At 70 degrees and partly cloudy, the weather is perfect for the walk home from my kids' school. As I push our stroller past the carpool lane, my two school-age boys rush up to greet me and their younger brother. They simultaneously launch into rapid-fire descriptions of their day as I steer the stroller back toward the bus stop. Just past the school, I notice the sidewalk change from gray to splotchy purple. "Hey, look, guys," I say, pointing up. "Has this tree always been here?"
"Mulberries!" my oldest exclaims. We each gather a handful of the sweet berries and enjoy a spontaneous snack as we continue home.
At the bus stop, the two older boys scramble up their favorite climbing tree while the three-year-old and I inspect an army of ants devouring a cracker on the sidewalk. After a few minutes, I call out, "Bus!" The bigger boys race to grab their backpacks while their younger brother chants "bus, bus, bus, bus" while dancing gleefully.
With nearly two years of experience, all three of my boys are old hats at riding the bus. They greet the bus driver and then settle into a seat at the front - they know that I won't let them ride in the upper section at the back of the bus (even if it's more fun back there) because I can't fit our stroller up the stairs, and they don't even argue about it anymore. I don't have to constantly remind them to stay in their seats or to use quiet voices, but we do still have a daily battle over who gets to pull the cord to let the driver know we're ready to get off....(As wonderful as my boys are, they are not perfect...)
The three-year-old opts to walk the rest of the way home, so I push the stroller with one hand while helping him balance on the short brick wall between the sidewalk and the grass. The other two boys weave in and out of the trees and bushes lining the city parking lot we're passing as if they are tigers on the prowl.
The six-year-old stops short. "Is it fall?" he asks, pointing to the leaves scattered on the sidewalk and grass.
"No, those are magnolia leaves," I say. "You see that tree there with the big white flowers? That's a magnolia, and for some reason, magnolias lose a lot of their leaves in the spring instead of the fall."
"You know a lot about trees," my seven-year-old comments.
"Not a lot," I disagree. "Just some."
"Can you pick me one of the flowers?" he asks.
"No, that tree is too tall - I can't reach. But remember that other tree with the limb that hangs really low? That's a magnolia too. Maybe we can find a flower to pick there."
"But that's in someone's yard. You always say we shouldn't pick flowers in people's yards."
I nod. "True, but I don't think they'll mind if we pick one flower just this once."
When we've made our way to the magnolia, I point out a flower that my son can reach, but just as he's plucking it, the owner of the house pulls into his driveway. Of course, the one time I let them pick a flower out of someone's yard...
"Sorry!" I call out to the homeowner, and thankfully, he shrugs.
"It's not like I don't have 200 more," he says.
"They're irresistible," I explain.
He nods, "I think I'll pick a few and take them in my house too."
As we turn up the street toward our house, the boys stop to climb "king rock," while I hold the precious magnolia flower. It smells delicious.
There's been some friendly discussion in the greenosphere recently about which is greener - the city, the country, or the 'burbs, and just as Jenn feels defensive when people claim that urban developments are much greener than the suburbs, I get riled up when people say that they need to live in the country (or the suburbs) to feel connected to nature, and especially when they say how wonderful big backyards are for children to develop a love of nature.
I've written before about my worry that my urban kids aren't getting enough exposure to nature. Well, upon further reflection, I'm revolting from that thought. A big backyard does not a nature lover make, and even having nature-loving parents does not guarantee that a child will grow up to love the great outdoors. My younger brother, for example, can't stand to spend more than a few minutes outside - even though we both grew up in the same house with the same backyard and the same garden-loving mother.
No matter where we live, all we can do is fill our kids' childhoods with as much nature as we can stuff in, and then hope for the best. Here in the city, I try my best every day to introduce my kids to the wonder I see in nature, and I have my fingers crossed that they'll see the wonder too. So far, I think they get it.