This post started with the title, “When Outdoor Parenting Sucks”. Clearly you’re catching me feeling a bit low about life as the parent of a toddler right now. 🙂 But these are the realities of parenting when you have a passion for the outdoor life. I consider myself lucky that these are the types of frustrations I’m dealing with. So, take it with a grain of salt, and enjoy learning alongside me.
I haven’t had a good cry in a long time, but I did yesterday. The reason why might seem silly to someone else, but to me it was perfectly logical. Beyond the sleep deprivation, the tears were mostly out of frustration, of realizing that we weren’t quite “there” yet as parents.
Because if there’s something I miss about my pre-parenthood life more than anything it’s freedom in the outdoors.
While we’ve had our fair share of backcountry trips, hikes and travels since Maya was born, only recently have I gotten a taste of the uninhibited outdoor experience again – the kind where I’m not sacrificing my own enjoyment for the sake of accommodating the needs of a toddler.
Don’t get me wrong: as a parent, I have accepted that sacrifice and adaptation are a part of the deal. I enjoy our outdoor adventures as a family, even if they don’t resemble the kind I’m used to. I have learned (the hard way) to lower my expectations and embrace the beauty of the small things. But, I can’t shake this part of myself – this yearning desire, this need, for a personal connection with the outdoors.
And as my little one grows up, I feel opportunity returning. Which is why it’s so hard when things fall through.
If you know the Lake O’Hara region of Yoho National Park, you’ll know how special it is. It’s one of my favourite places in the world. Paul has a gig doing a slideshow at the Le Relais hiking shelter there on Friday night, and we had the chance as a family to go in and do some hiking and camping.
In preparation for this prized getaway, I eased Maya into a new sleeping arrangement so that she might be comfortable sleeping in a tent. We set the tent up in the yard to get her accustomed to it. But, because we hadn’t been camping in a long time, mainly because of Maya’s particular sleeping habits, we decided a trial run prior to the trip (and closer to home) was a good idea.
We selected the Tunnel Mountain Village I campground in Banff for our trial. The experience started off on a good foot. Maya enjoyed setting up the tent (more like nearly impaling us with tent poles), chasing ground squirrels, exploring the forest and sitting in her camp chair. She also enjoyed hanging out in the tent and reading her books before bed. We were having a lot of fun.
But then bedtime came, and the circus began. The process started at 8pm with lots of songs, negotiating and wrestling a headlamp from her neck so she wouldn’t strangle herself. Without sharing all the details, at around 10:45pm she finally fell asleep on her own (hooray!), but lengthwise across the tent, underneath all the mattresses. Paul and I managed to crawl in without disturbing her and lay down on what was left of the floorspace. After about an hour she started to whimper. Every twenty minutes she’d let out a whine and then fall back into a restless sleep. I don’t know if it was a sore tummy or the unfamiliarity of nighttime in the tent, but she eventually she curled into a ball and wouldn’t stop crying. I hadn’t slept a wink.
When Paul lifted her up, the crying and screaming got as intense as it comes, and wouldn’t stop. We were conscious of the other people spending good money to camp alongside us. I thought of taking her for a walk, but I knew we’d be facing the same battle when we got back into the tent. Feeling helpless, at 3am I pulled out the (gasp! cringe!) iPad. I hated to be using technology, but when I opened a toddler sorting game, she calmed right down.
As we played together, Paul and I chatted through our options. We knew our little girl well enough to know that it was unlikely we’d ever get her back to sleep. She has an amazing amount of energy and willpower to stay awake even when she’s completely exhausted. And we couldn’t afford to stay up all night long, as we weren’t on vacation, just camping close to home during our work week.
Defeated, we made the call to pack up the car and head home in the middle of the night.
Goodbye, Lake O’Hara.
These are the tougher parts of parenthood for me: when I have something so close to my grasp as a backcountry trip up to one of the most pristine and beautiful parts of the mountain parks, and I have to pull the plug because I know it’ll be a gong-show.
I couldn’t hide my tears from Maya yesterday morning.
“Are you sad, Mommy?,” she asked.
“Yes, I am, dear,” I answered.
She handed me her blanket. “There you go, Mommy.” She wanted to comfort me, even if she didn’t know why.
I felt stupid for crying over a missed trip into the backcountry, especially knowing there are worse things happening in the world. I have a healthy child and lots to be grateful for, and I was surprised (and a bit mad) at how upset it made me. Perhaps it’s because I know how life-giving these trips are for me. These situations make me realize just how much I’ve missed this part of my life. You suppress it so much in the early throes of motherhood, but it has this way of sneaking its way back in.
I suppose that’s a good thing: that the things we love the most remain, even when life changes so drastically.
And that little girl who offered me her blanket…well, someday she’ll be hiking alongside me. I won’t have to watch her so closely when we’re throwing rocks in the water. She’ll help us find sticks for the fire and roll out her sleeping pad on her own.
I suppose I can wait a little bit longer. She’s already growing up way too fast.
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