I read this article about soccer moms protecting their kids from their natural environment, and it struck a cord. I live in Florida and have two young children, both under 5. I am frequently surprised to see that moms do in fact guard their kids from the outside world. I know I do it too. And I just don’t feel ok about it.
If you are not from here, you are probably thinking that balmy, lush, never ever cold Florida is the perfect place for children to enjoy the wide wonderful outdoors! This is the argument that my fellow soccer moms have down here, and I do follow this logic also. We have endless creatures roaming around that we happen upon regularly. Primary concerns being alligators, snakes, bobcats and even numerous piles of dirt which are home to very painful fire ants. Even the grass in most people’s yards can give many children a fairly irritating rash, mine included. The other argument is that it’s just plain too hot to do much outdoors for as much as 6 months of the year.
But this fear of the outdoors down here seems to go well beyond that argument. Many Florida homes have lanais which are protective “bird cage-like” screened in porches. Pools are often built inside the lanai, as are the children’s play areas. Indigenous trees and plant life are bulldozed to make way for neatly planted palm trees and grass that needs regular visits from the True Green truck. Playgrounds are fenced in and awnings hung over them to keep off the blazing sun. Home owner associations send monthly newsletters reminding parents not to let their children play in the protected conservation lands that border most gated communities. Sprinklers spray reclaimed water, so you meddling kids better stay out of those too. And let’s not forget about the high number of sexual predators that make Florida their home state. Bolt those doors, we aren’t going anywhere.
It goes further. So few moms host simple birthday parties at the local park anymore. Remember what we grew up with? A playground, a picnic table, about 6 or 7 of the neighborhood kids, a cake, a couple balloons and maybe a piñata if you were extra fancy. Today, birthday parties are held at large carpeted indoor air conditioned facilities with endless playscapes and various kinds of government regulated climbing apparatus (although we often sign waivers upon arrival). Countless games and activities are hosted by energetic pony tailed camp counselor types and the birthday child is made to feel like royalty for the day. As for daily life around here, routines for children absolutely reflect the over-scheduling this article critiques us moms for: dance classes, swim classes, karate, music, gymnastics, soccer (of course)… on it goes.
So I have to reconcile this issue for myself. While I can’t just let my kids into my backyard unsupervised at this point (I have indeed witnessed an alligator, 3 bobcats and water moccasin in my yard over the past year alone), I can go with them – expect some grass rashes and possible bee stings – and just let them get dirty. And if we see one of the above listed animals, I will continue to teach them safe behavior and respect – not fear – around these creatures. Both of my sons have birthdays coming up. Sure it could rain, sure it could be too hot, sure a pile of fire ants could attack everyone and destroy all the fun, but I honestly need to consider hosting a party at the park. Consider it my political protest, as a soccer mom. Way to go out on a limb, huh? As if my kids actually climbed trees…