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From the Pen of Carter Smith

The routine in our household is an eminently predictable one. My beloved bride will ask sweetly if I want to bring young Ryland inside for his nap or his dinner or his bath or whatever the activity is that she thinks demands his presence indoors. 

As we husbands all know, it really isn’t a question. So, I will dutifully arise from whatever it was I was otherwise peacefully doing and brace myself for what’s inevitably ahead.

Here is how it will play out. Ryland will be, how shall we say, utterly less convinced than his mother that his presence is actually required indoors at that time of calling. In fact, if men really do suffer from selective hearing, as some wives will claim, I am utterly convinced it clearly starts as a toddler with a call to come inside!

Oh, I can readily envision what is going on in that little mind of his when I call out to him to come indoors. “Why in the world would I want to do that? There are no rocks to throw, sticks to swing, mud puddles to jump into, bugs to catch, squirrels to chase, balls to kick and throw, holes to dig or flowers to trample.”

For the old movie buffs among the readers, let me simply say that the famous car scene in the French Connection has nothing on the chase around our backyard trying to bring the elusive Ryland inside.

Assuming I can catch the little bush-whacker, I will go through the standard inspection and observations I have come to expect. Sand all throughout his curly hair? Check. Pebbles in the shoes? Of course. Rocks in his pockets? All of them. Mud on his new shirt, britches and shoes? No doubt, lots of it. Dirt-encrusted hands? Check.

Then comes the negotiation. He usually doesn’t wait for me to start. “I go outside,” he wails plaintively. “You already are outside,” I patiently tell him, “but now we are going inside.” “No, I stay outside,” he declares with all the full-throated power and gusto a 2-year-old can muster. “Your Mom said you need to come inside,” I tell him, still thinking I can somehow reason with the little creature. “No, I can’t, I can’t!” he insists emphatically. “What do you mean, you can’t?” I ask incredulously. And, before I know it, he has somehow broken away from my grip, and the chase is on again …

His grandmothers and mother will cringe if they see this (so don’t let them read this, please), but from my vantage point, raising Ryland is about like raising a little feral hog. Ryland outside is much preferable to Ryland inside.

I don’t think that was exactly what my colleague Jennifer Bristol had in mind when she wrote the wonderful piece in this magazine about 35 ways to get out and play outdoors with your kids. But her message about raising happier and healthier kids is all about getting them from the indoors into the outdoors. From studying the stars to making a fort to going on a scavenger hunt to catching a fish to chasing fireflies, most every activity can be done in a setting very close to home.

For those looking for ways to augment those experiences, I would encourage you to read up on Dale Blasingame’s article, “Nine Parks Kids Love.” Like Jennifer, Dale emphasizes that the real purpose of playing games in nature or spending time together at a state park is making meaningful memories for the kids and as a family. And, with a long list of places to go, see and do inside your state park system, from the famous tracks at Dinosaur Valley to the spring-fed pool at Balmorhea to the sandhills in Monahans, there is something for every kid to love and remember.

If you are a regular reader of this magazine or follower in general of this department, you know that our tagline is “Life’s better outside.” But don’t just trust us on it. I hope you’ll use this spring to see for yourself by taking your family to experience the bounty and beauty of nature that await you in the Texas outdoors.

Thanks for caring about our wild things and wild places. They need you now more than ever.

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