Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Hurry Up, Spring!
This post isn’t going to be about weather (mostly, anyway) but I do need to start by talking about the weather. I went into this Winter really dreading the never-ending, miserable cold that is Wintertime in Chicago. Memories of last year’s Winter had me expecting the worst, and I struggled to maintain a positive outlook, knowing that I had months and months of commuting in the cold ahead of me. That’s the worst of it – I don’t mind the time spent commuting, but when part of that commute is standing outside, waiting for buses or trains to arrive, it makes it pretty hard to bear. Winter has been the longest season in Chicago, usually stretching from November through April or May. When other areas of the country are solidly experiencing Spring, Chicago is still having the occasional snowstorm and single digit temperatures. Our “Summer” really feels like Spring, with only a handful of really hot days. Now that I don’t live in the water the way I did as a kid, I love that sort of Summer. Chicago is glorious in the Summer, but it doesn’t last very long.
Today I went on a walk outside and realized that I was bundled up a little too tightly. I didn’t need my gloves or hat, and loosened up my scarf. What surprised me about this was that except for a couple days or weeks here and there, this Winter has been pretty mild so far. And truly, we are near entering the last phase of Winter. As I already noted, we’ll still get crazy weather every once in a while, but temperatures should show a pattern of rising.
This all came to mind as I was walking, enjoying the outdoors, and lamenting the fact that most my life – even in the glorious Chicago Summer – is lived indoors. In recent years this has really stood out to me and I’ve taken steps to spend more time outside, and to make sure my kids don’t spend their childhoods inside.
When I grew up, as with most people I know, just about every minute of the day that wasn’t spent in school, church or some other activity that required being indoors, was spent playing outside, weather permitting. This involved walking, running, playing sports/games, riding bikes, swinging, sliding, climbing and exploring. I had to come inside when it got dark, and I had neighborhood boundaries that I couldn’t go beyond (which expanded as I got older). I did this in Kansas, where the weather is extreme – extreme cold, extreme heat . . . I played outside in the rain, in the snow, I played outside when the sky was green and orange which meant a storm and possibly a tornado was on the way. We went to my grandma’s farm and I explored the old barn, the treebreak behind the house, the pasture where the small herd of cows grazed. I found limestone fossil impressions and could see for miles and miles in any direction. I can remember the smell of all these things so easily.
It seems to me that most adults live indoor lives, no matter what sort of childhood they had, unless they are very purposeful about spending time outside. We watch TV, surf the internet, entertain. In my own life, spending time outside almost always has to be a planned activity, because I live in an apartment. I don’t have a porch to sit on, I don’t have a yard that is exclusively mine – I have a grassy area in front and a parking lot in back. Because of this (and because the world is a different place than it was even 20 years ago), my kids were much older than I was the first time they were allowed to play outside with my supervision. They have more rules than I did, and they can’t explore the neighborhood the way I did at their ages.
I started noticing this a few years ago, and have worked to spend more time outdoors. I’ve done simple things like taking walks instead of sitting in front of the TV, or going to a nearby school with my kids so they can play on the playground, instead of just letting the older 2 play outside our building while the toddler stays inside with me. We take them to parks where they can run and climb trees and inspect leaves and fallen logs, and follow trails. We take the train to downtown Chicago and spend the day walking around, learning the city and visiting the lake. We go to swimming pools and spray-parks. Still, these all require effort and sometimes planning, and it just seems harder to make happen than when I was a kid. When I was a kid, I just went outside and spent hours finding fun things to do and kids to play with, and never intentionally tried to “experience the outdoors”, yet that’s what happened.
Well, I’ve got a bit of spring fever and am daydreaming of hours spent outside, remembering what grass smells like, what it feels like under my feet and in my hands . . . daydreaming of living on a farm or ranch, one in a hilly or mountainous area, with trees and a creek, with places to explore. I’m even thinking about camping. Camping!
Hurry up, Spring!