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Jen Ciraldo Headshot

The Importance of the Outdoors

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My son's second two-syllable word was outside. (His first was pizza.) As soon as Julian says it, we put on our shoes and head out, even when it's drizzling. Some days we drive ten miles to wander through a nature preserve with our dog. Other days we drive to the beach. And sometimes we just open the front door and play in the creek, stomp through the mud, climb our favorite tree, kick a soccer ball and watch the ducks swim in the pond.

We just relocated to New York from California, where we were spoiled with incredible landscapes. Thanks to my partner Will, I really fell in love with the outdoors. He grew up backpacking through the California wilderness and is an avid surfer and mountain biker. Our first date was a three-hour hike into the Santa Ynez Mountains that surround Santa Barbara. He took me on my first real backpacking trip -- a grueling 50-mile trek through the Los Padres National Forest. (Note to couples -- for the ultimate compatibility test, go backpacking.) So when we decided to start a family, we both agreed that we would continue our adventures so our children would appreciate the outdoors, too.

When Julian was just under a year, we invested in a kid-carrying backpack. Three or four times a week, we would hit the trails and hike miles into the National Forest, which was practically in our backyard. Within months, Julian was exploring on his own two feet, wanting to investigate the wilderness on his level. He'd find a favorite rock and carry it for a while before he'd ditch it for another.

Will encouraged Julian's curiosity of the creeks and started stripping him down one day to let him go for a dip. I was resistant to it at first, but it was two against one on this one. Julian ignored my anxieties and just walked in on his own. I watched as Will splashed with his son in the water he played in as a child and I quickly, and happily, gave in. Wading in the creeks became a regular part of our hikes. Julian always came home dirty, exhausted and blissfully happy. And I developed a love of mud, realizing the dirt on our hands was a sign of a good time.

I've gotten more comfortable with the little hazards that come with Julian's exploration. He's taken falls while navigating rocky terrain on the trails, tumbles into the stream that left him covered in mud from head to toe, Poison Oak in California and a patch of Poison Ivy on his arm that is still lingering from our winter exploring.

Moving back to New York to be near family was important, but I feared being away from wide-open spaces. But within a week we were hitting the hiking trails, visiting the animals at nearby Muscoot Farm, and just simply getting outside every day. We watch three Red Tailed hawks soar over our yard most mornings. There are natural wonders I never noticed about these suburbs when I was growing up. But having a kid has taught me to have an even greater sense of appreciation for everything around me and to look up more often. I've found myself impatiently waiting for the tadpoles to come out so Julian and I can watch them become frogs. Julian is showing me a whole new enjoyment of nature with his excitement over the little things he discovers outside.

I have those maternal visions of what Julian might become one day. But above all else, I want him to be a good person. In our family, that includes respect for animals and nature. And we're doing that by taking him out to experience and develop a love for the wilds around him.