After more than ten days of being sick – and sick and tired of being sick – and thoroughly cooped up, I saw the sunshine today as an excuse to layer up and head outdoors. We went to the local Garlic Farm, and after warming up on some hot chocolate, the girls went for a run around on the grass. They discovered horse-hoof imprints in the grass and decided we had to follow them, so off we went, over the grass, down a muddy track and through the forest, following the hoof prints.
I was ambling behind with Avi (3) and Ameli went off ahead, where I found her high up in a tree, singing to herself a song about how trees should be respected, even though they are not human.
Of course Avi wanted up in the tree too, and I wasn’t going to stand her in way.
Part of the reason I think it’s so important for children to get outdoors and to spend time in nature and to run wild in the forest is because they learn how to manage risk. They walk on a log and slip off, they learn. They skid on mud and end up covered in it, they learn. The concept of “slippery surface + sudden stops = muddy me” is so much easier and less devastating to learn as a 3-year-old, than as an 18 year old, fresh behind the wheel of a car.
It’s all about risk management, and it’s important for them to learn in a safe environment. And we are that safe environment.
If we say ‘no, don’t climb the tree’ because we’re afraid of their fall, we really rob them of a valuable lesson.
So Avi, wellie boots and all, is climbing the tree while I’m still trying to find somewhere dry to put my bag down, and she’s a couple meters up before I can even get to her. My heart is in my throat, and in my mind’s eye, I can see her falling and hitting every branch on the way down. I position myself under the tree, roughly spaced that I could probably get to any point within her fall radius before she hits the ground.
But Avi doesn’t fall. She goes as high up as she’s comfortable.
My heart is pounding.
She looks around, sees her sister has moved on already, and wants to join her. So she starts negotiating the journey down.
I can’t help myself – I reach up and offer my arms for her to jump into.
But she doesn’t want them. Her foot finds the branch and she is secure. Her hands meet half way and she goes down another branch.
“I don’t need you Mama. I can do this.”
My heart breaks a little, but I’m proud too.
As she puts her hands between her feet and drops down to the ground, swinging on the branch she could only touch on her tip-toes I realise that these trips to the forest aren’t only good for them – they’re good for me too.
Ameli (6) is off, wandering, singing to herself. I can hear her, but I can’t see her. I have learned to let go of her hand.
Avi has climbed a tree. I hate it. And I love it. In my mind I can see her sprawled motionless under it. But in front of me I can also see the pride on her face as she says, “see Mama, that’s two things I can do! I can run fast and I can climb a tree. I need a high five!” That’s a sense of self-pride, of self-awareness and of self-sufficiency that nothing but experience can teach her.
Yes, time in the forest teaches her to manage her risks. And it teaches me to trust her. It teaches me to give her space to push herself. It teaches me to let her go – but just a little, just enough. In time I’ll have to allow her to wander off too. We’re both learning, my lessons are just a little more bitter sweet.