First of the Month

Last evening, I went a half hour out of my way to stop at one of the local state parks on my way home from work.

L was with his dad for the night, my last free night for awhile. That free time comes with so much weight.

It is always a dilemma for a parent – do I use my down time to relax (read, watch tv, etc), to GO TO BED and finally catch up on sleep, to be productive (heck, even how to be productive is a question – do I finish the laundry or do I get groceries?). I think some moms struggle with taking time for themselves, and that is not me. I think I have a healthy balanace of trying to stay on top of things, but also knowing my needs and paying attention to them. It is not easy – it is never easy. I don’t always draw the line correctly. Sometimes I regret having taken an evening to myself, because I know I would have felt so much better and less stressed if I had just got that shit DONE. I often find myself sacrificing sleep as well! I HEAVILY rely on coffee. No shame there – we do what we gotta do.

Anyway. Last night I felt the call to get outside. It was a beautiful day that I had spent inside – I couldn’t walk at lunch. The start of August has a way of making you want to make the most of the summer. I was exhausted. I probably could have gone home and fallen asleep almost immediately at 7pm. I could have gotten groceries and meal prepped. I could have gone home and watch mindless TV. I could have paid the bills and finished the laundry. All valid choices!

I  knew it was the right choice as soon as I got out of town. Those back roads, the mountains, the green, the state park signs. The sky was beautiful, the sun shining from behind a large cloud, reflecting on the lake. You could hear kids playing. There were many fishing boats out on the water, and some runners on the trail. I wasn’t the only one trying to soak up the summer.

I was in my work clothes, but I didn’t care. I walked the trail. I sat by the water. I breathed in the forest air and felt the sun on my face. I listened to the sounds of the birds and the bugs. I felt alive. I felt free.

Hiking Community

My outdoor adventures have largely been solo – either with L or without L. I do occasionally convince people to join me – I have people that are up for the occasional hike or “camping cottage” camping weekend, but I do not have anyone that is as passionate about it as I am. I’ve known that for a lot of the things I want to do, I have to do them alone, or they won’t happen. And I’ve embraced the solo aspect of my journeys as a part of process. It has been part of the adventure – proving to myself what I am capable of, learning to be alone. A lot of the emotional work happens when you are alone as well – there have been many nights alone in my tent or a cabin after L goes to sleep that have been vital to mental health. To read, to journal, to think.

While exploring social media (I am new to Instagram and twitter), I came across a nation wide group with a local chapter of parents who hike with their children. I couldn’t make it to most of the hikes I saw posted – either during the workday or too far away. But! This past week, I saw one come up at one of the state parks that is close by, for a sunset hike on Friday. There was plenty of time for me to make it after work, and a convenient location. I signed up!

A big part of me wanted to have a quiet Friday night – literally crash after the week I had after returning from our big adventure on Sunday evening. But! I knew getting outside, being active and meeting new people would be just as relaxing and a great way to unwind. I also knew I might not have a chance to get outside the rest of the weekend due to other obligations. RSVPing also made it unlikely that I would end up not going because I didn’t “feel like it,” because I felt lazy or chickened out. It held me accountable to do this thing that I really wanted to do.

It was so worth it. I kept thinking of it during the day – something to look forward to. And I was also proud of myself for doing it (it is not easy to meet up with people you don’t know!), and for giving L that experience. The view was truly incredible, the atmosphere of the hike was perfect (handful of moms with young kids), and it was a new experience for L and for me (night hike).

I had a headlamp for myself and for L (it was dark for most of the hike down), and I used my camelback – so I could be hands free to help L and it was hot enough I thought we would need water on the hike (L drank a lot). I did end up carrying L for a small portion of the hike down, but he was so tired since it was way past his bedtime. He had done this hike on his own before, but it was much cooler and not close to bedtime 🙂 One of the moms brought glow sticks, which was a great idea.

I also realized there was another night hike going on at the same state park that same day, organized by the organization that supports to the park. This experience just made me realize the community that is out there. It is easy for me to do these things alone, and my instinct is not to make the effort, but, so much comes from joining others and getting involved. It brings new experiences, makes me happy and teaches me new things.





Long Distance Car Travel

Most people would not do what I do when it comes to traveling with a small child – even just traveling alone, actually. I received a lot of interesting responses when I told people I was driving to Nova Scotia (from Pennsylvania), most of them not even realizing I’m traveling it as the only adult with a small child along for the ride. I actually let some people (acquaintance/coworkers) assume that I was flying unless they directly asks to avoid the awkward conversations.
Its not for everyone. and I get that. Not everyone could do it – and not everyone would want to. BUT, it is for me. I wanted my car, I wanted my camping gear, I wanted the flexibility. I knew I could break the trip up to make it manageable, I knew L was flexible and laid back, and I knew that with enough caffeine, I could tackle the driving. I chose Cape Breton Highlands National Park, because it was something unique, different, “exotic” (to me!), but still within driving distance. I also knew Acadia National Park would be a good in between spot to spend a few days in on the return trip. I felt it was about as adventurous as I could get given my situation.
I had similarly driven down to the Florida Keys in January 2016, so I am not a stranger to long driving trips. L was younger then, so my mom and sister flew him down to Miami to meet up with me, and I really broke the return trip up into several destinations – we stayed several nights in several locations through Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia. I also grew up traveling to Massachusetts from Pennsylvania several times a year (where my moms family is), and of course, when I lived in Nashville, Louisville and Indiana, I made a lot of long driving trips home. So, that is all to say I may not find driving distances as intimidating as someone who has not been exposed to it the way I have.
So,  how did I do it? I’m lucky enough to have a DVD player in my car, so I stocked up on a few new videos I thought L would like. I’m not a huge fan and screen time – but L gets so little of it otherwise, that I don’t mind letting screen time in the car be largely unlimited. We do what it takes to get where we need to go. Interestingly enough, he wanted to watch the same 6 episodes of Paw Patrol over and over. 🙂 I use my headphones to listen to podcasts or music when he watched something. I also bought several dry erase activities boards (drawing, numbers and letters) and a sticker book (P.S. he put all the stickers all over his shirt lol). Sometimes he will spend a good half hour coloring or “writing” in the car. I sent a snap of him working on his numbers, and my friend responded with “Summer school!” 🙂
I had packed food for the two travels days, so we stopped at a nice rest area for lunch on the first day. Leander ate and then chased butterflies around. While I had packed snacks, we usually bought drinks (more coffee for me!) and occasionally a special treat when we had to stop to get gas or use the bathroom. While for a shorter trip, I would have tried to limit stops – I took the approach of stopping often, taking our time, just getting through. L has a neck pillow, and I had that, his stuff animal and a blanket up with me. He did nap for each of the drives, although sometimes not for very long. He also enjoys just talking – so many questions!! I will usually try to distract him when he gets frustrated or bored by talking about what we can see outside. We drove to Augusta, ME the first day, and stayed in a hotel with a microwave, an outdoor pool and free breakfast. I found it on Expedia once I could estimate where we would end up for the night. We stopped between 5-6, and got to spend some time in the pool where we were lucky enough to find other kids! We had dinner in the hotel room – I had brought leftovers for me, and made Annie’s microwavable mac and cheese for L, and lots of fruit. And, we were able to eat a sit down breakfast and fill up before heading back on the road! I had also packed a bag with what we would need just for that night, so we wouldn’t have to unpack much.
With L only being 4, we did stop several times for him to pee on the side of the road/parking lot/etc, because sometimes we were in the middle of nowhere, and I did not want accidents! You just have to be flexible with kids. Also, lesson learned – fill up for gas whenever you can. Before we crossed into Canada, we were in a fairly remote section of Maine. I remember seeing a gas station and thinking we should stop – but instead, decided I would stop at the next one. Of course, there was not a next one for a long time, the gas light came on, and my gps said the next gas station was 70 miles away. Thankfully, we passed a campground that had a diner and two old fashioned pumps out front. It took forever to pump, and we paid at the diner, but so so so grateful.
Summary of travel tips:
  • Be Prepared! Pack for the travel time: bag of activities, what child needs to sleep/be comfortable, all food for the trip, travel documentation (reservations, passports), bag just for overnight (if more than one day of travel), get gas way before you run out 😉
  • Be Flexible! Screen time and snack rules loosen, stop as many times as you want, have a plan but play it by ear
  • Allow for Breaks/Be Active! Stay at a hotel with a pool or playground, get kids out of the car and moving when you can
With the right mindset and planning, and of course knowing your child’s capabilities/personality, it can be done. We drove two days in a row up to Nova Scotia (about 20 hours total), the drive from Nova Scotia to Acadia area (about 10 hours), and then the drive back to Pennsylvania (another 10 hours). By the end our trip, L was no longer asking “Are we getting close?” but had moved onto “We aren’t close yet, are we?” 🙂

My Tent

I was a little hesitant about camping for three nights in a tent with L. We have done it before – but only one night, back in January 2016, on the Florida Keys. I typical book rustic cabins, camping cottages, yurts, or (as of recently!) tentiks, when traveling with L. It makes sense to do this while he is young – especially for naps, but also, just to have a place to have quiet time OR hang out if the weather is not cooperating (he can paint, color, read, play legos, eat, etc). Camping, adventuring, being outside, all can wear him out – one morning on our recent trip he asked if we could stay inside all day! (Don’t worry, he changed his mind a couple hours later 😉

I also camp alone in my tent often enough (and I love it!), but, I have to be honest – I do get a little scared at night sometimes! It usually takes at least the first night to adjust, to get used to the noises, the darkness.

So, I was worried about the tight space (keeping a small kid confined that way!), that he (we) would get scared – he is somewhat afraid of the dark, that napping wouldn’t happen, that he wouldn’t sleep well at night, etc. I actually wondered if we’d end up in a hotel at some point, if things really went badly. I worried about how long it would take for me to set up – the sun would set less than an hour after we arrived.

BUT, I was so pleasantly surprised. Setting the tent up was a piece of cake (I know it so well now), and L even helped! He helped unfold and straighten out the tent, tent footprint and rain fly, and put the tent poles together. He also insisted on pumping up the air mattresses (by hand)…which was not exactly helpful, but it was adorable. When I walked in the tent, the familiarity, the smell…a feeling of “home” washed over me. I suppose I have been through so much with that tent…

Our set up was comfortable – our pillows, sleeping bags and air mattresses, and we both slept very well. I had replaced his Thomas the Train kids sleeping bag with a “real” sleeping bag, since the weather was going to be low 50s. Other than L asking occasionally “what was that?!” at someone walking by, or a bird making a unique sound, neither of us felt scared. It really was the perfect tent camping spot – there was plenty of space and privacy, we were truly in a fairly remote location, but there were plenty of families close by that made me feel safe. We stayed at Lamoine State Park – about a 30 minute drive from Acadia National Park. More on that later.

In the mornings, L would start rolling closer and closer to me, until he was pretty much on my air mattress, arms wrapped around my neck. It was sweet. Overall, super successful tent camping with L – I can’t wait to do it again. I’m thrilled to discover the confidence and comfort I have with tent camping now, how being inside that tent felt this time around.