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DIRTY MAMA: Outside in

Jan 8th, 2011 | Category: Columns

by Shona Hilton

“I am just going outside and may be some time.” Immortal words uttered by the not-so-immortal Captain Oates of Scott’s ill-fated South Pole trip – and words used often in our house when someone has cabin fever and needs to get out before their head explodes or something equally unpleasant.

Being outside, in all sorts of weather is something myself and my husband are just fine with. Growing up in Scotland we learned early on that if you don’t go out in bad weather then you may not leave the house for days, possibly weeks. So we just bundle up and out we go. Because of course, as explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes said,  “There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.”

We’re lucky too that our farm and our hobbies – trail running, mountain biking and dog walking – get us out most days. We can just head up the trails behind our house and voila, we are out in the hills. Not so much our kids at the moment, oh no.

“It’s cold.” They wail, even though the temperature may be a civilized 40F with only a light drizzle. “You can’t make me,” a voice says from somewhere in a cocoon of blankets on a sofa near the woodstove.

“When I was a child, I was not allowed inside except to eat meals and sleep,” I tell them. Slightly disturbingly I think this may actually be true and not simply an exaggerated memory – like having to walk uphill both ways in knee-deep snow to get to school. It was only uphill one way, I know that.

And herein lies the rub – do I frog march them outside demanding they enjoy it or do I let them go out on their own terms? Do I make them march up the hills on ‘family walks’ or let them poodle around our acreage coming in and out of the house as they choose. The last thing I want to do is make being outside in inclement weather something they feel pressured into doing. I mean, what if they rebel against us as a result and run off to live in the center of a megatropolis when they are older? But I do feel ever so strongly that being out in all weathers is being part of nature – and it’s where we belong. AND my little boys have more energy than the sun and need to run around constantly – something best done on the grass than around the fireplace on wood floors.

And it’s not like they don’t spend any time outside, in fact, because of our lifestyle they are probably out more frequently than I give them credit for. Perhaps they just do what is natural and it’s a seasonal cycle for them to want to be inside at this time of year. Perhaps I have forgotten what a pain it is to have to deal with gloves, hats, boots, snow pants, etc. when you’re very young and just want to be playing and doing stuff RIGHT NOW and that ‘stuff’ could be Legos instead.

Maybe I need to back off and bring the outside in – collect leaves, pine cones, lichens, etc. and do nature-based crafts with them or read stories and watch movies about the outdoors until they want to be back out enjoying these things in their natural settings.

And I do have to admit my husband has a much better track record of success in getting them outdoors. I came home recently to find a huge bonfire lighting up the darkening skies and the boys, rosy-cheeked and happy, running circuits around the outside of the house – in exchange for one toasted marshmallow per lap. Genius, pure genius.

Shona Hilton lives in an old log cabin on a small farm in the South Fork Valley of Whatcom County and contends with mud, rain, dogs, small children, pigs and poultry and all the other things which make country life worth living. She can be contacted at

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