It’s a desperate attempt on my part. I’m crawling on my belly under a chain-link fence cheered on by my grandsons, who with their wiry, small bodies wriggled through the side opening a few minutes ago. We took a - for them -daring leap and veered off the beaten trail, and marched through thickets and dry leaves on a ridge above the dump. “The dump is down there!”, my oldest grandson yells, “I didn’t know this is where we are! If we follow the road through the dump, we’ll get home,” he adds. “Let’s not”, I say, “the dump can be dangerous terrain with chemicals and stuff.” I hear their mother’s voice of caution in my head, “if we can get to the other side of this fence, we can cross the fields.” I had seen a safer route on my GPS. So I must wiggle my bigger body underneath the fence to where we can enter soccer fields on school property, a short way from home.
My grandson keeps expressing his amazement over finding known territory in a - for him - wild place. That’s the adventure of going on a walk, I tell him. He asked me earlier as we started our walk why I wanted to walk. After a quarter mile on the familiar trail from his house, he expresses boredom. “You never know what you’ll find”, I tell him. If you walk far enough, boring becomes an adventure. And indeed, the day’s walk becomes adventurous. We follow a small creek near to the groomed woodland trail, move leaves and debris to improve the creek’s flow, come upon an unknown little waterfall, watch skunk cabbage leaves float downstream and over the fall and work on trail finding. When we leave the marked trail again the boys find old deer bones in the dry leaves; a first violet stares up with dark eye markings from the moss. Nature keeps offering surprises.
I rip my coat crawling under that fence. A small rip. I scratch my calf on the steel point of the chain link, a bleeding gash, looking worse than it is. Adventure trophies. The real win is the feeling we have inside us, a feeling of excitement, aliveness, newness in days destroyed by routine and order.
Raising kids is a hard job. Raising privileged kids is hard because we lace the days with expectations, achievements that need to be met, as the college funds grow in the stock market. The daily routine of eat, sleep, play and learn shave off the individual idiosyncrasies that could spell genius, sense of adventure, and freedom of thought. We groom the children to fit into an affluent society of 2-acre properties, million dollar homes with separate bedrooms, bathrooms, play rooms and offices. The children meet peers with the same privileged life on sports fields, and play flag football, baseball or whatever game the season offers in competitive games. At 5 years old, they already know the rules of the game. They are born into a family that wants the best and follows the rules of the upper class.
Feeling stifled by the rules, bored by the affluent sameness, I suggest we pick up garbage for Earth day. A raised parental brow, a yes-vote by the boys because the local township gives out ice-cream for turning in bags of trash picked up along roadways. With gloved hands and bag we set out to find the things people throw out the window of their BMW and Lexus vehicles: soda cans, paper, plastic, a pencil. Even the trash is groomed.
A world of comfort and privilege takes the feeling of adventure out of living. I don’t begrudge my grandchildren a privileged life. I wish the best for them. My idea of best though, is living with zest, creativity, newness, and advocacy for the underdog. It means living a life with just enough suffering that it breeds compassion for others; a life that makes you want to learn how to improve things for all people, not just for a privileged corner of the world. My idea of best is when you turn a neighborhood walk into an adventure because you look around, encounter hardship, witness unusual things, and make spontaneous, positive decisions.
Is your life feeling stale? Maybe it’s time to shake things up, add newness with its inherit discomfort. Try something you haven’t done before, explore further, reach out to the less privileged. You will be the richer for it.