Ah, summer. It always goes by so fast. For the last two years, this has been compounded by taking not one, not two, but three trips (notice I did not say “vacations”), traveling with my toddler. Each trip was separated by less than two weeks, which is really too small a time to really get unpacked and settled back into a routine. This had the end result of taking up almost two months’ time — practically the whole summer.
This year, we are planning the same thing. A long July Fourth weekend at my aunt and uncle’s lake house in rural Virginia. A trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where my inlaws have a condo. A week-long stay at the Jersey shore with my family.
Sounds great, doesn’t it?
And it is. But it’s also a lot of work.
I’m still getting the hang of this traveling with toddlers thing. As is most often the case as a parent, our own fun is a distant second to that of our children’s. So we are like the man behind the curtain, pulling strings to make sure that everything is magical in their eyes. All of the preparation, all of the food and entertainment, all of the concerns about safety occupy our trip, in the hope that fun is the only thing that occupies theirs.
OK, so this year I geared up for the first of the three trips. The lake house. The lake house presented a series of challenges:
- We were sharing the house with my aunt and uncle, my two cousins (one in high school and one in college), my cousin’s friend, my parents, my sister, her husband and their two kids. Including us, that’s 14 people. FOURTEEN.
- There isn’t really a yard in which the kids can run around in.
- The backyard is a series of steps leading down to a dock.
- The water off the dock is very deep.
Then I have the series of particular challenges presented by my two-year-old:
- He’s prone to tantrums because of his communication and sensory processing issues.
- Most people think sensory processing issues don’t even exist.
- He’s not a good sleeper on vacation
- He’s a picky eater. Like really picky.
- If I don’t do what he wants (like bring him in bed with us or give him the food he wants), he will throw a major tantrum.
- No one wants to hear tantrums.
So how’d I do? Well, everyone emerged from the weekend safe and sound, so that’s the most important thing. But there were tantrums, tears (on my part) and some acts of questionable parenting (you want to eat a bazillion chips that will ruin your dinner? Go ahead, as long as it keeps you quiet).
Traveling with your toddler and other people, you have to pick your battles. Do you want to enforce all the rules to a T, or do you want a toddler who’s not screaming? It’s picking the lesser of two evils.
Another problem for us is that LM is all about Daddy whenever Daddy’s around. He wants nothing to do with me. So again, this meant that either Foggy Daddy had to do everything with LM, or we had to listen to him scream. After hearing FD complain about having to put LM to bed again, I told him I would do it. A half an hour of screaming toddler later while his cousins were trying to sleep in the next room, I frantically texted FD: “Please. He wants you not me.” After being relieved of my bedtime duties, I headed upstairs and promptly broke into tears.
The challenges around the water, though, terrified me the most. We came armed with the bubble LM wears for swim class, a puddle jumper, and a life jacket. LM refused the Coast Guard-approved puddle jumper and instead would only wear the bubble, which he was used to. But this unnerved me while swimming in deep water, even though of course one of us was with him at all times. His joy at jumping in and swimming around, though, tempered my fear somewhat.
Going out on the boat, however, he flat out refused the life jacket. FD and LM remained on the dock as we prepared to depart. But at the last minute, FD pinned him down on the ground, strapped the life jacket on as LM screamed, and then handed him over the side of the boat. As we motored out, LM continued to wail, and I felt the heat rise inside me again. We should have just left him home, I thought. Now he’s ruining everyone’s trip. But as soon as we got moving, he relaxed. Soon, he was asking for “more fast.”
Surprisingly, the car rides (eight hours each way) were the easiest part of traveling. LM took a long, four-hour nap, and then watched videos the rest of the time. Great parenting? Probably not, but what are the options for a kid who doesn’t like coloring or other sedentary activities that can be done in the car?
But probably the best moments of the trip occurred when I least expected them to. We decided to take LM to watch the fireworks, which would keep him out past his bedtime. I assumed they would be at nine — but it turns out they weren’t happening until 10. Whoops. But we weren’t going to miss them (great parenting again, I know). Instead, we visited the pre-show carnival. Let me tell you, a merry-go-round is actually quite scary when you realize you’re going kind of fast and the only thing keeping your toddler from flying off is your arms around his waist — and I could barely reach him when his horse’s pole rose up.
As the light faded, I realized I had forgotten the glow sticks I bought purposefully for the occasion. Instead, we let LM pick out a glow toy (a light saber — I groaned as I realized I had just bought him his first weapon), and walked back to our spot to watch the fireworks. The adults threw around a football, and LM wanted to join in too. And then as we settled into our lawn chairs, we read LM a story by the glow of the light saber. Then he drifted off to sleep — completely missing the fireworks. (Bonus to having a hard of hearing kid — loud noises aren’t as much of a problem.)
It wasn’t easy, but we made it through. It took a lot out of me, though, which is in part why this post was delayed (don’t be surprised if the same happens in the next few weeks after our next two trips). But the fun LM had made it all worth it. I guess our string-pulling worked.
Next stop: Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Do you find trips with your toddler difficult? Any tips you would recommend?
Every year, summer sneaks up on me. It always seems like winter lags on, reluctant to leave. We have chilly spring days, followed by one teasingly hot week, followed by the cold again. I put away our winter coats, only to have to take them out again.
Then, somehow, it’s summer again. The scorchers are here to stay, and the sweaters that have made a pile on the chair in my room need to get washed and put away until the fall. Schools let out, flooding my FB feed with last day of school and prom and graduation pics. Summer is here.
But it’s easy to remain caught up with everyday chores and routines and responsibilities. All of a sudden I realize it’s the longest day of the year. Summer is in full swing, and if I don’t stop and look around, I might miss it.
Do you always watch for the longest day of the year and then miss it?” — F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
It’s almost the end of June and we haven’t made it to the beach yet. I’m working out possible vacations in July with my fertility testing (yep, that’s starting up again). I’m working on my summer bucket list (strawberry picking: check; zoo: check) so that I won’t miss anything.
Last year I mourned the end of summer because I felt like I had let it slip by. I hadn’t fully embraced it or been present for it. I hadn’t been mindful. And before I knew it, it was gone.
When you were young, didn’t it seem like summer lasted forever? I remember being bored, as day after hot and lazy day passed by. But like everything in life, summer seems sped up now that I’m an adult.
In the midst of everything I have going on right now (writing, fertility treatments, preschool evaluations, LM’s hearing stuff), I’m going to try my hardest to be present. I’m going to try to take the time to enjoy the season.
Every time of year has its traditions, but summer seems the most timeless of all. I’m not sure why this is; maybe it has something to do with the natural, organic way it seems to affect people. Christmas is wonderful, but let’s face it, grownups made up the traditions of trimming trees and opening presents. But let kids loose in summer, and they do what kids have been doing forever: running in the grass, digging in the sand, catching lightning bugs, playing outside late into the dusk, swimming in lakes and the ocean. There’s a natural inevitability to it that the rest of the year doesn’t possess.
I love the way the summer encourages us to relax and take it easy. I need that, because I can get a bit caught up in all the to-do’s of life. Summer reminds us to let them go, to sit back and relax. And as LM grows older, I can’t wait to see him more fully enjoy the summer.
So welcome back, summer. I promise to try to be present while you are with us. I promise to take advantage of your sunshine and your long days. I promise to realize how lucky I am to be able to watch my son discover your charms. I promise to fully embrace you, and to encourage my child to do the same.
Do you love summer? What’s on your bucket list this year?
I love fall: autumn leaves, warm sweaters, apple picking, football, pumpkin everything, the coziness leading up to the holidays… But this year, as summer melts away, I’m struck with a greater sadness than in years past.
First of all, I don’t believe summer should end until after Labor Day. I hate that some schools start at the end of August, thereby cutting short the natural end of the season. It’s weird to me to start school, then have one long last weekend at the shore. It’s like when it’s 60 degrees in January — it just feels wrong. So seeing all the back-to-school pictures on Facebook is making me say, “Hold on! It’s not over yet!”
But, LM isn’t in school, so this shouldn’t really apply to us. So what’s really making me depressed? I think it’s because this summer was, in many ways, even better than last. Last summer LM couldn’t walk. He liked the beach, but I didn’t get to watch him run toward the waves with reckless abandon. I didn’t get to stroll along the shore hand-in-hand. He can now dig with his shovel and dump buckets of water in the hole (and over himself). He knows a little bit about swimming, so he can scoop-and-kick his way around the pool in my arms — and even jump in.
We made so many great memories this summer. I am so glad we spent time with our family in Long Beach Island, Smith Mountain Lake and Myrtle Beach. We had great days at water parks and pools with friends. We spent lots of time on our back deck as LM splashed in his baby pool. By turning from a little baby into a little boy, I can see his personality coming through. I can see him learning and growing so much. It really is amazing to watch.
Older parents with grown children will often say to me, “This is a fun age” — but they say it at every stage, no matter how old LM is. I suppose that’s because each part of your child’s life brings its own special brand of fun. Babies are cute and snuggly, and I miss that; but little kids have so much energy and spirit. It makes it even more enjoyable for me as a parent to interact with him. I know as he grows each subsequent summer will be filled with additional joys — when we can go bike riding or kayaking together; when we can dig for clams; when we can roast marshmallows over a campfire — but since I’m a person who often looks back when I should be looking forward, I still mourn the season that’s past.
I should be anticipating our fall activities with joy, and I am. But there is that bittersweet farewell to the magic of summer: long days and lingering twilight, the sound of kids’ laughter and crashing waves while walking along the beach, the permission you give yourself (and your child) to relax, take things slow, and enjoy life. The fall often feels like a return to the real world. I welcome it, but I miss what’s gone by as well.
Will you miss summer or are you ready for it to end? Soak up all that’s left and have a great Labor Day weekend!
We are off (again) on vacation, this time to Myrtle Beach, so I won’t be posting next week. In the meantime, please check out my recent writing on Fit Pregnancy and Huffington Post. I want to thank everyone for reading. This is our last vacation of the summer so I won’t be taking any more breaks! And please, enjoy the rest of the season – summer is not over yet (despite what all the back-to-school propaganda is telling you)!
Yesterday was a perfect day for the beach – warm but not too humid, a gentle breeze blowing, swirls of white clouds in the otherwise blue sky. My mom friends and I had planned this day trip weeks ago, so we were lucky the weather cooperated. Whether our kids would was another story.
We were supposed to meet at 10, but I didn’t arrive until 11. LM was asleep, but the stroller ride to the beach woke him up. I was left with a cranky pants who didn’t know what he wanted – water, food, toys, none of it seemed to appease him. On top of that, I had just gotten a Fit Pregnancy assignment, so I had to do some research and emailing on my phone right away. I begged him to play on his own so I could take a few minutes. But he wouldn’t.
Eventually he started to settle down. We walked down to look at the ocean, and his initial hesitation near the water morphed into an obsession with running towards the waves with abandon. “He’s fearless,” a woman sitting on a chair nearby remarked. “I know, and it’s making me nervous,” I laughed. “He’s making me nervous, too!” she responded. When a stranger says something like that, you know it’s not just parental anxiety.
I dragged him away from the ocean, screaming (him, not me, although I wanted to), and tried to get him interested in the sand toys. Eventually, he started playing by himself near the other kids. I asked one of my mom friends to keep an eye on him while I wrote my email. Once I was done, I felt like I could finally relax. But then the other moms started packing up to leave.
So I decided to stay on my own with LM. As my mom friends loaded up and started walking away, I hoped they didn’t think I was rude. Because I had gotten there late and had been preoccupied with work, I didn’t feel like I had really been at the shore for very long. I wanted to try to enjoy it – as much as one can while trying to make sure your kid is hydrated and fed and sunscreened up and not about to run directly into the ocean.
LM played by himself for a little while longer, letting me decompress and start to calm my mind. Then he suddenly pointed toward the waves. Oh no, not this again, I thought. But when we got down to the water, he asked to be picked up. I did, and he seemed to relax in my arms. I started to slowly sway with him. Although he had napped in the car on the way down, he was so tranquil it seemed as though he might fall asleep. I started softly humming Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song,” my lullaby for the beach, as LM took long, deep breaths. He put his head on my shoulder and his arms around my neck. I leaned into him, perfectly present and blissful in the moment. He suddenly lifted his head up again, and gave me a soft, serene smile. He pointed up the beach toward our chair.
Walking away from the ocean, I knew he was going to want to nurse. I usually don’t breastfeed in public anymore, because LM doesn’t ask and because he squirms all around and changes from boob to boob. But I decided this was the right time to do it – it is World Breastfeeding Week after all. I grabbed a towel to cover me a bit and pulled my bathing suit down. LM was not squirmy – instead he seemed perfectly restful. I wondered, then, if he could feel my moods and was taking them on. So when I was anxious about being late and having work to do, he was whiny and cranky; but when I was peaceful, so was he.
I try – and fail – so hard to be present in the moment, but my natural type-A personality has a very hard time with it. Even if I’m not actually multitasking, my brain has a way of drifting and thinking about other things besides what I’m doing right then. It makes me feel like I miss parts of LM’s life because I am so concerned about all of the other things going on.
I don’t know if it’s just the calming effect that the shore has on me that allowed me to, finally, accomplish being mindful and present. But in that moment at the beach, I wasn’t concerned with other things. I wasn’t distracted. I was absolutely focused on LM, loving and treasuring him and just being, well, content.
Do you also struggle with being perfectly present in your child’s life? Have you ever had a memorable mindful moment?
“Down the shore everything’s alright”
— “Jersey Girl,” performed by Bruce Springsteen
There is something magical about summer at the shore. That sounds super cheesy, but as with most cliches, it’s also true. I love the beach. I grew up vacationing with my family down the shore, so I feel like it’s part of who I am. Honestly, I’m glad Foggy Daddy likes the beach because that might have been a deal breaker for us if he didn’t (just kidding…sort of).
We just got back from a “magical” (yes, here’s that cheese again) week in Long Beach Island, NJ. I love LBI – it’s less tacky that the boardwalks of Seaside and Point Pleasant (sorry), but still has a small amusement park and arcade (tactfully situated away from the beach). There are mini golf and shops and restaurants. Yet it maintains a quiet, laid-back, residential feel. The beaches are wide and uncrowded. The pace of life is slow. People ride barefoot on bikes without helmets (yes, I know it’s not safe, but c’mon, it’s so breezy, isn’t it?). I witnessed some great free-range parenting as we waited in line for ice cream at 9:30 pm behind a group of five or so kids probably around nine or ten years old; and then walking home we saw many other kids strolling about, parent-less, too.
Rules are relaxed at the beach. Kids out late alone? No problem – they’re just getting ice cream. No helmets? Meh. I barely put on shoes all week, thanks to an oceanfront house with private access (courtesy of Mom and Dad). I scoffed every time FD dragged me off the beach at 6 o’clock with a “Don’t you think we need to feed our son?” reproof. “What a killjoy,” I mumbled. LM was fine — he’d had some pretzels an hour ago. It’s the beach, man. Relax.
This shift in attitude is huge for me. I’m normally quite, well, a bit
neurotic anal uptight. So for me to be the one to say, “What’s the big deal?” is a big deal. I’m not sure if it’s the salty air or the fact that no one else seems to care that they’re still sitting on the beach and their kids won’t eat until late and then they’ll get to bed even later. Time doesn’t matter. Looking out from the deck at night, we’d see little pings of light here and there – people on the beach, reveling in a night walk. Maybe it’s kids looking for lightening bugs with their dad. Maybe it’s husbands and wives sneaking out after their children are asleep to sit on the lifeguard stand like teenagers, as FD and I did.
Normally night is a scary time, as we fear the boogeymen who lurk around corners, bad people who are going to break into our houses or kidnap our children or rob us at gunpoint (or wait, is it just me who has an overactive imagination?). But at the shore, we hear peals of laughter caught on the wind as we walk down the darkened beach or on the street. We hear people in the shadows, talking, giggling, sitting on decks or patios or walking too, and we can’t see them but we know they’re there. Instead of being frightening, they make us feel like we’re not alone. Everyone is enjoying the same thing, this freedom from everyday fears and worries and just, well, life.
I think LM benefitted from a less stressed-out mom. I took an early-morning beach yoga class, and it was amazingly soul-cleansing to hear the waves in the background and feel the sand beneath my feet as we stretched into poses. One of the other women in the class, who owns a house there, said she never locks her doors, and that half of the island has a key to her house anyway. That’s the kind of no-worries life she leads down the shore.
Sometimes I think I should move somewhere where it’s warm all year-round, like southern California or the Florida Keys or even an island in the Caribbean. Maybe I would miss the seasons – as August ends I almost long for that gradual slip from the excitement of summer to the coziness of fall. But maybe I could do without it; maybe it would be worth it to have this type of peace all the time. OK, OK, yes you can never really escape from life; but I’m not even really talking about an escape — I’m talking about a different way of life, a different way of looking at life. One in which we savor moments and experiences and other people. One in which we aren’t so bogged down in the clutter of our lives. Maybe it’s idealistic, but I do believe that the beach culture is a valid permanent lifestyle.
At the very least I want to continue this yearly down-the-shore vacation for LM. But I think a week isn’t really long enough — I’m trying to convince my family to do a whole summer, or maybe at least a month. I could work from the beach house and my retired parents could watch LM… Or, I wonder how people afford a second home at the beach – how much money do you need? Could that be a possibility? Maybe we could all chip in. Hmm…
Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.
LM is still getting used to the water and the feeling of sand on his feet. He did enjoy pouring water out of buckets and climbing in and out of holes dug in the sand. He loved spending time with his cousins. We walked him through the arcade, watching his amazed face as he took in the sensory-overloaded atmosphere. He took naps in the tent on the beach. I hope he’s learning to love it the same way I did when I was a kid. I want those good old-fashioned, timeless memories for him, of hanging out at the ice cream parlor with friends, of looking for treasure in the sand, of having barbecues and going kayaking or maybe even sailing. I want him to have that “magical” experience, that kind of summer that seems removed from reality, an alternate universe where everything is good and easy and relaxed.
Even for just one week a year.
Do you love beach vacations, too? Tell me about yours!
Last summer my family visited some relatives in Virginia. One day, my husband, sister and I went for a hike in a state park with our babies in carriers, while my parents went to the lake there. After our walk, we had to call my dad to come and get my sister and her daughter, because we only had one car seat in our car. While we waited with my sister, my husband started our car to let it cool down, since it was a 90-degree day, and came to sit on a bench in the shade with us and the babies a little ways away. Then, a couple emerged from the wooded trail and walked to the little parking lot. They stopped and peered into our car. “What are they doing?” I asked my husband. As they continued to look in, cupping their hands around their eyes so they could see through the windows, I head the man say, “I don’t see a baby in there.” My husband, holding our son, walked over and asked them what was up. Having noticed it was running and seen the car seat, they were checking to make sure there was no child in the car. “We were just cooling the car off,” my husband informed them.
OK, so they were just looking out for a child who might have been left in a car alone…while his parents went for hike (who would do that?). But at the same time, the incident made me feel watched and under surveillance. Even though I wasn’t doing anything wrong, it made me feel like a potential criminal. I know, these people didn’t know me. I wouldn’t leave my son – especially to go on a hike, wtf!? – but maybe some parents would. But it unnerved me, that strangers were looking out for the welfare of my child. I felt like it was, honestly, none of their business.
My feelings probably stem from a deep-rooted fear that my child will somehow be taken away from me – I blame post-traumatic stress from my losses. Anyone who dares to intervene, even on behalf of my child, brings out my mamma bear instincts. He is my responsibility. No one else needs to look out for him. This is my job, and strangers have no right to take it away from me. I’ve got this.
I know my reaction probably isn’t rational. But I have seen other people, specifically moms, who seem very quick to judge the parenting of others, as if they know what’s best for other moms’ kids better than the moms themselves do. So when it comes to child safety, when is it OK to intervene? A debate on one of my FB groups arose the other day when a mom observed another woman leave a child in a parked car while she returned a shopping cart. The observer waited until the woman got back, and then took to FB to complain, saying that because the cart return area was far away and the woman had eyes off the car for a couple of minutes, it was not safe for the child. It was unclear from her post whether the car was running or not. The responses from other moms were mixed – some said that they strap their kids in first, start the car and then lock it while they return the cart. Others said they just leave the cart by the car. Others said they unload the groceries, return the cart, then carry the kid back to the car. Some moms argued that the kids were way safer inside a locked, running car than being carried or walking across a parking lot where they could be hit. Some moms were afraid someone would abduct their kids in the few moments they were alone.
We all know that leaving a child in a hot car is not acceptable. But what if the car is locked and running, or if it’s a cool day? How long is OK? Or is it never OK? I was haunted by this story of a mom who left her four-year-old in the car on a 50 degree day to run into a store for five minutes, was reported by a “good samaritan” and subsequently arrested. It seems we are all at the mercy of do-gooders who believe it’s their duty to police parents, all in the name of the safety of children.
I don’t agree with this. Yes, there are instances of immediate danger when action should be taken. But peering into car windows? Posting complaints about other moms on FB? Calling the cops after the fact on a mom whose kid was OK? I think we’ve gotten out of hand. Not only are we now supposed to be helicopter parents, but we are supposed to be helicopter bystanders as well. I support (to some extent) free-range parenting. I don’t believe the world is as scary as we think it is – it’s the media and the overload of information that’s done that to us, because statistically the world is safer than it was when we were growing up. I don’t live in fear of child abduction – I fear more likely occurrences, like car accidents, a lot more.
I’m sure I shouldn’t take offense at the well-meaning stranger looking out for my child at the park that day. Now that summer is here again, we do have to be mindful about children in hot cars, and maybe that guy was honestly just concerned. But I also don’t want to feel that my parenting choices are being judged by some unseen Big Brother who’s going to report my every move. There are a lot of gray areas between what’s OK and what’s not OK. I feel that it’s my right to judge where that line is for my child.
What do you think about strangers looking out for your children? Are you grateful or defensive about it?