Finding the Time

Catching minnows at North-South Lake in the Catskills

When my daughter was young, on the cusp of an active social life, I vowed that we wouldn’t become one of those over-scheduled families, rushing from music lessons to sports to playdates (arranged weeks in advance), gobbling 20-minute dinners and lamenting the “craziness” of our life.

To some degree, I’ve stuck to that promise. With rare exceptions, Grace and I eat evening meals together every night. Now nine years old, she loves soccer, so for the past three years has faithfully and happily attended practices on Saturdays and games on Sundays. When Grace expressed an interest in learning Chinese, I told her that I could investigate language classes, but she would have to choose between soccer and Chinese lessons. Soccer won, hands down.

Even so, the precious weekend hours have become increasingly crowded with errands, birthday parties, church services and meetings, sports and playdates. I added free-lance reporting to my schedule, on top of a full-time job. The hike up Anthony’s Nose, or the bike ride along the Aqueduct Trail keeps getting pushed to the bottom of the “To Do” list. It’s too hot (summer excuse), too cold (winter excuse), we’re too busy (spring and fall excuses) and we’re just too tired.

Three years ago, I started Rivertown Kids for the Environment. At the time, I was a newly minted graduate of Leadership Westchester, an intensive 10-month personal and professional development course that helped me peel back layers of indecision and craft a vision for my life. Thanks to David Severance, our amazing facilitator, and my classmates, I was able to stand up and say “the things that matter most to me are community, children and nature.” At our graduation ceremony, I boldly and excitedly told the audience about my new organization—Rivertown Kids—that would “foster a love of nature and stewardship of the earth in young children.”

It was a good idea—all my friends told me so, and I believed it myself. So what happened? It turned out that most of the parents I know, even the ones who try desperately not to over-schedule, are in fact overscheduled. And if you don’t know about the view from the top of Sugarloaf Mountain, or the hidden gem of Hudson River beach across from Storm King, or the supplies needed for a successful camping trip, well… then it becomes easier to stay home.

Perhaps more importantly, I have lost just a little of my own inspiration. I have not carved out the time; I have not made being in nature, on a regular basis, a priority. I am not blaming myself, or excusing myself: it is just the reality.

But if I am in need of inspiration, I pull up the memory of a recent afternoon in the woods that will remain forever imprinted in my, and hopefully my daughter’s consciousness. On the mossy banks of the creek that ran behind our Catskills campsite, Grace had discovered a patch of delicate white flower petals and miniature pine cones. She carefully placed the pine cones in a half dozen petal cups and launched the tiny boats downstream, delighted when they remained intact through dangerous (to a flower petal vessel) eddies and dismayed when they shipwrecked. No movie, no video game, no activity can top that.

I may never find the time to climb mountains every weekend, but surely Grace and I can scale small hills just a little more often.

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