A Clearing in the Woods

It took two days of asking and bargaining, but I got Aurora and Stephen to take a hike with me. Actually, for months I have “led by example.” I walk or hike whenever possible. Stephen and Aurora know my beliefs about exercise and being in nature, yet they fight my attempts to get them outside. When motivating children, “lead by example” gets you only so far. After that it’s bargain, cajole, guilt, leverage, and bribe.

It was a simple plan: take the dog for a walk at a local preserve. Stephen agreed to come with me out of guilt; he had stalled long enough the day before that it got too dark to walk in the woods. He knew I had been disappointed, so he agree to go to Canfield Woods with me. Aurora wanted to go shopping. I told her she had to walk with us first. I had a bargaining chip and I used it.

When we arrived at the preserve, I told them we would do the short loop—yellow trail to blue trail. They grumbled, but set out down the path.

Stephen wanted to walk next to me, so did Aurora. They started to push each other. I gave Stephen the dog and asked him to walk ahead.

That worked for a while, then he gave me the dog and started collecting acorns. “Oh good, he’s getting interested in things,” I thought. Then he started throwing the acorns at Aurora. She got mad and said something unkind, and he reacted. “Mom…!” he said. “Mom…!” she said. I walked away in frustration thinking, “Maybe its NOT worth it.”

Eventually they both ran up to me complaining about the other. “She never wants to play with me any more,” declared Stephen. “He’s so annoying,” Aurora said in a way only a 13-year-old can—part bratty child, part superior “cool kid.”

A light bulb went off, and I stopped walking. It’s true, Aurora doesn’t play with Stephen as much as she used to. She’s in the regional middle school now, busy meeting new friends and getting involved in new activities. Stephen has been looking for attention from his sister. If he can’t get the attention in a positive way, then it seems he will settle for negative attention. So he pokes her and trips her. He annoys her and throws acorns at her.

Out in the woods with no distractions—no phones, TV, homework, or friends, the dynamic was clear. We talked about it. Stephen had his say and then Aurora had hers. They hugged and we continued down the yellow trail. Stephen and Aurora walked ahead of me, together in a way they hadn’t been at the beginning of the hike. They settled into the hike—they talked, pointed out interesting finds, and climbed up rock faces, a favorite activity.

It happens all the time: I work hard to get Stephen and Aurora outside in nature and am rewarded in some way. Aurora will share stories about friends and school. Stephen and I will get down on the damp ground and watch a toad, or he will  challenge me to a race. Aurora and Stephen spend quality time together. We relax, we share, we unplug, we connect. It’s always good, if I can wait them out. Start a friendly battle with your kids and get them outside.

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