Thursday, July 16, 2015

City Boy In The Country

Belgian fields and Belgian skies
We're approaching the halfway point of summer this week which begs the question of where or where has summer gone? One minute the school year was winding down and now scouring supply lists and preparing for the next one. But because it is summer, we've also been doing all sorts of summer time activities. There have been trips to zoos and museums, hours upon hours spent upon the playground with friends, story time at the library and sleeping in and hanging out at home. And of course no summer would be complete without camp.

Last summer Sidney attended a wonderful day camp on the coast of Maine. He paddled in the tidal pools of Penobscot Bay, played games I remember playing as a child and made a whole new bunch of American friends. Hesitant at first, he quickly came to love everything about this all American camp and was sad when it ended. So this summer I wanted to find a similar experience for him here in Belgium.

Growing up in a rural area some of my fondest childhood memories were just going outside and playing. This was back in the days before helicopter parenting, overly programmed schedules and the incessant need to have every activity be aligned with the standards of learning. It was a time of free range parenting before the term became a stigmatized phrase. Summers were all about playing in the fresh air, letting out imaginations guide our activities and simply being children. Our backyard was spacious and emptied into a deep woods filled with trees, paths and unlimited opportunities for exploring. Despite our best efforts, I realize how foreign this whole concept in Sidney's world. A large part of that is the result of his immediate surroundings. In Albania out house sat behind a high, barb wire topped concrete wall and lacked any green space. In fact, safe green space was virtually non-existant in our neighborhood. Here in Belgium our front steps empty onto the street and while we have a small walled back garden (or yard), it is just that, small. There is a patio, a patch of grass and ivy and rose covered walls. It is lovely but not exciting to a five year old who has already lost too many balls over the wall. Neighborhood playgrounds provide some opportunities for running and playing as do after school sports, but all of these activities are so clean, orderly and structured.

Getting to camp is scenic
We are in fact raising a little city boy. He can navigate the narrow cobblestone streets of our neighborhood with ease, is cautious when it comes to crossing a street and is a pro at riding public transportation. But take him into the woods and he might as well be in a foreign land. The first time he saw a real expanse of green grass he gazed at it in astonishment and asked if he could walk on it. And this point was driven home earlier this spring when on a light hike through a nature preserve, Sidney took off running through the grasses and low lying branches spanning our paths. Repeatedly he stopped what he was doing to tell us that he was having so much fun exploring, playing solider and running through the woods. He then informed us that we needed to have trees in our own backyard for him to play in. What he was describing to us was what we had both taken for granted growing up yet was such dream for him.

By pure chance it was only a couple of weeks later that I heard about a day camp here in Belgium that sounded intriguing. Located in the Belgian countryside the small camp offered children the opportunity to be children. Campers would play in the woods and fields, learn about baby animals on the adjacent farm and generally spend their days playing. And as a bonus, while the camp leader and a few of the counselors spoke English, most of the day was spent speaking French. It sounded like just what we were looking for. Sidney and I visited one afternoon, both fell in love with what we saw and quickly signed up for a few one week sessions.

The happy camper set for another
rainy and mud filled day
So over the coarse of the past week Sidney has been going to what we have dubbed farm camp. In true Belgian form the weather this week has been cool and damp but armed with galoshes and raincoats, camp is going on. The kids are playing in the woods, watching baby chicks grown and playing in a magnificent tree house. They are "free ranging" in the best sense possible, exploring the world around them and simply being kids. Sidney is coming home covered in mud but declaring each day "the most amazing day ever." He's tired when I pick him up--falling asleep on the ride home each afternoon--but in the morning he bounces right out of bed and is ready to do it all over again.

I do wish the camp was located a bit closer to us as I am spending two hours a day driving him back and forth but I am discovering Belgian villages and countryside that I never knew existed. The rain only seems to be a damper for me since it isn't bothering Sidney one bit. I cringe a bit that we are spending money for him to experience the being a kid that we took for granted outside of our backdoors as children, but times have changed. What hasn't changed, however, is the need for kids to be kids, for them to use their imaginations in their play and to explore to their heart's content. It all makes for an amazing day. And that is simply priceless.

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