I am writing this for all those parents wondering what to do in these final three weeks of summer with their kids. Research has shown that the best experiences to promote kids and teen’s mental health are outings in the natural world. Summer is one of the best times in the northern hemisphere for outdoor adventures. I have followed this advice myself, but it is not always easy. Let me tell you about one such experience.
One summer, while visiting Prince Edward Island with my kids, I decided to break up the week with a kayaking trip to a seal colony. It was about 10 minutes after I had gotten everyone out of bed at 6 a.m. when the complaining began.
“It’s too early.”
“Don’t seals sleep?”
“Have we had a vote on this?”
I am sure every parent has endured these kinds of complaints at least once per week over the course of their childrearing years. If you are past these years, you are likely smiling while you’re reading this. If you’re not, I hope you’re not looking for any great insight from me.
What I think you’ll see by the end of this short story from my family is the importance of persisting with a plan that you know is a positive one.
Once we arrived at the kayaking point, we were separated into kayaks with about four other people, but the youngest in the group, other than my kids, were the guides. The guides told my kids that this would be fun and that they would see lots of seals. One guide took my oldest son with him and another took his younger brother. My daughter came with me.
We paddled out into the warm water of the Northumberland Strait. About two kilometres out, we were instructed to stop and to stay very still. After a very few minutes, small grey heads broke the calm surface of the water and looked around. One moved toward a kayak and stared at my son. My son’s eyes were as round as the seal’s: one blonde head, and one grey, both curious.
There were no complaints for the entire three hours, but the minute we got back into the car, someone whined about being hungry and someone else wanted to go back to our cottage and the beach there. I was more than a little dismayed.
Two months after that, it was September. I went in to check on someone’s bedtime progress only to find my young son, sitting on his bed, looking through photographs. It seemed as if every photograph in the house was on his bed. Before I could open my mouth, an older brother and sister decided they would collaborate on the situation.
“What are you doing, Nathan?”
“I don’t have to go to bed until he cleans up.”
Nathan frowns and says, “I’m looking for a picture of me in a kayak for school. I have to talk about a great thing I did this summer and then, in a week, write one page about it. I need a picture.”
His older sister starts to look: “Oh, yeah, that was the best time!”
Then his brother: “I’ll see if there’s a picture of you with that seal. That was great!”
I am so overcome with surprise that I just have to say, “I thought you all hated that part of the trip. You complained about how early you had to get up, how hungry you were – you complained a lot.”
All three heads turned to look at me…and then at each other. Three shrugs, three eye rolls and then one statement from the oldest: “And your point is?”
So, my message is: when you know you’ve made the correct plan, persist gently and take pictures. For all the hunger and fatigue that was expressed, the final pictographic record tells the tale.