Nature vs. Nintendo, Treehouses, and a New Project

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It’s not as high off the ground as it looks!

I’m a firm believer in outdoor time over screen time. I think many of our kids today suffer from NDD – Nature Deficit Disorder (a term coined by author Richard Louv).

Those who know me well also know that I’m an avid environmentalist — and that I fully embrace the Reduce, Reuse and Recycle principle.

With those ideas in mind, a few years ago I started building a treehouse with my sons — and we’ve been adding to it ever since. It’s not exactly pretty. It probably doesn’t meet the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s guidelines for playground equipment. But two out of two kids agree – it’s pretty flippin’ awesome.

So far, it has two tire swings. Two Hot Wheels tracks. A zip line. A slide. A solar light. A pulley hoist to get said Hot Wheels (and books, of course) into the treehouse.

And EVERYTHING — from the wood, to the slide, to the nails — was free. Some things came from the farm I grew up on when we sold it last year. Some came from the side of the road. Some of it was rescued from the trash.

But the best part? I get to work with my kids on this project. They’ve learned how to use a level, a measuring tape, a hammer and nails. They’re learning that there’s a better solution than tossing everything in the trash, then running out to buy shiny new things. And we get to spend quality time outdoors.

I realize not everyone can pull off a project like this. My boys and I are fortunate to live in the woods, and working from home gives me some flexibility (I have to meet client deadlines, so there are times I’m still working at 2 a.m.).

But all of us can make time to walk with our kids in the park, or play in the yard, or build a birdhouse or bird feeder from recycled materials. And that’s all it takes to introduce the concept that there’s life beyond a screen, that nature is our ally, and that everyone can help the planet in some small way.

It’s not always easy. As I write this, I’m also arguing with my oldest because he’s not respecting today’s screen time limits (spoiler alert: I’ll win, because there’s a power button). But it’s absolutely worth it.

I’m such a firm believer in helping our planet that I’ve made it the theme of a series of middle-grade novels I’m working on. They revolve around a young girl who loves even those animals that aren’t (to most people) exactly cute and cuddly— like bats and snakes. She’s passionate about helping them, and about helping the grownups around her understand that every animal has its place in the ecosystem.

I’m hopeful that I’ll be rolling out the first in the series sometime next year — but that all depends on our next treehouse addition. These construction projects take time, you know!

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Washing the gunk off our found slide (though they should have done that before taking test slides — hope I can get the stains out of those clothes!).

On life, presence, the speed of childhood and the perils of rushing

Last night I had some rare one-on-one time with my oldest, who will be 9 in what seems like a heartbeat. 

As I tucked him in, he asked me to sing him a song – something he hasn’t asked for in a while. I was feeling frustrated, tired, irritable, and just wanted him to go to sleep, but then I took a moment to realize the importance of what he was asking. I don’t always do that, in many aspects of my day-to-day routine. I find myself too caught up in the rush of work, parenting, and navigating life, and I don’t take time to listen. 

So I asked him what he wanted. We settled on “Hey Jude,” and after that, he asked for the song I used to sing to him every night as a baby: “Moonshadow.” So I sang that, too, and tried not to let the lump in my throat get in the way. As I did, he relaxed, sighed, snuggled up to me, put a hand on me, and closed his eyes. When it was over, he opened his eyes again and asked me, “How old are you again, Dad?” “48,” I told him. He thought about that for a moment, and a troubled look passed over his face. “I don’t want you to get older, Daddy,” he said. “And I hope your voice never changes because I really like the way your voice sounds when you sing to me, and I don’t want that to change if you get older.”  
It was a bittersweet moment for me. It was a reminder that life passes quickly, and that we all get older, and that our children grow in an instant, and it left me with tears in my eyes. It was a reminder that if I don’t slow down and take notice of each moment, instead of racing from one to the next, I’m going to miss the most important things in my children’s – and my own – life. 

“Life is a journey, not a destination.” My son’s words last night illustrated that perfectly, and were a reminder that I need to be present for the journey instead of focusing on, and rushing toward, the destination. 

be present in the moment, and focus on the journey, not the destination
My oldest son at a time that simultaneously seems like an age ago, and also the space of a heartbeat.