When Rough Play Rules the Day

Nature strikes back!
boy swinging on rope swing looking behind him
@ Can Stock Photo / sabphoto

So you’re reading this because you’re excited about the thought of being an eco-parent. I get it. Encourage your kids to get outdoors, and get some alternative viewpoints on various parenting issues: sounds a little edgy, progressive, and really, really, fantastic.

You may even attempt to incorporate these ideas into your life. Slowly, you coax your children away from video games, you introduce more green into their diet without them noticing, and before you know it, your family feels more alive and connected to the earth. But be warned: one day you’ll get a phone call. It will happen.

When the call comes…

Perhaps the call will come just as you return from biking your child to school and are taking a few moments to enjoy your newly planted garden. And it will interrupt your heart swelling with pride that your eco-ways are having a positive effect on your family, and instantly shatter that perfect early-morning memory of watching your naturalist son befriending a crow on the school playground.  

When the call comes, it may go something like this:

“Hi Ms. Christensen.”

“Yes?”

“This is the resource teacher from your son's school.”

“MmHmm… and?”  

“You need to get him. There has been an accident.”

Not Again 

And your eco-utopia takes a bit of a hit. All you did was encourage him to be confident in the outdoors, to use what the earth provides when playing. But to throw sticks at each other while swinging in an attempt to perfect their outdoor survival skills? Really?

Of course the rigorous training protocol every lunch hour ensured that he and his friends had deadly aim. Aim enough to hit my son. In the eye. Sigh. At this point, you may, like me, question your parenting abilities and wonder whether or not this whole outdoor play movement is worth it.

Driving back to the school, I play the unfolding events in my mind. I have been called enough times over the years to know that there would probably be some blood and a bruise, but usually it’s never as bad as the school treats it. And the explanations that emerge from my children as to the reason why they had to partake in such a risk-taking activity are always entertaining and make the trip back to school almost worth it.  

But mom...I HAD to...

But mom...YOU said ...

But mom...HE did it first...

BUT...I was not really, fully prepared for what I saw when I picked my son up that day.

The amazing eye

What's amazing about the eye is that it has the most nerve endings of any part of the body (I learned this from the specialist at the hospital) and so an eye injury is the most painful of experiences. Not only was there blood, redness, and bruising on my child's face, but it was evident when I picked him up, that my little survival man was in a lot of pain.  

Probably more than the time he fell out of the tree, or off his bike, or ran into the patch of stinging nettles. More than when he hooked himself with the fishing hook, or when he fell into the icy northern creek. This one definitely took the outdoor adventure award of his lifetime, thus far.

“Can you open it?” I asked him.

“No,” he quietly exhaled as he tried to restrain his emotions in front of his friends.

Sitting in the emergency room, once again, my mind went through how tricky it would be for him to be a conservation officer or a forest ranger with one eye. And how our lives would have to change. I put my arm around him, as he continued to comment that everything looks different with only one eye versus two, which led into a conversation about what peripheral vision was. Like his mother, it was obvious that he distracts himself with endless talking. Luckily, I was also in need of a distraction.

When the nurse triaged him, he was put second. He was told it was because he was so handsome, but after the experience, I know it was because it was that serious. Not having to wait long, we were called in to see the doctor. Barely able to open his eye, she did manage to insert drops to freeze the injury.  

What I saw made me want to throw my eco-lifestyle choices into the recycle bin.  

His iris was filling up with blood. Like a thermometer, it rose closer to his pupil and I flushed hot at the sight. With special fluorescent drops inserted, I was then shown a large scratch on his eyeball, enough to make any parent nauseous. Taking a breath under the disguise of trying to keep my son breathing, I waited for test after test to be complete.  

Surrendered to oh-so-sterile hospital care once again, I distracted myself by studying the many others passing by our room. People of all ages—some obviously outdoor people, but most not—surrounded us with various stages and types of injury. Waiting in the room for a diagnosis, I needed to convince myself that an accident such as this could have easily happened to anyone, eco-parent or not. It could have happened when two kids excitedly flailed their arms after they won the next level of the newest video game, or tripping on a curb, or running with a pencil at school or...  

Nature strikes back 

Maybe my eco-parenting had nothing to do with these accidents. Maybe people truly living life are prone to accidents. And it’s within those accidents that we develop character. My son, at this point, definitely was a character, and as he is hired by yet another person in the neighbourhood to weed their gardens and mow their lawn, I'm thinking his character, one eye or not, would manage just fine.

After the doctor finished the tests, she announced that the eyeball is actually the fastest part of the body to heal and he would be fine in five days. The bleeding would stop shortly. That's it: five days. Unbelievable.  

But what was truly unbelievable about this whole experience, what makes being an eco-child so amazingly unique in this world, is the story his friend announced to him when he returned to school.

The crow that he fed his crust to everyday at lunch, the one who greeted him every day at school and that I had witnessed that fateful morning, dancing around my son, had actually rallied his crow-friends and dive-bombed the boy that threw the stick at my son's eye, the very next day.

No kidding. I was flabbergasted too.  

So perhaps when you contemplate whether or not to encourage your child to connect and empathize with the real outdoor world, know that those that live around us, asking for nothing, but supporting our every breath, are silently watching our children. Their children. And they have their backs.