The woods

By on Oct 15, 2014 in North Park Village Nature Center, To Do With Kids, Uncategorized | 2 comments

I grew up in what looks to be the last generation guided by the principle of “be home for dinner.”  Shoo’d from the house to go play and come back later, we’d leave my parents to do the things parents do.  The boring things that allow kids the freedom to play until play time is done.  This was the last generation before the 24 hour news cycle saturated our culture with fear of the improbable: kidnappers, perverts, pedophiles. For me, those days were spent in the woods.  I grew up in an apartment complex comprised of clusters of apartments dotting a sea of parking lots, all cement except for a small park in the middle.  Just beyond the concrete, though, Indiana’s nature took over.  The apartment complex was carved out of an old woods, and the remnants of that woods still lined the edge of where we lived.  And that’s where I spent my childhood. The woods comprised of a single path that lead back to a creek, shallow and spanned by one fallen tree.  The path continued on, but it was understood that the younger kids stopped at this point, the creek our playground.  We would build little damns against the fallen tree, waiting and watching as the current slowly broke it apart.  We spent the summer building up the courage to cross the creek on the tree, straddling the log and scooting out further and further on our butts.  I’m not sure if I ever had the courage to stand up on the log and risk falling in the creek.  I wouldn’t be surprised if I never did; I was a bit of a weenie. Eventually as we got older we continued down the path.  I remembered not wanting to stray from the path into the surrounding thicket.  There were three trees down off the path that crossed at angles and formed a triangle; I was worried that triangle was actually a portal to another time.  Granted, I didn’t actually think that it was, but once the thought was in my head I wasn’t quite confident enough that it wasn’t to try my luck. So we would continue on down the path and loop around back to the end of the path where we found the holly land: a garbage dump.  Old shopping carts, chains, milk crates, bricks…there was nothing this place didn’t have, piled up thirty feet high and all free for the taking.  I can’t imagine this was an official garbage dump; it was probably started by the contractors that built the apartment complex as an easy way to haul away garbage and continued from there. I probably spent three years of my life there, from about age 9 when we moved to Colony Bay apartments to age 12 when my best friend moved away and I transitioned to watching sports and the magic of the wood faded.  I was surely remarkably dirty at all times and had any manner of squirmy things in my hair at any given moment.  I don’t remember running naked through the woods shouting “I’m a wood nymph, I’m a wood nymph,” but I wouldn’t put it past me.  I was a weird kid. In my mind, the woods was huge and thick, but I’ve already confirmed for myself that my memory of these sorts of things is a little suspect.  My wife and I went for a run when I went to visit my parents and part of that run took us through the old apartments.  “We’ll get a mile or two looping around the streets of the complex.  It’s a pretty big place,” I said confidently.  Turns out we got less than a half mile and that was with some effort, looping and doubling back.  So, I’m guessing the path into the woods was probably 100 feet long and the creek actually a drainage ditch, but who cares.  When you’re small it doesn’t take much to have an adventure. So when I took Rocky to the woodland area at the Nature Center, I was excited.  To be able to see my kids in the woods despite living in the city was something I didn’t think would be possible without driving out to the suburbs or beyond.  But here it was, three miles away and free to anyone.  Rocky led me down the walking path to the woodland play area, a clearing filled with all sorts of fun things: swings hanging from trees, a tree fort, a big pile of bricks, logs to climb – what more could you ask for.  It wasn’t huge, the clearing maybe the size of a football field – maybe more – before continuing on as a path through the wood. But to the under-5 crowd? Well, I can certainly imagine them coming back with their kids (because of course our kids will have to live in Chicago): “What the -” Lucy says to her brother as their kids run out ahead of them to climb a low-limbed tree. “This can’t be the right place.” Rocky scratches his head.  “The tree fort is way too low.  There couldn’t have only been three steps. I remember being able to look down on everyone.” “And it ends right there,” Lucy says, gesturing to where the play area tapers off and the rest of the path through the forest continues on.  “That’s…man.  Crazy” “For real.  Hey,” Rocky says, raising his voice....

Another Friday in the Forest

By on Oct 11, 2014 in Chicago, North Park Village Nature Center, Stay at Home Mom Days, To Do With Kids | 0 comments

Our plan, as I think I’ve mentioned in the past, is that our kids will attend a forest play based school on Fridays. This still is not approved but I guess there has been some steps forward. For now we are just meeting there on Fridays with some of the other families and letting the kids run and explore. We went this past Friday. The older two kids went with Grandma and Grandpa right around 8:45am. Jason and I came a little bit later with Veronica knowing that I wouldn’t last carrying her or standing for the 4-5 hours that the kids have typically been spending there. I bought some mini gourds at the farmers market and the kids started their day in the forest by playing find the gourds which were hidden in the forest by grandpa. When we got there we went for a walk with the other kids that were there towards the tall grass area. On the way the kids found a slug and were fascinated by it. There were two three year olds, Rocky who is 2 and a little bit and then Lucy who is almost 5. The four kids watched the slug move for probably about 30 minutes. If you’ve ever met my son you know that him sitting still for any amount of time is a big win. But if he is interested in something then there isn’t a problem usually. And apparently crawling slug fits the bill. We had a snack in the woods and then it was time to head back. My dad walked ahead of us and then told Lucy that he must have found “her” log in the woods. When she looked she found that her name had been carved into the bark. She spent some time running up and down “her log”. We left at that point but the kids and grandparents stayed for another hour or two. One of the friends there noticed that I was carrying Baby V on my chest in the Moby wrap. She ran to find her baby and stuck her in her sweatshirt and carried her around the woods. I thought it was really cute that she immediately went to find her baby to copy me. I really hope that the school itself is approved in the next few weeks because I’m anxious to see what it’s going to be all about. But until then we’ll keep heading there on Fridays to play, explore, learn and run.  ...

A Monday in the Forest

By on Sep 29, 2014 in Chicago, North Park Village Nature Center, Parenting, Stay at Home Mom Days, To Do With Kids | 1 comment

The plan was for Lucy to be in a full day 5 day a week preschool program at the Catholic school where she did 5 half days last year. As the school year approached the thought of her being there 5 days a week was making me anxious. Not that I don’t think it’s a good program. Or that she wouldn’t have done fine and been happy and all that. But then. Then I realized that for the next 13 years of her life she will be in school 5 days a week with no option to not be. This is because we are going to go with a public school route. Of course there are other options for kids, but for us and our family that is the plan. So we re-evaluated the situation. Could she go three full days still getting that time to be with her friends and get used to a full school day and stay home with Mom, Rocky and new baby (and let’s be honest grandpa and grandpa) on Mondays and Fridays and still be “ready” for kindergarten. Given that I think she’s ready for kindergarten right now (plus what does “ready for kindergarten” even mean?) giving her some freedom for exploring and time with family and city adventures seemed like the right choice. Right now she’s home Mondays and Fridays and at school for a full day Tuesday-Thursday. We were planning on her doing a Forest playschool on Fridays with her brother but that program has not yet been approved. Apparently there is some circular logic with DCFS needing a contract from Chicago Park District before approvals and Chicago Park District needs DCFS approvals before rendering a contract. I’m not a lawyer but can’t these people sit down in a room together and write up a goddamn contact? The forest playschool will take place (if it happens) at the North Park Village Nature Center. As it’s not happening officially now some of the parents decided to have a playdate there a few days a week to get the kids used to the site, etc etc. So today we went to meet some new friends play in the forest. We were there for 3 hours. We saw some deer. We climbed some trees. We found new bird houses within the trees (a red, pink and yellow one if you are interested). We made some new friends. A great way to spend a Monday morning....