Last Saturday morning, Lori had the brilliant idea that the entire family should go fishing. At a park district a few miles from our house, grizzled – but not grumpy – old men teach newbies how to reel ‘em in and throw ‘em back.
It sounded great…’til Lori dropped the bombshell that we should divide and conquer. She would entertain Olivia at the playground while I took the boys to the pond.
I almost hit the curb as I muttered a four-letter F word – it was not “FINE” – before plastering a smile on my face as I pulled into the parking lot.
“It’ll be good for you,” she encouraged. “They don’t get to spend a lot of time with you outside.”
You see, I don’t do the outdoors.
I love reading about nature. Look me up any weekend and you’ll find my nose buried in the writings of Mary Oliver, John Muir, and Wendell Berry.
But to actually be in nature?
It takes a certain amount of planning for, psyching up, and then soldiering through to get me to do it.
A playground I can handle because there’s a rubber pad surrounded by concrete and only a smattering of trees in the distance. But a pond has, like, water and amphibians, not to mention fish and bugs. It is the perfect storm for my hyperactive immune system and longstanding neuroses. In fact, my allergist once remarked that she was surprised I ever stepped outside since I reacted to every kind of plant, tree and nut known to man. When a college crush once made the mistake of inviting me to a forest preserve for a seductive picnic, it ended early when I leaped from the picnic blanket, eyes already bloodshot from pollen – and upset the glasses of chardonnay and plates of chocolate-dipped strawberries – because I because I thought an ant was climbing up my leg.
It was a leaf.
She never called me again.
Maybe if I hadn’t almost drowned in a pond when I was a kid, or endured attacks from ginormous mosquitoes during our annual trips to Trinidad, I would have a better relationship with Mother Nature. But unlike Lori, who can spend hours tending to the garden or sleeping in our hammock, my happy time is in the library, surrounded by dead things that inspire ideas, not living things that can bite.
Nevertheless, the day was not about me. It was about raising the kids with a deep appreciation for the wondrous world that surrounds them, even if I couldn’t appreciate it myself.
“’C’mon gang,” I chirped as we made our way through the bushes. I could hear Olivia’s protests at being separated from her usual playtime buddy – moi – but they faded as we drew closer to the pond.
“Alrighty! Let’s get some stuff to put on the thingy – “
“Bait, Nana,” Nick supplied. “And we need a worm.”
“Right! Let’s do this!” Nick and Gabe both shot me a look suggesting I take it down a few notches. I shrugged, then signed us up for a small styrofoam container and 2 fishing poles.
“You have to cut it up into little pieces,” Nick said, as he examined the squirming mass inside the box.
“You going to smash them, Nana,” Gabe inquired.
“Can you just finish so we can get some fish,” Nick pleaded. “Last time with Mommy I caught 10.”
“Yeah,” Gabe added. “And I got 10 too”
“Really?” I tried to imagine casting the reel 10 times considering the hook – sans worm – was now hooked in my dreadlocks.
“Let’s see if we can get 11,” I encouraged, when we finally got our lines into the water.
Then we waited.
And freaking waited.
“How long does it usually take, Nick?”
He shrugged, fidgeting a bit in his seat. “It’s faster with Mommy.” He stood up and peered over the railing. “I bet I could just grab one.” He stared to climb over the railing to reach the smaller fish at the pond’s edge.
“Do you do that with Mommy?”
“Then don’t do it with me.”
My tone was harsher than I expected, but I was now hot, irritated, and ready to move on. Gabe decided that it would be a good time to practice gymnastics and started a parallel bars routine right next to his brother.
“Could you guys just – “
That would be Gabe’s head colliding with Nick’s elbow.
I raised my voice to cut through their crying. “SEE! This is what happens when – “
My thoughts were interrupted by the plaintive wail of my daughter, coming down the path in Lori’s football hold.
“We have to switch,” she announced, thrusting Olivia into my arms. “The parents are all crazy over there. And she does not want to do anything except spit on the ground and scowl.”
I soothed Olivia in my arms. “Well, she’s wet for one. And probably noshy since it’s 11…”
“There’s snacks in the car,” she answered sharply.
“Then I guess you’ll find us there,” I snapped in reply. I spun on my heel, leaving her to deal with the now whimpering boys. Sparing a glance over my shoulder, I saw her gather the boys into her arms, kissing each on the forehead, before resetting their rods and settling in. It looked so idyllic when she was doing it…
Safely ensconced in the air-conditioned car, I changed Olivia and dug out the snacks. We munched happily on granola as we head bobbed to Elmo, everything perfect in our hermetically sealed retreat. Twenty minutes later, the side door flew open and two enthusiastic boys bounded into the car.
“I caught 5 fish,” Nick beamed. “And Gabe caught 2!”
I smiled, genuinely happy for them. Then Lori leaned into the car and placed a gentle peck on my cheek.
As parents, we find happiness in radically different ways. I find mine when I compare notes with other parents, watching our children climb man-made structures. Lori finds hers when she trades observations with our kids, watching them navigate the natural world.
We’re yin and yang, our children centered between us. We play to our strengths, and support each other in our weaknesses.
That being said, she has a lot of heavy lifting ahead as we set off for a 4-day camping trip this weekend.
Fingers crossed, it’s a walk in the…park?