Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and enjoy the journey. – Babs Hoffman
Yesterday we had one of those days where Mason wouldn’t get in the car. The temperature was dropping, bedtime was fast approaching and I gently tried to pull him away from the playground multiple times. He wasn’t budging. Every time I got him closer to the car he ran back to the playground.
I’ll admit it was a pretty amazing playground, and Mason had recently gained a new confidence for climbing up things and sliding down that I’d never seen before. But it was time to go. We had hiked with Hike it Baby Casper, eaten pizza in a shelter next to the park and played for a good hour. I started gently with just “guiding” him toward the car, then when he wouldn’t go I scooped him up to carry him, but as you know doing this with a toddler is kind of like shaking up a warm Pepsi can. By the time we got the 20 feet to the parking lot the Tazmanian Devil had been unleashed.
As I tried to strap him in the seat I promised Clifford the Dog cartoons, snacks, books, even chocolate (not a good thing to give a toddler at 7pm by the way, speaking from experience). But he wasn’t having it. I was embarrassed and exhausted as I shoved him aggressively into his car seat, restraining him with one hand like a cop dealing with an unruly convict.
Yesterday afternoon I made the call to cut out the Southern part of our trip. When I started looking at the miles and checking in with Mason, I realized that while we are having fun, this is still a very long journey for a toddler. The park episode confirmed that I need to be more aware of my little guy and how this journey was affecting him. Everyday we’ve been adjusting to new homes, new kids, new hikes. The only constant is our camper. I’ve given up trying to sleep at anyone’s house because the truck has definitely become home and Mason’s safe space. No matter how comfortable the accommodations are, at bedtime Mason looks over at me and says, “Sleep in Daddy’s truck.”
It’s really interesting to see that even as a two-and-a-half-year-old, Mason still has a clear sense of where his space is. He misses home, but the truck has been a great substitute for our actual home. In it we have his books, his blanket, his toys, his markers, his shoes. What I am learning about toddlers is if you carry something familiar with you on a long adventure, you can usually calm their fears and have a little bit of home with you to keep them from freaking out. Note that I say “usually” here.
I’ve found the same thing goes for long hikes and overnight camp trips. Finding something familiar to bring with you can help a toddler stay grounded. A stuffed animal can work. A blanket, a comfy jacket that he is cozy in, but also think about how you can train your little one to see that your carrier is his crib or your tent is her home. Practice, practice, practice. Find those things that are “safe” so you can calm brewing storms.
We go on a lot of camp trips in “Daddy’s truck” so this is a safe space where Mason has learned to climb into, cozy down, take a long drive, have a nap, and snuggle with Mommy and Daddy. Our truck is one of our homes and so bringing this familiarity with us does make a difference in how our day will play out. Every time he flips out I am reminded of this.
Toddlers can adjust. They are flexible, but you have to give them space to adjust into transition. Tomorrow morning we hit the road again and head into a big snowstorm. I am nervous, but excited to reach Colorado. We’ll move slowly, and if our schedule falls apart…well, so be it. This is what it’s like to go at the pace of a toddler. We do our best to keep them happy and when the Tazmanian Devil comes out, you just have to let it whirl and spin until the wind blows itself out. And if the wind is super strong and no end is in sight, there are always lollipops. Keep them on hand at all times!