Sunday, May 29, 2011

The battle of the birds, angry or otherwise

There's a disturbing, salacious temptation I've battled lately as a father.
Part of me wants to let my kids play video games all day.
That's not exactly true of the girls, though they are as quiet as mice, too, when they sit at the computer and play games from online sites like Nick Jr. and Disney Jr.
(The Jr. part strikes me as funny; is there an adult version of the Disney Channel? And does it involve Silvermist, one of Tinker Bell's buddies? Cause I totally have a crush on her.)
But there's no consequence when the girls are told to leave the computer. They go and play, like a 4-year-old should, with Barbies or some plastic crap they got at McDonald's.
Jayden unleashes fury.
Now Jayden is a force of nature anyway. He's a soon-to-be-6-year-old who wears his heart on the outside, usually stitched to a Lighting McQueen shirt. He reacts and overacts, so much so that he should have no problems getting his own news talk show when he's older.
And when I (finally) do put down Angry Birds or Words with Friends and yank him away from the screen, he fusses and fumes and starts hounding us to watch TV. My wife the other day said she wishes he had an off switch.
Only when I suggest that we, say, go for a walk, or go ride our bike on a nature trail outside of Greeley, he always agrees.
Jayden loves the outdoors and nature and animals. He would spend every day at the zoo. Whenever he sees a creek (or a 'crick' as some of you say), he inches forward despite my protests until he's deep in the mud. He's always asking me what kind of bird or bug that is, and when he sees a snake, whether it's at the zoo, in person or in a picture, he says, "Daddy I think you're gonna have to come see this. Look. Your favorite."
He is, in other words, exactly like me.
I struggle to maintain a balance between the electronic and the ethereal, which, in my case, means the outdoors. I love video games too. Technology is great because it's cheap entertainment (Angry Birds: 99 cents), portable and In The Comfort Of Your Own Home! Yet the outdoors renews me in a way that Angry Birds cannot. Those moments when all the pigs die as if I've dropped a hydrogen bomb on their asses are all too fleeting. There are no fleeting moments when I'm running or hiking or biking along the trail. It just IS.
The trouble, of course, is that getting out there takes energy, and that's not only true when you're running or hiking. It takes more energy than ever for two reasons.
The first is these places are harder and harder to find. It's already been written by several million that when I was a kid, we had creeks and woodsy areas within a bullfrog's jump of my backyard. But it's TRUE. It hits me. It hit me when I was reading a simple children's book to Jayden the other night, "Crawdad Creek." The book talks in clover-scented-Lysol language about a place behind a girl's house where wildlife was abundant, where crawdads paddled in creeks and deer frolicked in the meadows (dammit, now I'm doing it). Jayden constantly interrupts me whenever I read it to him, and I think it's because he's fascinated with a place like this. He's never really seen one. He's seen dozens of parks, even special neighborhood ones with neat places to see wildlife, but he's not seen a true, wild place close to his home, where he could go and explore anytime he wanted. They do not exist, at least where I live, and I fear that's not only because of Colorado's arid climate. They're getting swallowed up by us. They're getting fenced and plowed and purchased.
So I have to find these places, or at least places that are (currently) protected, and I have to gather him in a car and get him the right clothes and teach him AGAIN to tie his shoes and wrestle his bike in the back and get him some juice and have a snack ready and put on sunscreen and then watch him constantly (and that's just if it's him and not the girls). And then we have to drive there.
The second reason? Well, I have to initiate it, since he still really can't do a whole lot on his own. He can ride his bike like a champ, probably for 10 miles if I let him, but he can't go 100 yards without me having to remind him to watch where he's going before he runs into a fence post. He can say a river is beautiful, but I have to catch him from leaning too far over the rickety bridge so he doesn't fall in. He can walk 100 miles, but I have to walk 100 more to make sure he's safe.
It's easier to let him spend that time playing Angry Birds. It's fun for me too. I like Angry Birds. And raising the kids takes so much energy. The temptation is there to let him drown in video games. He would if I let him.
Saturday's ride along the trail near Greeley
But that's one world. He deserves both. So do the girls. So do I. And every day, it seems, I'm clawing my way out of the temptation to give in, exhausted but loving the sun when it finally falls on my face.

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