I’m new to grandparenting. But I’m learning that nature can be a grandparent’s best friend. Three years ago, when my sister and I were each blessed with our first grandchild, we quickly realized that one of the best ways we could support the sleep-deprived parents and bond with our then-infant grandchildren was to take them outside. Nothing else came close to soothing them and us at the same time! And with us outside the parents got the benefit of a little more breathing space inside.
Kaia and Otis are now 2 1/2 and 3 and our time together is filled with outdoor adventures. From very early on we joined their parents in modeling our love of nature. Kaia, who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, was introduced to the trees in her backyard when she was three days old. Otis, born in Brooklyn, NY, spent lots of time in the city parks and camping in upstate NY.
We talk to and about the plants, trees, animals and insects we encounter as friends who have feelings. Now Kaia hugs trees, pets plants, says hello to the birds flying overhead and thinks rocks are BEEUtiful.
The outdoors provides fertile ground for Otis’s vivid imagination. He digs for dinosaur fossils and turns a tree stump into a boat. He uses a stick as his fishing pole. He has discovered that homes of all sorts are ‘built’ under the branches of trees. It is heartwarming to see and hear them embrace the furry, feathered, winged, rooted world around them as friends and family.
By spending time outdoors with Kaia I am getting to know her in ways that are not as easy when we are indoors.
I am learning what attracts her, what scares her, what delights her, what she is wary of, and where she is naturally adventuresome.
Anything that moves and anything that she can move fascinates her. Her boundless energy frequently moves her at the speed of light. That can be a challenge inside four walls. Indoors, she wants my full attention and participation. I enjoy a good game of chase and appreciate listening to music, but I must admit after the tenth round of chase and the third round of Basho Mosko’s rap version of Eensy Weensy Spider, I am ready to just ‘be’ for a few minutes.
Outdoors, Kaia has a chance to spread her wings. She leads the expedition to observe the bugs crawling on the pavement and then proudly announces, “I can go by myself” as she ventures off to explore the space between the side of her house and the 10 foot hedge that hides the house next door. Perfect, I think to myself as she ventures into the vast reaches of her yard and I get a chance to sit down and catch my breath.
I’ve also learned that avoiding the late afternoon pre-dinner meltdown or any other two-year-old display of displeasure is best accomplished by stepping outside.
And then there is bedtime. “I’m not tired, I don’t want to sleep” are challenging words coming from a two-year-old whose face and temperament indicate otherwise. An enthusiastic invitation to say goodnight to the moon, stars and night sky can head off a full blown tantrum when she is looking a little delirious but does not want the fun to end. The night sky has a soothing, calming effect on both of us. It seems to open up the space for dreams and possibilities. Of course I could always put her in her car seat and drive around for 15 minutes, but that is not nearly as calming for me!
When Kaia was born, I knew taking her outside would be good for her, but little did I know what it would do for me.
In addition to bringing more fun and sunshine into my life, it has reawakened one of my earliest and fondest memories of my grandmother in her garden. Somewhere between the cucumbers and rhubarb I knew she belonged to me, I belonged to her and we both belonged to the garden.
I am blessed to witness and participate in the outdoor explorations of Kaia and Otis.
I feel the past, present and future merge. They are helping me remember and see with new eyes. Being new at this, I’d love to hear what you have discovered about grandparenting outdoors!