by Elizabeth Small
Note: Elizabeth will be sharing her family’s journey with Outdoor Families Magazine readers each month in a new column titled “SubUrban Outdoors.” We hope you find her daily struggles and triumphs to be both enlightening and inspiring, and perhaps even humorous. ~Erin Kirkland, editor
My husband recently confessed that he decided to marry me the evening I forced him to stop the car in the warm light of an autumn sunset when I shouted, ?Stop! Time out for nature!?
Ten years later, life turned us into city lawyers with two kids, a second floor condo, and very little time or space for outdoor living.?Our daughters were born while we lived and worked in a small, Boston neighborhood called Jamaica Plain. Raising kids in JP is like raising kids on Sesame Street, except there, the cookie monster eats vegan-gluten-free baked goods, and Bert and Ernie hold hands over fair trade coffee and organic locally-brewed beer.? It is a socially and politically-engaged community, and we loved it.
But our daughter with asthma struggled in the city air, and neither child could roam free without us trailing close behind. We left our kids for long workdays, without local family to pick up the slack. Most troubling to us, though, was a nagging feeling that in little and big ways we were failing to unite our kids with nature. As lawyers do, we began to argue the case of “The Way We Are Living v. The Way We Ought to Live,” and realized the lessons we sought were waiting – in fields, trails, and garden beds. So we made a difficult decision to move out of Boston, to a place with just enough land to create a suburban homestead.
The goal? To teach our kids about uniting with nature, meeting their needs, and respecting the world around them. We are planning a big garden, we are reducing waste, and we are getting our hands dirty, together. We are imperfectly trying to teach our kids that courage, self-reliance, and compassion are rooted outdoors.
Thoreau wrote in his essay Walking, ?I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright.? So here we are, trying to yield. It is impossible to explain this decision without acknowledging the heaping privilege and sentimentality inherent in this shift – each of which makes me simultaneously cringe and bow my head in gratitude.
Do I have doubts about all this? Absolutely. This bit of land has cost us the steep price of a diverse and walkable neighborhood. Less income will mean less ?convenience.? Are we really living eco-centrically when we can no longer lean on public transportation? What does it mean to be the only neighbors with six-cubic-feet of compost in our suburban yard? ?Oh that? Over there? Yes, that?s our giant pile of manure. May I offer you some tea??
Little by little, my faith grows as this plan takes hold. I saw a glimmer of it this morning when my four-year-old smirked at me with pathetically feigned irritation and huffed, ?Daddy says it?s my job to turn on the grow lights and water the seedlings every, single morning!? Her poorly concealed smile betrayed her, saying instead, ?Daddy trusts me and I am important.?
My prayer is to see my daughters? sense of purpose grow like the little sprouts in our garden. Many roads can bring children to that place, but for our family, at least right now, that road is covered in manure.
Elizabeth Small is a lawyer by training, writer by nature, and wife and mother by spirit. She has lived up and down the east coast of the United States, in Miami, Washington, DC, and Boston, and now resides in Connecticut.?