October 23, 2006

Childhood Experiences

I have come to accept and realize that Serona and I parent in a way to encourage our children to have a lot of varying experiences. It is important to us and it is either a result of or a basis for some of the choices and decisions we make for our family. I don't think we ever really sat down and said "We want our kids to have a wide range of experiences" I think we just naturally lived it out and made conscious choices to accomplish that - so that is more a result of our choices than the basis for them.

First I want to set the record straight that I believe majority of parents give their kids lots of varying experiences. We just all tend to choose different types of things to do with our kids. It is just that we tend to do a variety of things all the time and tend do things people don't think of doing with really small children. It is more a rule than an exception for us. This comes at other expenses to be sure. We have less time to dedicate to our home and yard and wish we spent more time improving those, we spend a lot of time in the car, we don't watch much TV, the kids only get to be in one activity at a time (one child per season, not one activity for each child), and we are on the move a lot.

As a family we do many activities that most families with small children do. We go to parks, playgrounds, beaches, swimming pools, play organized sports (only one at a time though), play ball in the yard and fly kites. We do a lot of things that many families with small children do, we take hikes, we walk through nature preserves, we take roadtrips and vacations, we bike together, go to the zoo, go apple picking and we go to the gym together.

We also do many things that other people maybe do once in awhile but we tend to do them all the time. We go to museums a lot, several times a month, we frequent historical sites (we wear time period clothing when we go), we visit the arboretum several times a month (often weekly in the summer), we hike up mountains (and yes the kids walk), the kids go rock climbing, we take several hour long drives just to sightsee or do random things like drive to the next state just because, they hold tarantulas and wear snakes around their neck (both were very tame and we were at a nature preserve), have opportunities to feed and learn to care for all sorts of animals, ride camels and horses, take trolley rides, walk to our downtown area (about a mile) often enough that it is not unusual, we go on frog hunts, look for random places to stop and enjoy, camp in a tent, go to Scottish and Irish festivals, and we visit farms (historical, working, elk, dairy, and others).

We also do a few things that people don't think little children can or should do but our kids enjoy or atleast do just fine at. We work on political campaigns as a family, they have gone to caucuses and to see politicians speak, they have shaken hands with Norm Coleman (our senator), Tim Pawlenty (our governor), our congressman, Ralph Nader and Laura Bush. They have been at picnics with our local state representatives. We have taken them to the capitol several times including visits to their representatives. We've gone door knocking, lawn sign distributing, worked in campaign headquarters, to political rallies, marched in parades and done sign waving in a cold Minnesota November. They come with us when we vote and they've heard about the whole process since they were infants. They have seen President Bush speak in person twice and been right up front for one of them and for when Laura Bush spoke here as well. They have been to hear Ralph Nader speak (Rhiannon twice) as well as other politicians and they were well behaved.

We have taken the kids to Star Wars conventions and midnight movie openers in full costume. We've taken them to plays and concerts and book signings (that were not specifically for kids). We have spent countless hours in locations on field trips geared for "older kids" that our children really enjoyed, we drove to South Dakota to visit Laura Ingalls Wilder home while they were still young. The list goes on and on.

This summer we were extremely fortunate and blessed and took two family vacations. One to Walt Disney World and another to Southern California. In addition Rhia and I took a trip to NYC. This is not normal nor will it likely ever happen again in the same summer but it was an exceptional and a wonderful summer! At first I was hesitant to take the kids to Walt Disney World wanting to wait until they were all older and could remember it but it was worth it and I am glad we went now. They still talk about it in detail (even Sirah) and it has become a part of them that I believe they will remember atleast in fragments and positive ways. When in NYC Rhia even got to go to her first Broadway show and dinner at the View (thanks to her grandparents).

So what is the push for all these experiences? And what is the cost? We have managed much of these experiences financially through memberships to locations (some purchased others given as gifts) which we pay once and then use over and over again. We are a family that memberships really pay for as we generally pay them off after two or three visits and then use them many times over after that. The other costs are an occasional tired child, or a missed nap and sometimes a squabble or two. But the costs pale in comparison to the benefits our kids are experiencing.

What is the driving force behind all this? There are a few things we want our children to grow up with: a deep appreciation for God's creation and all it's beauty, a commitment to good stewardship of our earth (which first requires an appreciation for it), a solid understanding of where they have come from and where others have come from (an appreciation for history), a love of the arts and all that is beautiful (music, art, poetry, etc), a commitment to and an ability to be good citizens (thus all the politics). I suppose since those are the end goals (among others) we are trying to give them experiences to help along that process.

However, it is not all us, much of it comes from our past childhood experiences. Both of us had parents that were committed to giving us a variety of experiences whether or not we appreciated them at the time. Recently I received an email from my FIL in reference to some pictures I sent them last night. He writes:

"...Where was the camel--California? I see you are abusing the kids again
making them go to a stupid apple farm--I think Serona needs therapy--he is
reenacting his childhood's most dreaded memories..."

To put it in context he is referring to Serona in his tween and early teens when mom and dad kept taking them to hopelessly uncool places (like arboretums and apple farms) and he would use unkind words to express his feelings (like stupid and abuse and boring and so on). Serona's dad is getting a kick out of how we are "dragging" our kids to all these same places that were so unfair and unkind to him as a child. They also mentioned it on their summer visit when we all went to the arboretum together. It is a rather fun inside joke that I am sharing because it demonstrates that this is not just our desire for our kids but has been passed down generationally. We both had parents committed to getting us to experience a wide variety of things even if they were not popular childhood destinations.

I remember growing up and frequently visiting New York City with my mother. My father often came with us but not always, sometimes just mom would do it. She would pack all of us from the time we were little and still in strollers and take us on the bus and train and subways into the city so we could experience it. Christmas in Manhattan is still a very fond memory for me and I miss it. I remember going to Macy's and waiting on line for Santa, visiting the Cabbage Patch when it opened, being awed by FAO Schwartz, ice skating in Rockfeller Center under the tree, all the amazing windows, St. Patrick's cathedral, climbing up into the Statue of Liberty, the top of the empire state building, Broadway shows, the rockettes, and how beautiful NYC looks in the snow. My mother took four young kids into the city and she even took my friends with us. Her willingness to do this helped me not grow up scared but rather smart of the city. She also drove us for what felt like forever (about an hour) to the Hamptons so we could spend time on "real" beaches where she grew up and see the little tourist towns and fall in love with the ocean where it was less crowded and we really could boogie board better. She took us to Sagamore Hill and other historical sites and I know Serona's parents did the same for him.

I share all this because as you grow up and try to figure out what you want to share with your children you realize how much of it is your own childhood experiences and memories. Serona and I were blessed with parents who wanted us to experience so much and gave us so many opportunities. The opportunities were driven by what was available to us where we were living at the time but the underlying philosophy is the same and has passed on generation to generation.

So is it really any big surprise that I am a field trip coordinator for our homeschool support group or that I write posts like "Why Do Field Trips"? In a way it was simply meant to be. I hope my children and their children are able to pass on so many wonderful and new experiences to their children and grandchildren. I am thankful for the opportunity that we have to do so ourselves and we try to make the most of it.

Go out, explore and enjoy the world with your kids,

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