Teach your kids to really love this country
by Judith Timson
On this Canada Day, I wonder: How do you instill a love of country in your children that isn’t hand-over-heart rote patriotism? How do you help them understand they are living in a paradise of benefits and beauty? Or make them want to, as grown-ups, become good citizens and give back to their country?
You start by stepping outside.
American psychologist and author Mary Pipher (The Shelter of Each Other) says that as grown-ups we tend to remember three things about our childhood: special meals, vacations and time spent outdoors. She counsels families who want to stay intact and healthy to get outside together, whether it’s for a walk, a picnic or a camping trip.
It’s also the best way to instill in kids a love of their country.
When I think of how we experienced Canada with our children – now grown and off doing their own thing – certain indelible and nostalgic scenes roll out in my mind like a well-worn travelogue.
There was that glorious whale-watching excursion on the Bay of Fundy, a cold sunny day in which the kids, too stubborn to have listened to us about bringing warm clothes, ended up going down in the hold and borrowing old — smelly, they said — woollen hats and sweaters, finally warming up as we held our breath and waited for the sight of a whale.
When a magnificent right whale burst out of the water, the sight wiped out any carapace of coolness they had carefully constructed and replaced it with pure awe. Score one for Canada.
There was, clear across the country, that road trip to Tofino, B.C., where we saw a black bear by the side of the road amid the ancient tree trunks and tiptoed around mounds of seaweed and shells on an uninhabited beach. We were at the far edge of Canada, a wild place, but we had somehow ended up in a goofy highway motel, lending a cheesy truck stop ethos to the whole trip, despite the natural beauty. The kids loved it. Score another one for Canada.
There have been two cottages — a rental in Haliburton, Ont., where for many summers we almost took for granted glorious sunsets over the lake and the loons calling to each other. One adventuresome night we drove kilometres to the Algonquin Park wolf howl, where hundreds of adults and children stood outside their parked cars and listened intently as human wolf howlers tried to elicit the real thing. Of course we swear we heard those wolves, just as more than 126,000 other people have sworn they have since the 1960s. According to the park’s website, since 1990 there has been a success rate of 88 per cent of people hearing wolves. In other words, not perfect, but pretty darn close. How Canadian is that?
And finally, the extended family paradise – a log cabin in the Laurentians on the smallest of lakes where our children spent part of each summer with cousins, aunts and uncles and grandparents, going into the local small town where they had to practise their French and where they learned what real poutine tasted like. They still feel a sense of belonging to this place that will never fade.
These are our family’s sterling outdoor Canadian moments, countervailed as every family well knows by the hideous ones, for instance the three-day Temagami camping trip in Ontario during which no one seemed to speak a civil word through the rain, and a holiday in Vancouver during which the kids, to my chagrin, thought sitting inside on a gorgeous day watching Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was a perfect West Coast activity
We have raised two different kids — one who is unregenerately urban and the other who balances her city student life with the deep need to work up North every summer.
I’ve never heard either of my children profess any overt love of country or express how it feels to them to be Canadian.
But I’ve heard each of them relay to me in minute detail their memories of these outdoor experiences. When they do, I realize they are talking a particular type of patriotic shorthand for being a part of Canada and loving it.
This country is so vast and so beautiful that I have profound regrets over what we didn’t show them, restricted by those cottage interludes, summer camp and by our own challenges and imaginations.
We didn’t show them (or ourselves for that matter) Newfoundland, and neither of our kids has seen a prairie field or the wonders of Alberta’s Banff or Lake Louise.
Yet as time naturally ran out on the childhood summer excursions, I came to the conclusion that maybe the very best way to instill a love of Canada in your children is to leave them with their childhood memories and the conviction and the curiosity that there is so much more to see.
It’s all up to them now.