I want to share my journey with you as the single parent of a sixteen-year-old boy. My intent in writing this is to inspire—and to hopefully reconnect our children with a life that, if we don’t act now, will become nothing more than a tourist attraction.
What am I talking about? Kids and the outdoors. Avid visitors to the Fish’n Canada website may recall my father’s introductory blog post on the new site, Kids Need the Outdoors. Upon reading his words on the subject, I was motivated to reflect on my own upbringing and, subsequently, the way I’ve raised my own son.
EVERY DAY ON REPEAT
In a world full of electronics and hustle, my child—like most children today—was raised inside. He went from bed to daycare to school and home again. By the time we got in each day, it was nearing 6:30 or 7:00 p.m. Eat dinner, prepare lunches, bath and bed (allowing for a little Xbox to occupy the kid while I snuck a load of laundry in), and repeat. The life of a single parent is a busy one. Making it all happen within the limited hours of each day is hard work!
Finding the time to pick up groceries and make sure homework is completed is at the top of my mind while navigating the wildness of the 401-commuting life. Then we simply run down the list of all that needs to be done when we finally get off the madness of road. Every day on repeat. The routine never changes—but the addiction to electronics continues to grow and develop.
All of a sudden ten years have passed and I look around at my child who never grew up outside and I think to myself, I robbed him of that. Not intentionally, of course. But he will never know the adrenaline rush of jumping off a cliff into dark waters below, or the hunt for salamanders under rocks, or feeding a chipmunk peanuts in the early mornings, or the total relaxation of lying on a dock with the sun shining on you, moving with the waves as they roll in. For that matter, he doesn’t know how great it feels to help the neighbour shovel their driveway or to just take off on his bike with his friends, not to be seen for hours.
As I ponder all these things—taking into account my life and what that has looked like for the last sixteen years—I ask myself, How much of this came from electronic addiction and how much came from parental fear? I would say equal parts. Here is what I mean by that: The safer he was at home in his virtual world, the less I had to worry about him getting hurt in the real one. We are always so quick to put all the blame on technology, but sometimes we also must look in the mirror. Do I want him out there? I didn’t—until the day that I did.
How did this happen? I love those moments. I grew up in those moments. My family lived and breathed the outdoors. Cleaning fish that I had caught on my own for breakfast and watching the loons dominate the early morning fishing scene. Driving my little 15-outboard motor at the age of eight to go get my ice-cream cone from the marina. I grew up outside. But I forgot that it was important because, well, my career was just building. My child was young and there was always tomorrow. We went south for vacations instead of north. And, well, who has time for peaceful moments that fill your heart and your head with tranquillity in a world full of anxiety and 80-hour work weeks?
BACK INTO THE GREAT OUTDOORS
Five years ago I decided that I was going to tackle the problem. I started with two-week summer camps: Camp Kandalore, followed by Mother-and-Son trips to Lumina Resort and Clevelands House to really get him—and, in turn, myself—back into the outdoors. The thought of just going into the wild with my ten-year-old scared me to death. I forgot that I did instinctively know how to do it. But, in any case, I opted for some really great rustic resorts that allowed me to feel safe and still get us started back into the great outdoors. (I highly recommend all of them for different reasons.)
My son’s personality really changed over the last five years. He became confident, adventurous and competitive; he learned how to portage, tube, fish, hike; he learned archery and how to start a fire. The list goes on and on. The biggest thing he learned was that he also truly loves the outdoors. Screen time went down, outdoor time increased. And with each day that changes balanced for the latter, this kid gained more and more personal security, self-confidence and self-esteem. Just like that.
As for me, I learned to fall in love with the outdoors all over again. I learned to never forget where you came from. I was fortunate to have those experiences in my youth—and as an adult, I took them for granted.
You know him now as Nikki V. And I’m sure you are all saying, “Wait a minute, that can’t be Angelo’s grandchild.” But that’s my point. If even the Viola family can lose sight of the importance of getting our kids outside, do any of the other kids—whose families also have demanding, busy lives—really stand a chance?
We must come up with a way to get our kids outdoors—and not just for fishing. It’s for their confidence and their future selves. Can you imagine if we can’t get our kids outdoors today what it might look like for their kids? As I said at that beginning of this, we are heading towards a world where the outdoors becomes a tourist attraction and no longer an essential part of who we are.
If you need some help figuring out where to start, don’t worry. That was the hardest place for me, too. How? Where? What? etc. Just ask. I have done a lot of research on how you can start the perfect summer getaway. And I’m sure that if I can’t help, I know someone who can.
Kids in the Outdoors. That must be our mission. And together, we will get there.