By Rebecca Weigand
I am filled with awe and joy as I watch my daughter explore a tiny rivulet on our way through a little forest to our favourite farmer’s market. She splashes through it in her pink boots, again and again. Now finding a stick and tapping the water. Stirring up sand. Now crouching down, looking closely at the rocks. “Mommy, come see!” The walk down the hill and through the valley has taken about three times as long as it would have if she were in the stroller, and that’s the point (even if I sometimes have to remind myself of that).
I came to parenthood after a long teaching career, in which the more I learned about children and the world—and about the growing research on the importance of outdoor nature-based play—the more I yearned to simply take the kids outside and do nothing but what they wanted to do. That’s not how the school system works (yet). But now I get to do it as a parent.
After a long and doubt-filled wait to adopt, I have the gift this year of spending all day every day with an adventurous, silly, sweet, personality-filled two-(almost three-) year-old, coming to know and love her and build the attachment and trust that she needs to thrive. I have the opportunity to go to music classes and toddler yoga and to spend as many hours outside, in all weathers, as we want.
My daughter is happy splashing in puddles of all shapes and sizes, diving in snow, hugging trees, scooting on the scooter, hurtling up climbers at the park, chasing and being chased, laughing till she falls over, and hugging trees.
But I still find myself lamenting the loss of the perfect nature-based childhood I imagined for my daughter: We hear traffic and the ubiquitous fire and ambulance sirens of the city. I like living in an urban location, mainly because I like being car-free. But we constantly comment on the bad smells as waves of construction and vehicle fumes pass through my daughter’s little nose and lungs. A recent Nature of Things episode revealed that these bad smells are not just superficial and the air pollution in the downtown core is significant, and the impacts of being exposed to it from a young age are still unclear. As much as I’d wish it, my daughter is definitely not traipsing through a quiet meadow of flowers.
I am sad for what my daughter is missing today, for how much richer her outdoor play could be; for all the worms and frogs she doesn’t find; and I am sad for what she could miss in the years to come. The planet is facing runaway climate change and a host of related environmental and social crises caused by the exploitation of the Earth: widespread species extinction including the loss of so many insect species and numbers; soil degradation; plastic pollution; ocean collapse. I want her to have a relationship of gratitude and joy with the natural world. I want a healthy (or as healthy as possible) planet for her to live and grow on—not only physically but also emotionally, mentally, socially and spiritually.
I find myself imagining and wondering: What if all the parents joined the fight for climate action, beyond partisan politics or careers or ideas that we’re too zen to protest? What if we let go of the image of the consumer world we think we need to live in? What if we all acted to preserve a livable planet for our children and their children to thrive in?
If we all mobilized, we could create a very different legacy for future generations.