Who says what?

Novelist, mother, minister, and yoga teacher muses on books, babies, motherhood, and what matters with reverent humor.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

My Mother-Religion

The spiritual teacher Byron Katie says that if she had a religion when she was raising her four children it would have been: clean up your socks. Because, of course, that's all she said, all the time (or so it seemed) and because of how much it mattered to her.

I have a mother-religion, too. I know you're all guessing, eat more chocolate, but alas, that's simply my personal coping mechanism, and I hardly ever share my best chocolate with my children, anyway.

No, my religion when it comes to children is this: GO outside.

My angel. This morning.
 I could probably count on two hand the days, since I first gave birth to my first son six-and-a-half years ago, we stayed inside. I have a clear memory of taking my two oldest children, before my third was born, out to the woods behind our house. The thick snow encrusted in ice barely gave below our feet. They must have been two and four years old. I bundled them, took a camera, and let them play in the frozen magic of the trees. I let them use the camera and discover the separate shades of white the sun reveals in the snow. How cold was that day? Bitter cold. We had a good time.

I am the mother who says to a cold child wanting to go in, "Move around. Five more minutes." I hadn't realized the strength of my religion until my husband pointed it out a few months ago. Our lazy Saturday morning drawing in toward lunch time began to give me hives (as tends to happen any day we haven't been out by noon). We needed the fresh air. Children belong outside! They're like dogs! They need to be out, running, every day. My husband said to me: "You're really intense about going outside."

Ah. So I am.

In her book, Raising Happiness, Christine Carter writes: "All told, over the last two decades chidlren hae lost eight hours per week of free, unstructured, and spontaneous play." When I am outside with my children, something I do every day with few exceptions (I even have sick children play outside. When my sick children play outside they "magically" act all better. Hmmm...), I play with them. I don't think about or do the laundry or the cooking or try to tidy the toys while they un-tidy them faster. I watch them climb trees or practice skipping or play soccer or find a slug or a rock or a stick or a cloud or a bird.

Perhaps, it is ME who needs this time. Outside, I recover my senses. Even in the cold, even in the rain, even in the sweltering heat, I am more human outside, more free, and most importantly more like a child. So much of my own childhood memories come from being in nature (and this despite the fact that I watched a great deal of TV as a child)...that could be it. Or it could be more profound and more universal, the elemental power of the natural world, the scope of the yard so much greater than the interior of the house. I consider the outside our real play room. When I can't stand the kids for squabbling, when the energy is thick with hostility, when there are hints of boredom, I say: "Let's go."

Yesterday, as the first flakes flew onto our yard, we headed out for a bike/scooter ride/lion hunt. I listened to the sounds of my boots on the newly fallen snow. My daughter wanted to go in before the boys, and I pressed to keep her out. Well, it is my religion. And, in the scheme of things, I consider it a very good one. When we came back inside, we were not the same people. Cheeks pink, hair damp with melting snowflakes, the house itself felt new and welcoming, and I, for one, felt more truly alive.  

What's your mother-religion? I'd love to know!


  1. Unfortunately, right now mine seems to be "don't talk to me before I've had my tea!"