I loved Lena’s last post! I too have cried at work, and I didn’t even have a good reason. There are just days when the tears need to come, and I am forever grateful for the understanding souls I work with who hold space for me to have my moment. That is the greatest gift I have been given, and one I hope to give to my colleagues and my patients.
A few days ago as I was playing with my 5 year old niece, she confidently sat down in the middle of an ant hill. I looked at her beautiful flowered dress and bare legs and tried to get her to stand up. She resisted, insisting that her friends, the black ants, didn’t bite and that it was okay for her to be in their midst.
“The ants are just running around because they are afraid of you!” She explained. They crawled over her legs and arms, while she gently reassured them that I was not a monster, but a new friend. Each one was named Claudia, she explained to me. They all looked the same, so they had the same name.
I marveled at her confidence and comfort in the dirt and compared it to my immediate desire to get her up so she wouldn’t muss her dress. “What has happened to me?” I thought. I used to be the kid that couldn’t stay clean, and now I have morphed into the clean dress enforcer.
I spend a lot of time in my clinic talking to parents about the need to get their kids outside. In our hectic, scheduled days, we have lost the time to spend endless hours and afternoons in the sunshine. Neighborhood parks are often so far away we need to drive to them, and parents are reluctant to let kids be outside by themselves. Free range parenting has become controversial.
What are we losing with this change in lifestyle?
A lot, actually.
A recent study in Asian children showed that adding an hour of outdoor playtime a day drastically reduced the incidence of myopia in kids. Meaning your mom was right! Staring at a TV screen all day will break your eyes. Going outside can actually fix them (or at least make it much less likely that you’ll need glasses)!
In his book, Nature Deficit Disorder, Richard Louv draws the connection between depression, adhd, and obesity to our disconnection from nature and the drastic reduction in outside play time. Rather than looking at too much screen time or too many classes, Dr. Louv points out that the problem is too little time outside for unstructured play. This loss of connection with the deep truth that each of us is part of an ecosystem with a myriad of miracles around us at any given moment is the root of dissatisfaction. How can we be happy when we don’t understand where we fit in the world?
I do not think this problem is just in kids. When I spend less time outside, I lose my way. My priority is in getting the next cup of coffee, sending my next email, finishing my next chart. Each of these tasks becomes a goal that I pursue with single-minded intensity. I am very good at completing them. As I trained to become a pediatrician, I thought that my close association with people, bearing witness to their struggle with illness and in health, would provide the perspective to keep me grounded. Somewhere along the way, as I sat with families in fluorescently lighted hospital hallways, I realized it was not enough.
When I spend time away from nature, I lose my ability to create perspective. Each small task becomes the next most important thing, and I stop paying attention to what really matters.
I miss out on the joy of sitting down amidst a hundred new tiny friends and calmly introducing them to a new friendly giant.