I went out snow shoeing this morning in our near foot of spring snow to check on the animals in our neighborhood. Three deer have been frequenting our actual yard, where the septic drain field is located. The small grass lawn is encircled with rhododendron and azalea bushes, a favorite snack of our wild neighbors. No tracks. None on the hilltop on which we live, called Red Mountain. None down the sloping sides. They are staying put right now.
I did come across a cozy-looking structure in the woods, nearly forgotten, which has stayed remarkable put over the years. A two -story tree house, built decades ago in the crotch of a 4-trunk oak tree, marking a corner on our property. Todd built the structure for Sierra and Bryce when they were tots. A rope and wood ladder lead from the ground up through a trap door in the floor. The house has a fenced-in deck, a large main room and a sleeping loft. Todd carried lumber and supplies the ¼ mile from our home to the tree house, anticipating many happy, memory-making nights for his kiddos.
They only slept in it once. That night was epic for all of us. Connected to their parents with a walkie-talkie, it was their very first night away from their parents. None of us slept much but there was a lot of conversation going on. I remember lying in bed thinking, this is the beginning of the separation, which is bound to happen in the years ahead. Get used to the empty house, mama.
It wasn’t that our kids were afraid of the dark or the night woods. They grew up in the Rockies where they spent every summer llama packing down the Continental Divide. The woods are home to them. They built their own stick forts in our woods, probably two of the only handful of millennials that spent their childhood recreating in the woods, with tons of unstructured free play time. Growing up this way has sadly become a mostly thing of the past as researchers discover the negative effects of a life spent disconnected to nature, called nature-deficit disorder. Our kids did not and do not have that disorder.
Our young kids were very used to their parents’ company. We went everywhere as a family. My own parents, their grandparents, died much too early and they never met them. Todd’s parents were not into being grandparents at the time. We rarely had babysitters. Nearly every wedding anniversary was celebrated as a foursome and that was just fine with us. When they were very small, they were sometimes clingy in new situations and I often had two kids on my lap at one time. My siblings were concerned. I told them, “Their father was very introverted when he was young. Sierra and Bryce will outgrow it. Leave them be and don’t make them feel like there is something wrong with them.”
Our society as a whole celebrates extroverts and pushes introverts to perform like them. When in reality, introverts are inward thinkers, and are often thoughtful, kind, reflective people as a whole. These children do not have poor social skills. They have an inborn need for quiet time to process what they take in by observing. There’s also a very real biological reason behind their behavior. Introverts’ and extroverts’ brains are “wired” differently, according to Dr. Marti Olsen Laney, author of The Hidden Gifts of the Introverted Child. A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience found that introverts have larger, thicker gray matter in their prefrontal cortices, which is the area of the brain associated with abstract thought and decision-making. It said, “Introverts are great problem-solvers. They’re good at comparing and contrasting, visually creative, and passionate lifelong learners.” Sounds like my two kids to a T.
Some of our most successful leaders, entertainers, and entrepreneurs, such as Bill Gates, Emma Watson, Warren Buffett, Courteney Cox, Christina Aguilera, J.K. Rowling, Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa, and Mahatma Gandhi, have been introverts. And I know that introverts can cultivate their extrovert side over time, so much so that it is difficult to say which an adult intrinsically is, if you don’t know what they personally prefer- to be with people or to be in their own company. We should do more than accept our children for who they are, we should celebrate them. And if raising my kids in a home/world school environment taught me anything, it’s to trust them.
Twenty-eight-year-old Sierra and twenty-six-year-old Bryce still talk to Todd and I nearly every day if they can or even multiple times a day if they need to, using the free WhatsApp program on our phones, when they are abroad. I don’t feel like they are too connected to their parents and we want to share our day and our wonderful lives with those we love the most. If we can no longer be physically present in our daily lives as we were when the kids were young, we can still stay connected through technology, being in person when we can. I won’t make excuses for our family’s rare connection. I did not years ago when the kids were very small and clingy, nor now when we stay connected by choice.
How Sierra and Bryce raise their own children, remains to be seen. As parents, we hope that we have instilled the best virtues, as we made the best choices which were right for Todd and I. Sierra and Bryce have their own lives, influenced by their significant other who were not raised as they were. As grandparents, however, Todd and I have tremendous gifts and wisdom and can impact our grandkids’ lives tremendously in a positive way, if we are given that opportunity. Everyone’s lives are so busy today and the addiction to technology is strong. It is increasingly more difficult for parents to carve time away from their busy schedules and get the kids outdoors. It may very well fall to the grandparents to make this important component- nature- present in the next generation’s life.
Babies are being born like crazy in our extended Ross family right now. Nearly all of my nieces are popping out babies. My own children are still figuring out how to navigate through their own world, find their place in the work world, build strong lasting relationships and marriages, let alone land somewhere where they could build their own family. But they are no longer the shy, introverted youngsters they once were. Far from that. Right this moment, one is studying artificial glaciers in Ladakh, northern India’s Himalayan Mountains and the other is walking up Portugal’s Camino pilgrim path. Their clinginess did not last. I felt it was important to let them hold tight to me when they needed to. It built confidence and personal strength as adults to go on and have their own life adventures. Although I was new to parenting back then, I am glad I followed my heart and embraced my children when they needed it, so their wings were strong and sturdy when thy did fly away.
Todd said that as the treehouse stands today, it is unsafe. The floor could collapse. It could not be repaired but needs to torn down and rebuilt. I say, do it. Our kids are gone and Todd and I certainly aren’t going to squeeze ourselves up there for “a night away” but more young children could be coming. Someday we might have grandchildren to once again fill this log home with laughter, silliness, and dancing. Add a sleep-over in the treehouse to that list. If not our grandkids, then we’ll invite the nieces’ and nephews’ kids over. Although we are years from the second generation Red Mountain treehouse, it could get a blueprint drawn up in the meantime. I want to be ready. Fix it and they will come.