a question of sticks—part 2 (my reality)


If you read yesterday’s post, you know my “back story” with sticks.  Maybe it helps explain why I have such mixed emotions about Spud’s new interest in sticks.

I cannot see a child pick up a stick without thinking of this excerpt from Calm & Compassionate Children: A Handbook by Susan Usha Dermond:

My fourth and fifth grade class loved to be outdoors.  We often did our reading outside and sometimes took hikes.  But there were two or three children in the class who weren’t receptive to the subtle messages of the natural world.  They were too busy running, yelling, and whacking at the plants with sticks.

Even now, reading that statement for the fifth or sixth time, I fight back the urge to break out in unrestrained laughter, or maybe even tears.  I find such great relief in knowing that the children in my town aren’t the only ones in the world who are on a mission to decimate all the foliage in a 5 mile radius with fallen limbs.  And yet, it is such a sad reality. 

Last summer, just days after reading Dermond’s book for the first time, our family took a hike with another family who also has 3 children.  On our way to our destination, we stopped our cars for a moment to discuss which road to take and let everyone stretch their legs.  Within seconds of exiting the cars, the three oldest boys in the group—ages 12 and 13—had charged into the nearby woods: the embodiment of Dermond’s description.  This behavior continued when we began our hike a while later.

Throughout the hike my thoughts ranged from amusement to anger to concern and despair. 

Those thoughts returned again, earlier this summer, when, on a walk with my three children, the only thing the oldest two found remotely interesting was pestering and whacking at each other with long blades of grass.

And, then, when Spud showed a stronger interest in sticks last week, I tried to squelch the rising panic in my throat and resisted the urge to have him put the stick down as I pictured him 10 years in the future, striding into the forest to mow down everything in his path.

I want each of my children to value and appreciate nature, as well as be comfortable enjoying its silence.  Indeed, they will miss most of what nature can teach them if they cannot appreciate its silence.  My struggle comes with the question of THE BOYS.  I don’t want to squelch either of our sons’ masculinity or natural (perhaps?) aggression, their competitive spirit, their imagination, their quest for bravery and adventure. It’s the most natural thing in the world for children (both male and female) to play with rocks and sticks.  But where is that fine line between natural development of the male child and absurdity?

I detest the “boys will be boys” mentality—it provides too many excuses.   To me, most of the boys playing with sticks at my former school were in a word, obsessed.  They played out their steady diet of TV and video games on the recess fields, and too much negative energy and anger were spent to call their interaction with sticks a positive experience. 

But I can’t help but think that many things in our society stifle what boys were meant to be—emasculate them. 

So, I’m reevaluating, trying to find an objective balance that’s not colored by my back story . . . .  I’m taking stock of things we have on our side for Spud:

  • he doesn’t watch TV, movies, or video games
  • we spend as much time as possible outdoors each day
  • he loves to play with sticks, rocks, and flowers, pull carrots from the garden and eat them
  • he notices bird calls and songs when we’re outside and enjoys them

I’m re-reading:

Calm & Compassionate Children: A Handbook by Susan Usha Dermond                    and

Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv

And, I’m asking:

What are your opinions/ideas/thoughts on boys, nature, & aggression?  Do you have any book or website suggestions on those topics?


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