My 8-year-old son has recently been diagnosed with Nature Deficit Disorder. I should have seen it coming, as earlier in the year he sprained both thumbs playing video games.
I’m very worried about the best course of treatment for him. His pediatrician prescribed a low dose cocktail of Zoloft and Ritalin, and a high dose of Vitamin D and the Nature Channel, but my brother-in-law says I should just make him stay outside every day after school till dinnertime. He also volunteered to let my son come over and chop wood for him. We live in a 12-story apartment building in a busy city, so getting him outside is a challenge.
Dear Concerned Mom:
You are right to be worried. Recent studies have linked NDD to obesity, attention disorders, depression, myopia, and a suppressed sense of wonder. I’m not trying to scare you; I’m sure your family doctor already did a fine job of that. Childhood sure is different from when we were growing up, isn’t it? I have fond memories of Sunday nights after dinner watching “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” on my grandparents’ furniture-sized color TV. The voiceover giving us the blow-by-blow of the lions hunting, out there on the golden plains of Africa. Seated on the freshly vacuumed living room carpet, we could have been spectators at a gladiatorial battle for all our fascination with the violence unfolding.
It may be some comfort to you that we all suffer from the same malady as your son. You know it’s bad when even our poets feel like outsiders in nature. This one—Tony Hoagland—wrote a good poem called “The Social Life of Water” that you might want to read to your son some night at bedtime. Maybe the two of you could think of how Tony might have written it if only he thought of all the water in his very own cells. Or in his breath every time he exhales. Or (and this is where an 8-year-old boy could really get rolling) in his saliva, urine, tears, blood, and snot. The human body, after all, is more than 60% water. It’s a mystery to me that the very talented and imaginative Mr. Hoagland couldn’t put two and two together. It breaks my heart that he thinks the water in us isn’t murmuring just as intently to the clouds as puddles are.
It’s not my style to tell people what to do, which might strike you as odd, given that I am an advice columnist. I prefer to nudge them gently, like suggesting that before you dose your son up with Big Pharma or conscript him to your brother-in-law, just take him for a walk in a nearby park after a rain or new snowfall. Really, the weather doesn’t even matter, as long as you’re dressed for it. Bring a camera and invite him to take pictures of anything that catches his eye. We are blessed with so many great senses—might as well use ‘em, that’s what I say. After a few sessions with the camera, you could try using other senses, like smell or hearing and see what happens.
In closing, let me just say that you don’t have to go to Yosemite National Park to have an experience of the outdoors. Nature is everywhere, even in our own bodies. True, the experts do recommend going outside rather than double-dosing with the Nature Channel. Since you live in a big city, try watching the sunset every day for a week. (I prefer the sunrise myself, but so few people are up at that time of day, and when they are, they tend to be pretty cranky.)
As a mother, you’ll appreciate this. It wasn’t until years later that anyone bothered to tell us that the female lions do all the work and the males just lay around looking regal. What’s up with that?