My childhood was spent largely technology-free; middle school was the stage of my technological awakening. I never had a GameCube growing up. Our first console was a Wii, but we didn’t get that until I was solidly in middle school and well behind the gaming curve. I didn’t have a cell phone until I was also in middle school, and similarly didn’t discover Disney Channel until middle school. Sure, I watched some PBS (Arthur was awesome) and I did have a Club Penguin account on our old AOL dial-up, but the bulk of my elementary school years were spent outside, unplugged. This hands on, down-and-dirty growing up taught me lessons that I carry with me even today, even though I have long since embraced Netflix binges.
It’s good luck if a dragonfly lands on you.
My family and I are on our annual summer vacation in New Hampshire, and today has been spent at Silver Lake State Park. My sister Mary and I are sandy and sticky from sunscreen. We stand in a green field by the glittering lake, and what seems like hundreds of jewel-bright dragonflies dart through the thick air. I am frozen still, arms outstretched to either side and baking in the hot sun. My eyes waiting patiently for one of the insects to touch down on me, even for the briefest moment, before flitting off to continue zig-zagging through the sky.
For my elementary school years, my legs and arms were almost continuously dotted with bruises of varying sizes and shades of blue, purple, yellow, and green. I called them my collection; they were battle scars of races won and lost on the playground. (They were also a sign of the clumsiness that I still haven’t outgrown.) I had blood blisters from slipping while climbing the wrong way up a slide, scratches that were trophies of tree-climbing escapades. I was proud of every scrape and bruise. They were the signs of my ambition, how I could take on a challenge, like climbing a tree, without fear of getting hurt. They were proof of my bravery, determination, and ability to get back up after a fall.
Years ago, my backyard was home to a thriving community of toads. This posed a problem whenever it was time for dad to mow the lawn, as these hapless amphibians would become collateral damage at the passionless blades of our old push lawn mower. As a pre-mowing ritual, Mary and I would comb through the grass, collecting all the toads we could find in a giant, blue, plastic bucket. No toad was neglected, from the smallest babies to the fattest, wartiest, venerable elders. Once we had evacuated all the toads we could find and confined them to the safety of the bucket, we created a habitat for them. We ripped up grass, added sticks and bark and rocks, gave them water and shade, and generally tried to make the bucket as welcoming and as similar to home for the little refugees during their brief stay. Once the mower was once again locked up in our dilapidate shed, we’d release the toads back into the wilds of our backyard.
I learned courage and curiosity from overturning logs in the woods to look for hiding snakes and salamanders. I learned to work hard and not be afraid to get a little dirt under my fingernails (and on my arms and face and knees and hair and clothes). Building imaginary worlds and characters and stories in my backyard developed my creativity. I embraced the label tomboy (although I’ve since realized what a stupid label that is). I am who I am because I played outside.