I suppose my wonderment is one of the biggest reasons I am determined to take them outside as often as possible for walks on trails or the neighbourhood sidewalks.
Once upon a time, for almost five years, I lived in Huron County and spent my summers exploring the trees and trails near our house in Exeter, Ont. Our home was in the “new” subdivision on the outskirts of town, next to a huge forest. Mind you, given my age and perspective at that time, the forest was probably not quite so huge.
Disappearing in the trees was magical. A couple of steps into the woods, and suddenly, my neighbourhood friends and I were in charge. Pre-Netflix and YouTube, we imagined all kinds of scenarios during those few summers. We built forts with branches and went on treasure hunts. Sometimes we were being hunted, and sometimes we were the hunters. Only once was this make-believe world at risk when we ran into a couple of big kids smoking near the creek. Aside from that one glimpse of reality with cigarettes and new (overheard) cuss words, there was something about being outside and away from the four walls of our homes that inspired our nine-year-old selves to dream big.
I’m no longer that carefree kid building forts in the woods. Yet when I watch Rachel and Janneke, my two nonverbal and severely developmentally challenged daughters, I wonder if they too are capable of imaginative play. When they are sitting in their chairs or on the swings, where are their thoughts? Do they dream? Do they want to build a fort under their beds, or do they imagine themselves on an adventure into a mysterious world?
I suppose my wonderment is one of the biggest reasons I am determined to take them outside as often as possible for walks on trails or the neighbourhood sidewalks. There’s a place near our home called Heartland Forest that hosts a path through the woods and an accessible treehouse. It is a treat to see others push Rachel and Janneke along the wooden ramps and share the joy of seeing the forest from the treehouse platform. Even on the days when Ralph and the older girls are gone, I muster the energy to get Rachel and Janneke out. Maybe when the girls see the leaves changing colour or catch sight of a large bird flying overhead, they dream about colour or flying. All I can do is wonder.
I consider the walks with Rachel and Janneke profound because it’s a chance for them to engage with their world and their Creator as naturally as possible given their limitations. Profound because they have a chance to create meaning of the experience. There is no therapist adjusting the glare of the sun or setting up the speed in which the leaves and birds are entering the girls’ fields of vision. Taking the girls for a walk among the trees brings a sense of ordinary to what often feels like a more-than-ordinary life.
Recently, I took the girls for a walk right after Rachel received her new glasses. It was great fun to see her looking every which way, from left to right and from sky to ground. It more than confirmed the glasses were necessary; it also confirmed her deliberate intention to explore with her eyes the world around her.
I’d like to assume the girls dream and wonder more than they let on. Maybe there’s a piece of that imaginative kid inside me yet who chooses to believe that there’s more to my girls than meets the eye. I would rather remain hopeful there’s a sense of wonder and a desire to dream behind those bright eyes. I would rather pretend that taking a walk gives them a glimpse of seeing the unseen. I would rather imagine that they are grateful at the end of the day for the time spent away from their beds, away from the four walls of their room.
“There is no life I know
To compare with pure imagination
Living there, you’ll be free
If you truly wish to be.”
Sara Pot lives on Thompson Ave. in St. Catharines, Ont. with her husband, four daughters and a golden doodle named Luna.