The end was near; I could feel it. I was days away from going into labor with my second son, and meanwhile, my first little boy was approaching the 15-month mark. This was a very awkward time for me indeed. I felt like a hefty elephant trying to keep a spritely young badger out of harm’s way. And I was failing.
Three weeks prior to the birth of our youngest, my older son took a tumble down the stairs. I could have sworn I closed the baby gate! Thankfully, the stairs were carpeted and he made it through without so much as a scratch.. Two weeks later, we had another emergency room run after I caught our little badger gnawing on a windowsill. Our house was built in 1951, I thought frantically, as I un-suctioned his mouth from the sill. Lead paint! Lead paint! Lead paint! Thank heavens they were able to flush out his little system with prune juice and detected no lead at the follow-up visit. Catastrophe averted, but strike two nonetheless.
After two terrifying strikes against me, I was shaken. How could I possibly be bringing another boy into this world when I couldn’t even look after the one I had? They were a bleak couple of weeks, but I was determined to prove I was up to the task. I was also totally committed to keeping my toddler in his daily routine as much as possible. My wise mommy friends with more than one child swore to me that this would make the transition to big brotherhood easier on my little badger. Keep to the routine at all costs, they cried!
Their warning echoed in my head one
crisp, sunny October morning as I packed my little guy up into the
stroller and headed to our park, per usual. We enjoyed our time there, taking in the vibrant autumn leaves and frolicking in the grass, mindful that soon the trees would be barren and snow would cover the ground. I huffed and puffed and pushed the stroller up the big hill home, placed my baby in the pack-n-play in the kitchen, and sprinted to the bathroom. I returned to the kitchen and casually began cleaning up, as my little one seemed content enough in the pack-n-play. But as I loaded the dishwasher, I realized that he was being far too quiet, so I went in for a closer look. There he was, smiling up at me, with green slime foaming out of his mouth and pieces of some chewed up plant scattered in his lap and stuck to his face. Oh my god, I thought, what has he eaten?!?
I desperately scraped bits out of his mouth and gathered all the pieces I could find. I evaluated him to see if he was being poisoned, but he laughed and cooed and was still breathing. I frantically dialed the nurse's line at his pediatrician’s office. “I’m sorry, I can’t help you,” she explained. “You’ll have to call poison control.” Another frantic phone call, and thankfully a poison control expert picked right up. “I’m sorry, but I can’t help you unless you can tell me what type of plant he’s ingested.” I told her that I hadn’t lived in state long and had absolutely no idea what he’d eaten. I couldn’t name a single plant at that park. She instructed me to bring the plant pieces back to the park, assemble them as best I could, and see if I could find a match. Then I was to take a larger sample of that plant to a local nursery and have them identify the species. With this information in hand, I was to call her back. Then, after this wild goose chase, I presumed she’d tell me if my baby would live or die.
I sprung into action and packed the baby into the car. I shoved the plant pieces into a Ziploc and headed back to the park. By now my boy was getting hungry and tired, and the howling began. I carried on. After completing the frustrating leaf jigsaw puzzle, I saw that the plant had a unique pod attached to a broader leaf. I then scoured the park and found the culprit; it was a tree he had been toddling around when we first arrived.
I tore over to the nursery, plucked my screaming child from his car seat, and ran in with tears streaming down my cheeks. I breathlessly told my sad tale to the teenager working behind the counter. My savior quickly pulled out a reference book and flipped right to the page describing the linden tree. I hugged him as best I could with a screaming toddler on my hip and leapt back into the car.
I called back poison control and got the good news – the linden tree leaves are completely nontoxic. Relief. I fed the desperate child, and he calmed down. As I undressed him for his nap, I found stashed away in his front sweatshirt pocket a tightly packed handful of more linden tree leaves. Unbeknownst to me, that little smuggler had figured out how to use his pockets.
After my big strike three, I was overwhelmed. I remember swearing that I would limit our time in the great outdoors – I’d whittle down the dangers to my boys by staying under my own roof where I had better control over the risks. I was horrified that an innocuous outing to a city park had led to such an exhausting, scary ordeal, and I’d be darned if I’d go through that again.
But of course, after the fog of my pregnancy brain cleared, I quickly abandoned my plan to curb outside time. Once my second baby came and I got the hang of being a mama of two, we were back to our old ways and finding time to relish the natural world around us. But, that’s not to say that my present condition of schlepping two toddlers outdoors is easy. In the winter it’s bundling, bundling, and more bundling, only to immediately de-bundle for an emergency potty break. It’s cold, wet feet, and fear of frostbite on button noses. It’s strollers failing to summit sidewalk snow banks and slipping on black ice with a baby on your hip and hot chocolate in your hand.
Summertime is somewhat easier, but in my house it means at least a 15-minute fight consisting of me pinning down each protesting child and smearing sunblock over every square inch of exposed skin. And it’s worrying and fretting that someone is going to wander off and fall into the lake.
Yes, getting outdoors with young children can be a royal pain – sometimes it’s just easier to bust out the crayons and Lego bricks and spend the day indoors. Apparently, there are quite a few parents out there struggling to get in enough outdoor time. According to a new study by the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, the youngest Americans have less outdoor time than all previous generations. In fact, half of all preschool-aged children don’t get outside on a daily basis.
The results of this study sadden me and make me feel that this generation is getting cheated. There are so many obvious benefits a child receives by having ample time outside. Of course there are obvious physical health ramifications – a preschooler outside is much more likely to be getting exercise as opposed indoor activities that tend to be sedentary, like drawing and watching TV.
That classroom known as the great outdoors is priceless when
it comes to teaching our kids. How long
can you read to a child about turtles and keep it interesting? But if you and your child actually see one sunning on a rock by the lakeshore before hopping down and gliding through the water, a passion for reptiles is far more likely to actually be ignited in a young observer. Even simply watching the bees busily collecting pollen, or walking through the white silence after a snowstorm, are tangible experiences of our world that far surpass anything I could explain in words to my children – it’s that good old show-me-don’t-tell-me concept hard at work.
Lastly, the mental health boost that the great outdoors provides is important beyond measure. After being cooped up indoors due to crazy Minnesota weather (be it due to tornado warnings or dangerously cold winter temperatures) my boys clearly begin to go stir crazy. As soon as we have a chance to explore the world beyond our home, some of the craziness dissipates and all is well again.
And although I’ll be the first to admit that the scariest close calls with my boys have taken place outdoors (beyond the Linden Tree incident, we’ve had one get lost at a busy park and the other choke on an acorn!), the rewards are totally worth the risks. I am resolute that my boys will not be gypped of such an important part of childhood, no matter how nervous low-lying plant life now makes me.
Bye for now!