I must admit that for me, summer is a season of emotional conflict. On one hand, I love that I can get away with staying up late, forgetting my turn in the carpool, and serving Popsicles for dinner. On the other hand, I hate that I have to work twice as hard to find stimulating activities for my 5-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter.
Take last year for example. By the second week of vacation we had already checked out 12 library books and visited the zoo three times. By the third week the wading pool had sprung a leak and was listing to one side, and by week four my children were arguing over things like who had the most peanut butter on their sandwich and whose turn it was to pet the cat. They'd watched so much Animal Planet that they could tell the difference between a Banded Greenhouse Thrip and a Stump Slug. I knew I had to think of something before they got really bored and turned on me.
That's when I remembered a regional park about ten miles away with several hiking trails. What could be better than packing lunches and spending the day chasing butterflies, splashing through streams, and smelling wildflowers?
"Oh, Mom, do we really have to go?" my daughter said, rolling her eyes.
"I don't want to," my son protested as he crossed both arms over his chest.
"Come on, it'll be fun," I said. "And you can each bring a new disposable camera to take pictures with."
Their eyes lit up, and I knew I had won them over.
The next morning we dispersed to fill our backpacks with essential survival supplies: I took food, water, and Band-Aids. My son packed his metal fire engine, and my daughter took nail polish and a tube of cotton candy pink lipstick. Great. If we encountered a loose wild animal on the trail, I could hypnotize it with the flashing red light, then hold it down and give it a beauty treatment while one of the kids ran for help.
When we arrived at the park, my children were so excited about seeing nature that they immediately pulled out their disposable cameras and began taking pictures of other people's cars.
"Isn't this wonderful?" I said as we headed out of the parking lot. The weather was balmy, the breeze refreshing, and the air smelled like grass and flowers. I put my arms straight out to my sides and twirled around like a windmill.
"I'm hungry," my son said.
"Just look at that giant tree," I cried, dragging him onto one of the more populated trails. "I think I see a Banded Greenhouse Thrip."
"I'm hungry, too," my daughter said.
Finally I gave in, and at 9:30, we sat down at the head of the trail and ate lunch. I began to think that my children were determined to spend the rest of the summer watching television and arguing over peanut butter. Then I had an idea: I picked up a leaf, put a napkin over it, and gently rubbed it with cotton candy pink lipstick.
"Hey, a pink leaf," said my daughter. "That's cool!"
After lunch we started down the trail and made rubbings of leaves, tree bark, and anything else we found along the way. We eventually ran out of napkins and lipstick, but we kept walking anyway.
"Hey, look at that tree!" My son shouted as he leaned back and took a picture. But my daughter wasn't looking. Instead, she tilted her face toward the sky, put her arms straight out to her sides, and spun around like a windmill.
They were so immersed in what they were doing they didn't realize how far we had hiked. In fact, I didn't either, until we got back to the car and I felt the muscles in my thighs begin to cramp and red-hot pain shoot through the bunions on my feet.
"Mom, why are you limping?" my daughter asked. "Are you okay?"
"Of course," I said, easing my blistered feet into the car.
So maybe the day wasn't what I thought it would be: We didn't learn anything profound. We didn't uncover any great mysteries of the universe. We didn't even make it to the other end of the trail.
But there wasn't one cross word between my children. Something about the woods, the breeze, the sunshine, seemed to calm all of us and break us out of the rut we'd been in all summer. No wonder David wrote so many Psalms about the glory of God's creation.
On the way home, we dropped off the cameras to get the film developed. There were a lot of pictures of strangers, the undersides of tall trees, and cars. But my favorite picture was the one I took with my camera: my children kneeling over a napkin in the dirt, happily making pink leaf rubbingstogether.
Debbie Farmer is the author of Life in the Fast-Food Lane (Booklocker.com). She writes about surviving the chaos of parenting in her syndicated column, "Family Daze." Read more from Debbie at www.familydaze.com.
Copyright © 2003 by the author or Christianity Today/Christian Parenting Today magazine.
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