I had a lot of grand ideas about what I planned to do with my kid once he could walk. The outdoor actuality with a toddler was not yet realized, the anticipation was still fully intact. The great outdoors was waiting for us! I would be hiking! Camping! I’d put that little tyke in the pack and we’d be on the summit in no time. I’d snap some pictures of him crawling around on the rocks and pointing at chipmunks, and I’d flood social media with how awesome I was for producing this little hardcore nature-lover.
Well, it turns out, a toddler in a pack is pretty heavy, even on our daily trips to the dog park in which no vertical elevation really exists. It also turns out that toddlers don’t walk very fast. Additionally, when they’re sixteen months, they still fall down all the time and try to eat dirt.
And thus, my fellow parents, we push up against the actuality of the moment, versus the anticipation of the moment. Lucky for us, at this point, if we haven’t learned to adapt our lifestyle to deal with our tiny overlords then we’ve got more aggravating things to tackle. We need to remember that with enough time the hikes will get longer, the packs will hold lunches instead of tiny humans, and your kid will be walking next to you.
“But that is YEARS from now, Autumn!” You might say, “You can’t expect us to just sit in my house looking at Ansel Adams photos and cry into my lukewarm coffee, can you?!” I mean, I can but I won’t, and here’s why:
You can still do stuff outdoors with a toddler!
I don’t just mean the zoo, or a park. I mean, you can take that little toddler, you can drive to the trails, and you can just let that kid start stumbling. Hear me out, there’s merit to this. I realize it can be a drive, and what’s the point if you’re not going to actually summit anything? Well here’s the point: your kid is in the wild and he is observing, grabbing dirt, destroying moss, and probably trying to eat something poisonous (stop him from doing that) but he is IN IT. You are DOING IT. Maybe after he wanders around for long enough communing with nature you grab the pack, throw him in it, and head up the trail for a mile or so. Then, you put him down and let him put on a repeat performance.
You’re probably only going to go a couple of miles unless you’re feeling particularly ambitious. It may not be the most spectacular wilderness experience you’ve ever had. Yet, there’s something to be said about breathing in that clean air, about hearing those birds sing and about the wind through the trees. You and your toddler are acclimating to spring as it settles in the foothills.
Maybe you drive an hour and your kid spends twenty minutes splashing in a stream, ten minutes screaming about the fact that now he is wet, and twenty more minutes eating a sandwich and glaring at you. That’s basically a full day and a complete success.
Lower the bar, my friends. But don’t sacrifice the location from which you get your nature fix. You can still make the trek, there’s still a part of you that needs to know you made it somewhere, anywhere, outside of the city. And if your kid is crying all the way home…well, there’s a few breweries once you get back in the city limits that love toddlers and provide a delicious pint of well-earned reward.