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Lions and Tigers and Kids: Get Outside

Note to Readers: We’re happy to feature our first Guest Post today. It’s written by Traverse City resident Steve Booher, who is one of Jay’s best and oldest friends. Steve, his wife Anna and their two kids moved to Traverse City approximately one year before we did, and we’re very grateful for all they’ve done to help us integrate into the community. We’ve always enjoyed Steve’s quick wit and keen insights and we’re excited about this opportunity to share them with you.

Sometimes I feel like I’m raising cats. My son’s bathroom looks, and smells, like a litter box while my daughter’s bedroom is strewn with odds and ends – it’s like a kitten militia broke into the Dollar Tree on Munson Ave and is using her room as a stash house. Courageous and curious; I’m reminded of the time I found my precocious 2 year old daughter perched on top of the refrigerator, purring with excitement. Pouncing and playful; I picture my son sprawling for a ground ball to his left and then gracefully adjusting his body as he makes the toss to first base.

But I’m not a cat person. Cats, to me, are stuffy noses and itchy eyes; arrogance strutting and preening on four legs.

My family had cats growing up. Bogey, Bogey part deux, Charlie and Cindy. I didn’t like them – and they didn’t like me. Charlie would attack me, fangs bared, as I headed downstairs to watch Saturday morning cartoons. It was like a scene from a Pink Panther movie where Inspector Clouseau gets ambushed by his martial arts-loving manservant Cato Fong. It happened so frequently that I resorted to rolling myself up in my comforter for protection, sliding down the stairs and hopping to the family room. I felt like a lion trainer outwitting his feline foe.

I know that there are people out there who like cats – who love cats. I understand that about as well as I understand the physics behind time travel: Completely unfathomable. But there is one thing I understand about cats; they’re either indoor cats or outdoor cats.

The indoor cat has been declawed and learns to rely on its human caretaker for food. It snuggles peacefully on its human’s lap and enjoys the tranquility of a cozy life. The outdoor cat, on the other hand, with claws intact scours the neighborhood for adventure. Sure, the outdoor cat can always run home for a bowl of store bought food, but the scavenger instinct remains. The outdoor cat can trust that milk or water will be left on the stoop, but it learns to become self reliant. It learns to expand its comfort zone and seek new experiences.

It’s much the same with kids. There are indoor kids and there are outdoor kids.

I’m striving to raise outdoor kids. Granted, I don’t want my son to walk in the door with a mouse in his mouth, but I do want to see the bumps and bruises that serve as reminders of a day well-played, a day taken advantage of. I urge my daughter to head outside, find a few friends and create a game from their collective imaginations. Sure, there are arguments. There are tussles. There are moments when someone figuratively, or literally, takes the ball and goes home. The tears and disagreements are not only part of life, but they are soon forgotten as feelings are mended and a new game begins.

The indoor kid, alone with his or her electronics, is sheltered from the peer altercations and kept safe from the challenges, sometimes cruelties, of creating relationships. But what does he learn? To take his iPhone and go…where? He’s already home.

“Go outside!”

“Find something to do!”

“Your friends aren’t home? Well, go to the playground and make new ones!”

Those phrases will forever be etched in the minds of my children. Be active! Sweat, bleed, bruise, laugh and cry. Exercise aside, the outdoor kid gains a sense of independence as he or she wanders further from the safe confines of home. Socially, he or she learns that life isn’t always fair. There are bullies, there is injustice, there are chaotic arguments, and there are long periods of silent solitude uninterrupted by the lights and sounds of the television. But they learn that there are compromises, solutions and that sometimes, well, you just don’t get your way.

There have been many times that I’ve been disappointed in myself as a parent; too many to recount here. When I find myself, my wife and our kids sitting in the same room, each submerged in our individual phones or watching the same Nickelodeon program for the 100th time, I feel that surge of angst and disappointment. We moved to Traverse City nearly two years ago for many reasons; one factor was the ability to raise our children as outdoor children.

Rain, snow or shine, there is a reason to get off the couch and head outside. Be it the beaches, the parks, the slopes; it’s all at our doorstep. Our goal is to get outside every day. The fantastic ski programs that we have right in town, the awesome trail systems that snake their way through the vast forests surrounding the city, and the refreshing waters of the bays are but a few resources at our disposal.

My wife and I have come to love northern Michigan. We love the opportunities this area affords our children that we didn’t have growing up. I hope they grow into adults who enjoy the freedom that nature offers. I hope they grow to appreciate the lessons they learned from playing with their friends; tag, baseball or taking on some obstacle course they created with objects laying around the garage. It’s not always easy to force them to head outside. Sometimes the magnetic draw of the television conquers my convictions. But I do try. Every day. I may dislike cats, but I love my outdoor kids.

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