1/2 years living in Australia before we moved here loves getting out and dirty and isn’t afraid of getting close or touching things. When she was little we used to spend a lot of time in our back yard playing, watching the blue tongue lizards and mucking about in the grass and dirt. She is older than Mitchell but she’s hardly phased by insects (except cockroaches … but lets face it who DOES like those freaks of nature) and although apprehensive will normally give most things a go. Does Mitchell’s fear of the outdoors come about because I wasn’t able to expose him at an early age like Bethany?
Regardless of our mistakes, what my husband and I have learnt is that we aren’t exposing our children to the outdoor world enough. Living in Hong Kong we have realised we have to make extra effort to take our kids and do more things within the natural environment to compensate for the lack of outdoor life they would experience naturally just by living in a house back in Australia or New Zealand. Come Autumn (for Summer is too hot and humid at the moment), we’ve decided we are going to take the kids to more of the country parks and explore some of the walking trails Hong Kong has to offer. We want to force Mitchell out of his comfort zone and make him realise the outdoors isn’t a place to fear, but a wonderful environment to embrace, experience and learn from.
I’m just hoping we’re not too late…