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The seamy edges

We live in the woods and the places we need to travel to are a distance. To us, it seems reasonable that the closest gas station is 7 minutes away and the closest grocery store 15 minutes. Visiting friends and family is more often at least an hour away. Ballet class 35 minutes, yoga class 40 minutes, museums, theaters and larger farmer’s markets at least an hour. Needless to say, not unlike many, we spend a lot of time in our car, definitely a lot more than intended. Perhaps some of you can relate? It is on these car rides that some of our best conversations happen, where the serious questions are emptied onto the crumb-filled carpets and examined deeply, as only a confined space can sometimes do. As we honestly explore not only hard topics, but also the emotions that we feel talking about them, I nonchalantly every so often encourage Petunia to look in one direction or another to see something we are passing – often a hawk on a wire, ice covered branches, old barns, a new house being built, etc. Her response is usually that she was just about to point the same thing out to me or agreement of my assessment of its beauty or lack thereof. A few years back, when Petunia was just a few months into her third year of life, we took a trip to Florida to visit my mother and stepfather. In the car, only a few days into our visit she proclaimed, “That’s where we ate pancakes!” We had, indeed, turned the corner from the beach onto the road of the diner where we breakfasted a day before. Imagine that, at only 3 her observations linked the turn away from the beach to a specific building complex and a familiarity of experience.

Yes, we have to spend a lot of time in the car, but there are ways we can at least benefit from that experience. I recently read the following passage from Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, in which he is discussing the addition of backseat entertainment systems made by car manufacturers to all of the latest model vehicles, and was reminded of the gratifying feeling I had that day as a parent who encourages the use of senses, even when most are limited.

Why do so many Americans say they want their children to watch less TV, yet continue to expand the opportunities for them to watch it? More important, why do so many people no longer consider the physical world worth watching? The highway’s edges may not be postcard perfect. But for a century, children’s early understanding of how cities and nature fit together was gained from the backseat: the empty farmhouse at the edge of the subdivision; the variety of architecture, here and there; the woods and fields and water beyond the seamy edges –all that was and still available to the eye. This was the landscape that we watched as children. It was our drive-by movie. – Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder

I was discussing this sentiment with my husband and only a day later, as he was a fly on the wall waiting for Petunia to finish a ballet class, he overhead a conversation between parents about their newest luxury SUV and their excitement for the very same television screens and headsets we were regarding with contempt. I suppose I could say “to each their own” and not write about it, and it isn’t about petty judgement, but my worry for this youngest generation is that of disconnect – from each other, from the natural world, from the workings of society. It is because of that worry that I mention this in hopes that someone may see this passage and be reminded of what their children are missing when donning the headset and staring at an animated headrest. There is a whole drive-by movie right outside the window and inspiring conversations to be had. Let’s have them with our children!

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