Voices from the river

Voices from the River: Thank Mom for outdoor inspiration

By Shauna Stephenson

Let’s be honest for a sec: Raising outdoor kids is hard work.

It’s exhausting and dirty, sometimes disgusting.

It is not always perfect. It is not always successful. It does not look like an REI ad where everyone is always clean and smiling.

True, we need those moms more than ever these days. Kids aren’t nearly as connected with nature as they used to be. But finding that balance can be really hard.

My eldest turns 6 this week, and my running list of memories from those six years is dotted with outdoor adventures. She’s gotten tall and wiry lately, and soon her blonde hair will bleach out and you won’t be able to discern the freckles from the mud speckles as another Montana summer is upon us. She will spend her days wallowing piglet-style in the irrigation ditch, making mud pies, clogging up my drains in the bathtub and generally having the time of her life.

But as much as she’s an outdoor kid, she can also be a “Don’t make me go! I never want to go [insert your outdoor recreation of choice here] again!” Meltdown. Cry and scream. Kick. Convulse. Play dead. “Oh, that kid,” kind of kid.

I often think of my own mother in these moments and wonder how she was able to work a full set of night shifts in the ER, raise three daughters and still have the energy to pack up and take us all camping every summer. These moments make me realize how hard it is for moms, or dads for that matter, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, neighbors, whomever is on that front line of chasing them outdoors over-and-over. For the love of pete go play outside!

These are the people we should thank in our lives, the saviors of cooped up souls, the air traffic control of excess energy.

For me, these past six years haven’t been perfect. More like a series of hard-learned-lessons.

Things like:

  • Don’t push them too hard.
  • Set them up for success.
  • Take time to play.
  • Let them explore and discover and roam.
  • Embrace chaos and be patient.

There are also the lesser but equally important lessons. Things like:

  • Cheetos mixed with enough spit and boogers is as good as insect repellent.
  • If you’re in a tough spot and need to lighten things up, try farts. Real, fake or even just the word = fun for the whole family.
  • Milk Duds placed along a trail are an inspiring pick-me-up after rolling around, crying in the dirt.
  • Deer poop looks like Milk Duds.

We don’t live in the days where you could turn kids loose to run feral in the hills, setting food and water outside the door should they get hungry. It takes effort and attention and love and patience and snacks — so many snacks — to inspire the outdoor experience many of us were privileged enough to live growing up.

And for that effort, from all of us who have benefitted from it, passed it on, and for all of us who will: Thanks for hanging in there.

Shauna Stephenson is the national communications director at Trout Unlimited and lives in Pony, Montana.

By Shauna Stephenson.