Monday, March 9, 2009
My most recent mummy-anxt is called nature deficit disorder, which is basically where I worry about whether my children have enough contact with the natural world. All I did was go to the library and casually pick up a copy of The Last Child in the Woods. Just a few chapters in and I am experiencing the same panic paralysis as I did after watching An Inconvenient Truth. The book is talking about how the media and schools and families are teaching young people to avoid 'direct experience in nature'. So where my brother and I might have been building dams in the stream or climbing trees 30 years ago (did I really just write 30? oh I'm old) now they are more likely to play indoors or in 'safe' environments like playgrounds because meadows and woodlands are shrinking as urban and suburban areas expand, and if you add in the regulations and litigation, basically today's kids aren't having the same unstructured play in natural environments. Page 44 and the author is now listing mental health issues linked to nature deficit etc, you get the picture. And I suddenly remembered how I'd taken an intern out on a story once in the long-gone days when I had a job. It was mid summer in England - a beautiful day; warm, blue sky - and we were driving down these pretty country lanes in Surrey. Sadly we were covering the stabbing of some poor mother but that was part of the story, part of the shock, that a woman with a toddler could be attacked in this apparent rural idyll where crime was virtually non-existent. The sunshine lit up the fields of bright yellow oil seed rape on either side of us. There were foxgloves growing tall out of hedges and rays shone through the fresh green beech leaves of the overarching trees, the road was dappled in midday sun. It was the kind of day that would make me want to rush outside and have a picnic in some tall grass. But my intern from South London was telling me how the whole place gave him the creeps - there was too much space, it was all too quiet. He said he'd feel much safer on the estates in Peckham. It was a real eye opener. And the question is, where does that leave our shrinking natural environment when his generation become it's custodians? So this weekend I hardly took my boots off. We were weeding and composting and meeting spiders and worms in the garden. Then we discovered a new nature spot just over the Golden Gate Bridge accessible down a one way track. Oli struggled to take a breath as the wind whipped off the Pacific but he smiled anyway. We found some shelter and Max jumped in puddles and picked tight round cones off a pine tree. Then I spotted some strange looking mushrooms and started wondering if the area had any resident mountain lions and realised I was just the kind of mother who was steering her children away from free play in the countryside as my book describes. Luckily, to counter balance my aforementioned panic I am sharing my life with someone who is an expert in breathing deeply and diverting morbid thoughts of the apocalypse into more productive ideas for change. Together we discussed setting up something called Get Muddy where we'd get sponsorship from some benign foundation and find a field and supervise all these urban kids just getting muddy in an unsupervised kind of way. I got all excited about it and googled getmuddy.com to find it, and all it's variations were taken by 4x4 clubs - the very antithesis of what I was planning. A little bruised I am thinking up my next plan of attack but now my worry is that it might go the same way as my brilliant idea for a biodegradable toothbrush - still brilliant, but still just an idea.