by Lauren Gay
The great outdoors has been the gift that keeps on giving to my unique family of two. I am mom to a 15-year-old son. Exposing my son to outdoor activities at an early age has not only enriched him, it has also led to a very special bond. Unlike many who love outdoor activities, I grew up very much a city girl, with no exposure to outdoor activities as a child. I can only attribute my curiosity about the outdoors to a church youth group trip to Camp Windy Gap in the Blue Mountains of North Carolina when I was teenager. I think that initial exposure to things like hiking, sleeping in a cabin, mountain biking, and a treetop obstacle course broadened my horizons.
When my son was younger, we went for nature walks and even tried geocaching. These activities were great for a young, single mother because they required very little money and were easily accessible. When he was about three years old, we visited our very first waterfall in northern Alabama with a friend. My son was such a little trooper, climbing over boulders and hiking down to the base of the falls, and that was only the beginning of what was to come.
As he has gotten older, he has become the outdoor buddy I always wanted. There are so many things I didn?t try before because of the fear having to do them alone or because of the cultural stereotypes in my community that reiterate that ?black people don?t do certain things.” However, in recent years, we consistently defy culturally-imposed boundaries every chance we get, and as we grow, our adventures just keep getting bigger and bolder.
It?s an interesting dynamic, since I?m not the parent teaching him about these activities since I had no prior experience; we are actually learning how to become an outdoor family, together. We’ve camped in several state parks, kayaked and swam in several beautiful Florida springs, and through through mangroves and rivers. Tried glamping in yurts. Visited several National Parks. We’ve floated down rivers in tubes, and hiked to more waterfalls than we can count. Ziplining through the rainforest in St. Kitts? Yep. Snorkeled among sharks? Done.
We have fun, of course, but sometimes bicker and debate because we each have our own way of doing things, and of course I get the usual plea of many teenagers, ?Mom, just trust me.? I?m learning to do that more. Last summer on our first camping trip without anyone else there to help us, my son impressed me with how much he has learned and how responsible he has become.
When faced with scenarios that test our strength, courage, endurance, or ability to survive, it brings out the best qualities in each of us. There?s truly something special about my child offering me words of encouragement and pushing me to conquer a fear. Our relationship has certainly become stronger because of these experiences, and I have come to realize that these adventures aren?t just family vacations or happy memories; this is precious time for my son’s full, undivided attention without competing with video games or television. It?s a time for me to really gauge how he is doing.
Through our outdoor activities, my son is learning about growing into a responsible human being, how to appreciate our natural resources, the importance of conservation, and how to be a global citizen. He is gathering the importance of disconnecting from a digital world, and the benefits to mental health. These memories and bonding moments are the foundation for what he will teach his own family one day. Our adventures have opened a gateway for future generations, and hopefully influenced more African Americans in our community to give outdoor activities a try.
Lauren Gay writes the blog Outdoorsy Diva. She lives in Tampa, Florida with her son, now 15.