Sometimes, you really have to go against your better instincts, and break out of your routine.
Just typing that I am deafened by the clamor of mothers everywhere screaming “blasphemy!”
Watch out- I’m going to really boil your blood when I say that there are things that are more important than a child’s sleep schedule. I swear someone outside my window just pointed and yelled “she’s a witch!”
Before you arrive on my doorstep with pitchforks and torches, hear me out.
This past weekend, we camped out as a family for the first time. My husband, Ben, has campaigned for a few months to win me over to this idea of an outdoor adventure. He eventually wore me down with a box of wine and promises of stargazing. It also helped that my mother-in-law volunteered to go with us. Three adults, two kids- the odds were in our favor (I hoped).
Five days before our trip, my three year old, Liam, started sobbing and complaining that his throat hurt. I looked in his mouth and saw the telltale white spots. A trip to the doctor confirmed that he had strep throat. My seventeen month old was also acting unusually cranky, so I had the doc check him out as well. Ear infection. As I crossed my fingers behind my back, I asked the doctor if we should postpone our camping trip (please please PLEASE!) No such luck. Instead, he advised of the best fishing spots in the area and tried to engage me in a debate over bait, as if I am a regular Bass Master.
We loaded up our car with tents, s’more fixings, sleeping bags, and a Jiffy Pop pan, and hit the road. We timed the car ride so that if everything went well, the boys would nap on the way and awake in the woods refreshed and curious. Liam is not a complete mess if he doesn’t get a nap, but Kellen is a hellion if he does not rest. He woke up about a half hour into the two hour car ride.
The car snapped into immediate silent mode, akin to someone saying “fuck” in a church. We all silently prayed “please let this kid go back to sleep.” Oh no, not so easy. I spent the next hour and a half singing, reading, pointing out interesting landmarks, playing “this little piggy” and any other thing I could think to keep this kid from screaming the entire way there. He alternated between “hey, that’s kind of funny” and “lady, you better get me the fuck out of this seat ” at about thirty seconds intervals. By the time we arrived, I was repeatedly chanting “what have I done” within my mind. Luckily, my husband unpacked that box of wine at record speed.
As soon as Kellen was released from the constraints of his car seat, he became an entirely new kid. He and Liam took to investigating the campground while we unloaded the equipment. I would assume most young children prefer to be outside, but my boys are truly nature boys at heart. They would live outside if I would just quit locking the doors. They inquisitively began examining rocks, and pointing out trees. Kellen is most at ease when he is filthy, so he happily plopped himself down and began bathing in the dirt.
Ben took to setting up the tents. Liam stood just out of range, jumping up and down in anticipation of finally climbing inside. When the time finally came, he rushed into the tent and squealed with pleasure. Of course I have heard him shriek with happiness before, but this was a level bordering on perfection. I thought nothing could top that sound- then we unrolled the sleeping bag. He snuggled right down into the padding, giggled to himself, and declared that he wanted to live in the tent forever.
Liam has anticipated roasting marshmallows ever since he watched an episode where Caillou went camping.
His grandmother, Sandy, carved a stick for him. He grasped it proudly and held still as the placed the marshmallow on the end. She explained which spots in the fire would roast the marshmallow to golden brown, and which would blacken its’ exterior. Meanwhile, Kellen was dragging his marshmallow into the dirt, then placing it in the fire, then back to the dirt. He encouraged me to eat it, but I took a pass.
The excitement of the day began to wear on Kellen. I rocked him to sleep and held him in my arms for a few moments before placing him inside his sleeping bag. When I returned to the campfire, Liam stated that he was ready to go to bed. Since he never voluntarily goes to sleep, I assume he was excited to crawl into his own sleeping bag. Perhaps I need to pop a tent in the house? Granny decided to retire with him so she could read him stories.
Ben and I pulled our chairs next to the lantern, refilled our plastic cups with wine, and gazed up into the sky. I had grown so accustomed to city nights that I had nearly forgotten what stars looked like. For a few moments, time reversed. We weren’t two tired parents wearily trying to last through the day; we were a couple of lovebirds getting to know each other while backpacking and sharing adventures on the open trail.
We knew the morning would come too soon, so we tore ourselves from the starry view and climbed into our own tent. About thirty minutes later, Kellen began crying. I dragged myself out of the comfort of my sleeping bag, and rocked him to sleep. An hour later, he wailed again. I repeated the routine. After a couple more repeats, I placed him in between Ben and I. He finally drifted off into slumber, but I awkwardly tried to get comfortable without moving too much to disturb him. Of course, he didn’t just want to lie between us, he wanted to be held. My arm fell asleep under the weight of his head, while my mind began computing the amount of sleep I was missing out on.
Somehow, I nodded off. I awoke to a precious baby snuggled right up against me. I smelled his hair, gazed on his face, and drank in the moment. I had to be forcibly pulled from my precious routine in order to find the moments’ peace to reflect on the fleeting nature of babyhood. He’s almost a year and a half. My “baby” moments are borrowed at best. Again, I felt like I stepped back in time, to a point before he could walk or crawl or talk- to the period where he was content to sleep on my chest and I was content to have him there.
He groggily woke up, then rolled over. When he lifted his head and realized he was on the bed between Mommy and Daddy, he broke out into giggles and smiled the biggest grin. We lazily tickled his toes and smothered him in kisses.
The night before, as I watched my boys roasting their marshmallows and gazing on the campfire, I acknowledged the trip as being a good idea. We had the chance to make once in a lifetime memories for our children. The following morning, I realized we made the trip not just for them. We needed it. I needed it. I needed that reminder to pause and take notice. Sometimes I get so wrapped in the drudgery of laundry, repeated picking up of toys, and endless instructions to share, that special occurrences flutter past me like leaves on a fall day.
For one night, I got to experience the thrill of first love, the magic of newborns, and the excitement of toddlers. Talk about a whirlwind romance.