I was an only child until I was 33, and when my sister was born I couldn’t wait until we could do stuff together. I pictured us playing, camping and hiking: two adventurous, muddy, scabby-kneed girls. After her recent visit, I’ve accepted reality: my almost-13-year-old sister is an indoor girl. Not that she’s always inside, but she excels at lounging. Whenever the outdoors requires effort, boldness or curiosity, she’s just not that into it. Yet we’ve discovered that an outdoor girl and an indoor girl can enjoy 10 days together without wanting to kill each other – much.
You might even call an encounter between two such different species, an adventure. It’s certainly taught me important skills to help me create, survive and enjoy activities with any less adventurous partner.
Her first day, we took it easy. She’d just flown from sea level Los Angeles to mile high Denver, and though she’d insisted she wasn’t tired, she slept until almost noon. We walked a few blocks to buy sandwiches from our favorite deli and ate them at a nearby park. Lazing on the grass under a tree on a sunny day reminded me, I don’t have to hike a mountain to feel refreshed by the outdoors. An important compromise to remember when hanging out with indoor girls: outdoors can be just that, outside the door.
After we finished, she asked, “Can we go to the mall now?” At the Apple Store, we took silly photos of ourselves on a Mac, which Miraya then altered: psychedelic, posterized, pulverized. This was entertaining… for the first half hour. I finally coaxed her away for my idea of indoor fun, shooting photos of my sister atop giant plastic breakfast foods in the mall’s play area: waffle, bacon, sunny-side-up eggs.
Then began her endless hunt for sunglasses. As you may know, I hate shopping. Yet that fact turned our mall visit to advantage, because it had been a year since I’d bought summer clothes. So, while she spun the sunglass tree, I bought a blouse – at Forever 21, although I’m Forever More than Twice that Age. Without an indoor girl’s influence, I might never own new clothes. Then again, Claire’s unbearably cute accessories were clearly designed to nauseate outdoor sisters. Self-preservation was in order: I stepped outside and made a phone call.
The next day was Monday, which my husband Dale and I reserve for hiking, since it’s his day off and trails are less crowded. Two years ago, my sister and I hiked to Lake Isabelle, a rolling 4-mile trail to nearly 11,000 feet, and she enjoyed it… except for the 10 uphill minutes at the end. Now that she was two years older, a hike to Maxwell Falls, a rolling 4-mile trail to 8400 feet, would surely be no problem.
My sister politely declined a closer look.
I underestimated how “haaaaard” basic movement is for a mall rat. She politely declined to venture anywhere near the rocky edge for a good view of the waterfall, poked fun at my constant photographing of columbines and started asking “how much farther” before we’d gone half a mile. When we reached the parking lot, she and I both felt relieved to finish the loop. Dale broke the bad news: that wasn’t a loop, and this wasn’t our parking lot. The trail was an out-and-back. Miraya wanted no part of “back.” Dale and I weren’t much happier, faced with the inevitable foot-dragging, moaning and “are we almost theres?” of a disgruntled tween. My favorite: “When this is over, I’m going to need surgery on my legs.”
The next day, I gave in to my inner indoor girl. My sister and I shot hoops, crashed racecars, blew away enemy soldiers and rocked a concert, all in the comfort of an arcade. Miraya was a true Guitar Hero, while I got booed off stage. But she was disappointingly non-violent: she could care less about dealing bloody death with rifles, machine guns and grenades, which could have kept me inside all day. However, we both had a blast watching robots knock the antifreeze out of each other in “Transformers 2.” If she must be an indoor girl, at least we can bond over one of my favorite indoor pleasures: movies.
At Water World, we were both in our element. My fear that my sister might be a chicken faded, when I coaxed her deeper than ever into the wave pool. We laughed so hard we almost warmed our neighbors. But when we lugged yet another float tube uphill, she teased: “You promised you weren’t going to take me on any more long hikes!” Laughter: the most important survival skill for encounters between indoor and outdoor girls.
My sister loves art, so we made our next excursion to the Cherry Creek Arts Festival. Foiled by the outdoors again! This event is always scorching hot, and by the third booth she was grumbling, “How much longer?” Between water breaks, ice cream breaks and shade breaks, we spent half an hour angrily admiring art, before rediscovering sisterly affection inside The Wizard’s Chest, a store full of toys, costumes, magic and air conditioning.
On July 4th, we baked a three-berry pie. Baking is a tradition for us, as is her sulking over my math quizzes: “If I’ve increased the recipe one and a half times, and the usual recipe calls for ½ cup of sugar, how much sugar do we need?” She grew so frustrated, another big sister might have hesitated before handing her the rolling pin. But rolling dough was her favorite part, and we were both proud to present the tasty pie at my girlfriend’s house that evening.
My girlfriend has a daughter Miraya’s age, who shares her tween girl interests in malls, MySpace, music and non-stop chatter. This is a critical survival skill for us outdoor girls: taking occasional breaks from our indoor counterparts, and distracting them with more compatible people and activities.
We regrouped to eat dinner, throw poppers and watch fireworks from our friends’ balcony – entertainment we could all enjoy, indoorsy teenyboppers and outdoorsy grownups alike.
On Sunday, my girlfriend and I dropped the girly girls off for their idea of outdoors, Six Flags Elitch Gardens, while we women took off for ours, a Boulder hike. Although Gregory Canyon didn’t completely leave the city behind, it featured red rocks, bright wildflowers and a satisfying uphill slog. When we returned and called the girly girls at 2:30, they’d already tired of the amusement park, and my friend’s husband had taken them to… the mall.
I made one more attempt to share the beauty of nature, if not the rewards of effort. I promised to take my little sister to the Pearl Street Mall, to stores filled with candy and wind-up toys. But first, I wanted to show her Boulder Falls, which would require her to walk just 6/10ths of an itty-bitty mile. A higher power rescued me from my folly, with a sign just outside town, announcing the waterfall was closed.
At least Pearl Street is an outdoor mall. And when it comes to chicken hats, I do enjoy accessories. On the other hand, “Yes, it’s cute,” “No, you can’t have one,” and “enough already!!!” The next day I took my sister and her giant lollipop to the airport. I’m going to miss that indoor girl.
Tips to Survive & Enjoy Adventures with Indoor Girls:
1) Compromise: remember not all outdoor activities have to be hardcore to be fun. Find outdoor activities you both enjoy, like picnics, water parks and chasing down the ice cream man.
2) Set free your inner indoor girl: everyone enjoys a little laid back living now and then. Find an indoor interest you both share, like arcades, movies or math-free baking.
3) Take breaks from each other, and introduce your indoor buddy to people and activities she can enjoy without you.
4) When you do schedule outdoor activities, don’t schedule anything too long or strenuous. Make sure you take plenty of breaks to rest, rehydrate and cool off (or warm up). Whether you’re spending time with an indoor tween or indoor grownup, I wouldn’t recommend walking, peddling or paddling more than a mile the first time around. If she does well, you can always increase the distance next time.
5) Keep laughing. Especially be willing to laugh at yourself. Remember, she finds your desire to climb mountains or learn new things that aren’t required for school or work just as puzzling as you find her love of shopping or lounging all day when she could be doing something exciting.
Read an excerpt from Cara’s memoir: They Only Eat Their Husbands, coming in 2010 from Ghost Road Press.