As we’ve been biking through Spain and now France, I’ve been thinking more about parenting — and how it varies so much from culture to culture. My official point of view is this: mostly everything will be fine. I think some cultures create more independent kids, other ones create ones that do better academically. Some create risk takers, other create well-balanced rule followers. There’s so many factors involved I think every attempt to unravel it tends to do little more than expose the researchers or writer’s own biases. There’s no right answer, and there’s very few wrong ones too.

So I do what makes me happy. Which is in part a reaction to my own childhood. Some things I hated (the dysfunctional home) and other things I loved (playing in the woods with my sister). I didn’t like being a latch key kid because it felt lonely and my mother was always stressed but I loved the independence. I loved riding my bike miles and miles away from home. Even when the sky opened up on me and I was drenched to the bone. Even when it was so hot and I was dying of thirst, I would deposit a quarter on the counter of the little shop in town with my dirty, sweaty little hand and get a juice. I don’t expect that I’ll be able to create an environment where I concoct perfectly happy, independent, creative and hyper intelligent children — out of the mish-mash of whatever DNA we’ve passed onto them. Environment, peers, community, their personalities and just plain luck will have at least as much of an influence. So I release that expectation, that I can have any discernible impact beyond “loving them to pieces” (check, done) and move on to enjoying their childhood with them.

bordeauxcamping-1

In Bordeaux, camping. I hold open a space for my kids to be messy little kids.

bordeauxcamping-2

It’s not easy for me. I don’t know if that makes me uptight or what, but I would love to have clean children. But they seem so happy being in the woods, playing with sticks and dirt, and most likely, a little bit of duck poop. So I hold the space open for them to be a little wild, to shush that voice that would say, “don’t touch that!” but instead says, “woah, cool!”

I remind myself that they won’t remember being clean, but they will remember a stressed out mom. They will remember if I shout at them or threaten them into the shower. It takes so much time to maintain tidy kids, you have to bathe them (wrangle, convince, cajole, and actually bathe) and then you have to prevent them from ruining the effort (“don’t touch”, “watch out”, “come back here”). What else can we do with that time?

Maybe photography:

bordeauxcamping-3

(Cole took that photo with my camera, he actually got quite a few of our neighbor, while on his own — but never said a word about it, I just found the photos when I downloaded them).

There’s drawing on ourselves with marker.

bordeauxcamping-4

(Also popular: drawing on mama with marker).

bordeauxcamping-5

There’s chasing frogs around the pond.

bordeauxcamping-6

Or blowing flower petals away for a wish.

We have been very busy.

I would love to make this a tradition: every summer is about pure outdoor play. Biking has been great for that because we don’t have a house to return to, we stop and take breaks at playgrounds or in the woods or by a river at least 3 times a day. We spend our evenings camping, once the tent is set up there are hours to fill with snails, flowers, sticks for swords, dirt, throwing rocks and more. It’s one of those periods where I’m instantly nostalgic, I feel little pangs of “they’ll never be this little again”. I want to capture it all and bottle it up. I can’t, so I try to will the days to go slower or to at very least, to appreciate my two little wild beasties.