If I had a nickel for every time I heard, “You girls, go outside” when I was growing up, well, I’d have a lot of nickels. When I think of my childhood I think of the outdoors. In my mind I see our yard, the woods behind our house, a specific dogwood tree in the side yard and a row of three crabapple trees that lined the bottom of a small hill, evenly spaced.
My mother never ever gave us instructions. They were unnecessary. We played games with the wind, made friends with trees, and hunted for treasures under chunks of dried clay mud. On Saturdays our whole family spent the day working in the yard and we all had our duties. My mother worked in the flower beds and trimmed the bushes. Daddy mowed, tended our large garden and one time cut a large limb from the top of a tall black walnut tree. Well, he started to, but he broke his leg that day. It was a huge drama and it all unfolded outside in our yard.
Today is September 2 and seemingly right on cue Mother Nature flipped a switch. When I stepped out this morning I instantly thought of pumpkins, county fairs and nights on the porch. I grabbed my car keys and headed to my favorite walking route, the three miles of greenway from Park Road Shopping Center to Freedom Park. It’s an urban area and an urban walk, a very different outdoors from the one I knew growing up.
As much as I love the outdoors, I always knew I was meant for a city and Charlotte is one of the loves of my life. It’s perhaps a smidge too big these days, but that’s OK, it’s still the place I came to really grow up. Charlotte can be gritty, fast, and pushy, and at times, downright rough. But it is beautiful, green, and lush. I don’t know what we spend on our medians, greenways, and parks – it can’t be cheap. And we famously rip down everything once it gets just the slightest bit of wear and tear. Do some argue that it takes away from the character of the city? Yes. But it looks great.
I pass other early birds: walkers, joggers, cyclists. There are groups, seniors, kids in strollers, dogs, dog mommies and daddies. Everybody is out. We wish each other good morning and smile at each other while we pass blooming trees, creeks, mowed lawns, lakes, ducks, and geese. As the morning wears on, it gets crowded. It’s an urban place. I love it.
Some mornings I wake up worried, sometimes stressed. We get concerning calls from doctors, alarming messages from the bank. We worry about our family and friends, our country, and the state of the world. I sit and try to figure it out. We reason through it, analyze, ponder. So often I end up with a pen in my hand, making a list. What to do? How do I solve it? Fix it?
When I was a kid my parents did the worrying. I worried about school, I suppose, maybe the occasional monster under the bed, but for the most part, I looked to my parents and thought, “They got this.” And no matter what we girls were whining about my mother pretty much said, “Oh, you girls just go outside.” So, we did.
Outside things were as simple as just being. Somehow or other it was all already figured out. There was a connectedness and a knowing that required no thinking. Everything out there was just as it should be.
I’m not too far from celebrating my 60th birthday and I wonder just how much of my life I’ve squandered worrying and making my lists. A counselor once said to me, “Let’s pretend you’ve finally gotten it all done. Now what?” It only took me a second to respond, “Well, I’ll make another list.”
My lists are always with me. I have many of them, but I keep three primary ones. There’s my “To Do Today, my “To Do Soon,” and of course, the all-important, “Master To Do.” Sometimes I get caught up listing and spend a large portion of the day getting ready to get going and never do. I go into the other room and tell my husband I’m still working on getting started. I spin and spin, worry and plan.
But then some days there’s that voice in my head, the one I wish I could always hear. It’s me being my own parent. A long time ago in a faraway place it was my mother’s voice, but it has long since been the voice that it becomes for all grown up, healthy adults: it’s me. And it says, “Girl, go outside.”