Lessons on a walk

One of the best/worst parts about living in Riyadh is that women are not allowed to drive.  It has the frustration of not being able to get things done in the timely fashion that we are all used to in the U.S.  I can’t just pop over to the store to pick up milk and eggs.  I can either wait until my husband is available to drive to the store (or ask him to stop by), call for motor pool (a service provided by the embassy), or walk to the corner store which takes about 15-20 minutes to get to.  Add in a walk to the ATM that sometimes works, and you’ve got a solid hour walk.  Please note, that one must time their trips to the store to make sure it’s not during prayer time which is when all stores close for about 30 minutes.  I have not timed it right more than once!

So now that I have my little one and the weather has cooled, I have decided on walking as my preferred mode of transportation for basic food items.  It has also given me the opportunity to take William outside for a good portion of time to see the trees, feel the breeze, take in the sights, etc., but I have also happened upon another benefit.

I talk to him the whole way.  I carry him instead of putting him in the stroller largely because the walkways here are a bit choppy, but it has the added benefit of having him close to me while I speak.  At this age (5-6 months), it doesn’t really matter what you say to them, as long as you are talking to them.

However, I took this opportunity to talk to him about his world around him, a desert.  I spoke about the definition of a desert, water scarcity, soil structure, plant adaptations, animal adaptations, temperature fluctuations, sand storms, whatever I could think of.  Do I think that he retained any of it? Of course not.  I do believe it helped me organize my thoughts.  I’m gearing up for a lifetime of teaching him about the natural world.  By talking to him out loud on subjects that we will one day be actually having conversations, I am able to test my explanations, identify what I need to brush up on, and learn again myself.   Am I explaining things clearly? Would a young child be able to understand what I’m saying? Is there an experiment or hands on activity that I could use to drive home the point?  At what age should I broach this subject or that subject?

Right now, he’s a sounding board who likes my inflections and funny faces.  He’s interested in me talking and singing, touching things (trying to eat things), look at what is happening in the world around him, and sometimes even smell stuff.  I love it.

The touch of things

As a 5 month old, there are limited things that you can do with them in nature.  However, he is interested in touching everything (and putting everything in his mouth too).  So my focus for this current stage of William’s life is to engage his senses (especially touch and smell) and show him that he doesn’t need to fear new things.  I’m sure you’re thinking, well, just take him to the woods!  Hear the birds, sit in the moss, let him look up into the huge oak trees!

Well, I do not actually live on the U.S. East Coast where I grew up right now, where nature is decently readily available, especially on the scale of a little one.  We live in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia right now, so full on nature is a bit harder to find.  During the 120 degree F summers, going outside for my infant was significantly more limited (like for only a couple minutes in the morning or when moving from one air conditioned place to another).  It’s a bit hot most of the year, so irrigation is the key to the survival of most of the life here.  I also don’t get to far past a pedestrian life here (being that driving isn’t really an option for me in this country)

However, life on the Diplomatic Quarter (DQ) has reminded me of an important lesson.  Nature isn’t just in the American West, the Serengeti, or the Amazon, it can be found in the most unlikely of places.  You just need to know how to look and the desire to do so.  We have parks, date palm trees, a smattering of birds, rocks, and the occasional feral cat (we call them wadi cats here and actually there are a lot of them). Before I continue, please know that I am not having my child pet these cats, just letting him know that they exist (“hey baby, do you see the cat?”).  Happily, I begin this blog at a time of year when it’s actually quite beautiful out.  No humidity (ever really), 77 degrees F/ 25 degrees C, and dust is minimal. So outside we go!

His world is small and though there is so much I want to show him, I need to remember his age and what he can grasp at this young age.  I take him outside throughout the day. We sit in our backyard, which gives him time to look up at the sky, see the plants, feel the shade, and once he even got to feel a little rain!  I let him feel different kids of leaves, bark, and rocks, repeating this daily to increase his familiarity.  I have had the pleasure to see how he has moved from me putting his hands on a leaf, to reaching with one hand, to grabbing with two, and to focusing on the leaves with a furrowed brow and pouted lips!

I also take him on walks daily through the pathways of the neighborhood and occasionally on the wadi (a trail system that encircles the DQ).  There he can feel breezes, look at the trees as we go by, hear the running water of the fountains, and really just take in whatever he can.  I try to point things out to him as I see them, even if I know he won’t see it or understand what I’m saying…eventually!  I love watching his eyes get big as he tries to see everything around him!

So that’s my plan for now, exposing him to even small bits of nature everyday.  I will keep reevaluating as he gets older- he’s only 5 months- so stay tuned!

Introduction, why am I writing this?

5 months ago, my life changed and it will never be the same. I’m so grateful.  Mike and I welcomed William Edwin into the world, and man, I love that kid.

Having a son made me reflect on how I was raised, what I valued in my upbringing, and though many parts made me who I am, nature has been a keystone to my lifelong happiness.

From the very start, my dad made it a point to teach me the value of nature (from personal and global).  He brought me into the woods every chance he could get and taught me everything he knew.  We spent countless Saturday mornings discussing topics from food webs to the dental structure of shrews to erosion to animal migrations and beyond.  Not only did I learn technical aspects about how the environment works, but I also gained a deep love and need for nature.

As a new mom, I want Mike and me to show William the importance of “outside”, and allow him to internalize what so many already know. “The earth has its own music for those who will listen.” ~George Santayana

This blog will be chronicling how I attempt to balance living in today’s world, full of so many distractions, while teaching my son about the joys, mysteries, and truths of nature.  I don’t pretend that I know it all, but I do hope that writing this will help me clear out the distractions myself and focus on this for him.