Let the kids suffer. You know, like, really suffer. Drive to the middle of nowhere, turn the movies off and store away the Ipad. They kind of scream at first, in a state of mournfulness, and then they stand out in the open field and stare at the dirt for a moment. This is when you suggest some things that sound like a joke compared to the instant gratification of video games, or visual stimulations of the beloved screen. I might say things like this:
“Why don’t you guys take those rocks and make a rock hill? Or, go dig a hole. How about running in circles?”
Well today my suggestions were met with crinkled noses of dissapointment and sheer judgement. “What? Mom, that is so boring,” they responded. Sheesh, tough crowd.
‘It’s ok’, I said to myself in my brain. I had set my expectations at an all time low for this day, because 1.) I was taking my boys fishing without my husband there to help entertain them, and 2.) I was next to a river that was going to close in a week and I hadn’t truly fished in a couple weeks. I knew I needed to tone down the expectations of anything great happening.
So when my two boys and my friend’s (Meagan) little guy, said they were bored, and it was only 10 minutes into the day, I took a deep breath, put my almost set up fly rod on the hood of the car and mustered a fake smile. Even though I wanted to fish, I even more wanted them to have a fun day…actually maybe those are at the same level.
We played for a bit and decided to go for a walk to meet up with Meagan. She had a fish in the net when we got there and the boys ran over to see it and everyone had to touch it.
Then they all wanted to fish so I went back to the car to get some more rods, gear, snacks, and anything I could entertain them with.
When I got back to the fishing hole, the boys were playing a shooting game with the branches of trees nearby. It was like seeing a rare animal in the woods- kids playing without being entertained. I set up the spin rod and realized that they had not even noticed I was done with it. So I snuck into the water all stealth-like and started fishing.
Something amazing happened: I had about 10 minutes of peace. Then the fighting started. I catered, tap danced, pleaded and threatened. The time outs followed. And then, the pivotal parenting decision of the day happened: I DECIDED TO IGNORE MY CHILDREN.
I know this sounds harsh and un-attatchment parental-like, but once they realized I could not hear them out in the water (I was only about ten ft away), they gave up on me and just started playing on their own. They went on a hunting trip, played shoot the pirates, started log races, and didn’t even ask me a question for a solid 20 minutes. I said, “winning”, under my breath. But might have spoke too soon….
I had just lost a really sweet rainbow trout when I heard someone yelling. “Mom!” I look at Meagan, *pause*, and wait to hear another yell to see if it is something worth reeling in for. “Mom, help, I’m stuck!” I can see through the trees that one kid is on the ground, and it’s mine. So I reel up quickly and make my way up to find my five year old has caught his pajama pants (he insisted on wearing them today), on a piece of barbed wire. I rip it off and the wire bounces back and gouges my finger. The other kids are jumping back and forth over it, like it’s a jump rope, while blood is starting to gush out of my finger, and the five year old is sobbing incessently because I ripped his favorite pajamas. “OK, everyone back to the car!”
We agree we have to find a more kid-friendly place and so, reluctantly, we leave this epic fishing spot…. Sigh….
We explore some new areas of the river. Meagan lets me take a moment to fish alone and I catch a really nice rainbow.
Then I let her take a turn and the boys start log races again, while I walk next to them down stream, fishing behind it all like a crazy lady picking up poop after the circus parade.
Some guys come out of the bushes and I think, oh good luck finding a fish in this ruckkus. I actually get that look a lot: you are fishing and your kids are here too? It takes people a moment to figure out what exactly is going on here. Don’t get me started. But to my surprise, it is the Fish and Game, and they are electro-shocking. Perfect! This will be entertaining.
The boys eat it up, help count fish, then throw them back in the water. The Fish and Game dudes are very patient and respond kindly even though my two year old beckons them with, “Hey, bad guys.” (I have no idea why).
After they leave, I plant seeds of future biologists in their little minds and think, wow, I’m being a really good parent right now. Then, miraculously, the kids just go right back to playing without any direction or fuss! They play ‘try to hit that log with a rock’, then build castles in the sand, make a fort in some bushes, pretend to be the Croods. I pretend to be the daughter that was trying to fish for dinner. I check in every once in a while and say, ‘Dad, I can’t find any fish yet, but I’m still trying’. He says, “Ok, daughter, keep trying.” And so I do.
We were both jazzed up after this day at the river. It started out shakey, but I realized that this happens every time: the kids are not quite sure how to respond to the great outdoors, but if you give them time and space they will figure it out. And then, they cry when it’s time to leave, which is all part of the plan. Parents- Win, Kids-Win. We got us a win-win folks.
High five to moms taking their kids outside! Set your expectations low, make them suffer, and try to ignore them….You will never know unless you try it.
Oh and bring lots and lots and lots of snacks too. And a first aid kit. And a change of clothes for everyone. Don’t over think it- just go. 😉