Five years ago, on April 22, 2006, it was pouring rain. Not just a soaking, not just a flash thunderstorm but an all out, biblical deluge. Of course, I wasn’t really paying attention; I was too busy willing my lower body to function under the numbing influence of an epidural. As nature would have it, our daughter was born and the rain kept falling.
Giving birth on Earth Day is not like having a New Year’s baby or a Valentine’s Day baby or even a baby on the 4th of July. In fact, a good many people don’t even know that it’s Earth Day. But for me, having a baby on April 22nd has given me a deeper sense of Earth Day, a living reason to celebrate it in a new way.
On a small-scale, for the past five years, when I plan my daughter’s birthday celebrations, I have increasingly aimed to tie some natural element into them. Party favors almost always have a nature theme, things like little wooden birdhouses or paint-your-own flower pots (complete with dirt and flowers). The settings too have become increasingly more organic. Our daughter’s never asked me to do this and she’s never shown a particular propensity for being an environmentalist but it’s the path I’m leading her down and I hope it sticks.
To be honest, I’m not even sure she knows that she has any special connection with the environment (though I mention it to her every year). At 5, she’s not quite old enough to participate in big Earth Day celebrations nor to mobilize her posse of preschool party-goers for an environmental volunteer effort. So for now, the best I can do is to make nature a principal part of her life.
We started out small, taking walks in the woods, visiting farms, going birding and to nature centers. By her third birthday, she was clearly a kid more comfortable in the outdoors than playing inside; less into dolls and dresses, more into mud and being naked.
But perhaps the greatest gift of nature that we’ve given her, the best connection with her feral side, has been attending preschool in the woods.
Two days a week we take her to the The Natick Community Organic Farm–the same place she celebrated both her fourth and fifth birthdays–where she attends Forest Gnomes. From September until June, no matter the weather, our daughter and her band of eight fellow Gnomes walk into the woods to spend their morning without walls. In a waldkindergarten
They don’t spend the whole time outside–there’s a little fairytale house called the Gnome Home to protect them from extreme elements–but for the most part, and particularly when the weather is agreeable, they commune with nature.
They learn rhymes and seasonal songs, do finger plays and puppet shows, listen to a storyteller and help prepare healthy snacks. They warm themselves by a camp fire, with a wood-burning stove, wrap themselves in silks and get cozy in the loft of their little house. They dig up worms, slide down mud banks, go for hikes, fish for frogs, play in a tee-pee made from sticks and make up all sorts of wildly imaginative games.
It’s everything I could ever dream for my child in her early life.
A few weeks ago, when my Earth Day girl turned 5, I walked into the woods for a Gnome-style celebration. Her teacher started off with a story about the day the cloud faeries were playing catch and lost their ball off the edge of the cloud kingdom. When the littlest faery looked over in search of her ball, she saw a kind man and woman below and the cloud faery was sent down to live with them as their child
For when she was 1, she had just begun.
And when she was 2, she was still quite new.
When she turned 3, she was starting to be.
And when she was 4, she could do much more.
But now that she’s 5, she’s really alive.
And so, as we prepare to send our Earth Day girl into the wilds of public school this fall, we do so knowing that for the better part of her formative years, rain or shine, she has been in touch with nature.