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Tag: toddlers

In The Moment, He Could Have Drowned

Suddenly I looked down and Little Bear was underneath me, swirling in the murky depth of the hot tub. His eyes were open and wild. Panicked. I reached down with one arm and fished him out. He came up feisty and screaming. He was scared and latched on to my neck, clinging with bony arms around me as he wailed.

Both boys play at the beach in their Coast Guard approved Puddle Jumper lifejackets.

Both boys play at the beach in their Coast Guard approved Puddle Jumper lifejackets.

I often reflect here about the importance of letting my kids experience failure (sometimes even when it hurts) and about my general let-them-run-wild approach to parenting. But I actually do consider myself a very SAFE parent. I like to think that through my experiences in education and particularly as an experiential educator, I have above average awareness of our environment and its potential risks. We let our kids take all sorts of chances, but we do so knowingly and we take precautions to minimize risks. We also teach our kids about the risks around them. I recently read an interview with National Geographic Adventurer of the Year Tommy Caldwell in which he says about raising his son, “prepare him for the path; not prepare the path for him.” And that rings true for me. We create an environment in which our kids can fail without dire consequences, and then we let them learn from it so that they can move forward more confidently and more safely in the future. We’ve got this.

But while we were on vacation, Little Bear could have drowned. I won’t say he almost did because he wasn’t even coughing afterwards, but there was a moment where I saw so clearly how it could happen. It was so quick and it was so quiet. At the time I brushed it off as no big deal, just another childhood rite of passage. We laughed about it later that day, this crazy fearless little kid, always such a handful, giving us a run for our money. It was the kind of thing that happens all the time. But I am still thinking about it almost two months later so here I am, putting it in writing where I purge the toxins that my mind can’t process.

Little Bear in the hotel pool, wearing his Puddle Jumper.

Little Bear in the hotel pool, wearing his Puddle Jumper.

Our hotel had a small pool and a hot tub. Every afternoon after the boys woke from naps, we’d head for the water. The pool was on the colder side and both boys were their usual cautious selves at first when it came to getting in. They’d splash around the edge for a while, dipping toes in and giggling at the chill. Junior can swim on his own now, so he would eventually swim from one side to another and Little Bear would follow suit with his Puddle Jumper on. The hot tub, though, was a new commodity. Neither boy had ever been in one. And since it was really only lukewarm, it was easy to get right in.

Both boys standing on the seat of the hot tub earlier on our trip.

Both boys standing on the seat of the hot tub earlier on our trip.

One afternoon towards the end of our stay, when I thought we’d all figured out the whole water safety thing, I got into the hot tub and Little Bear hopped in right beside me, which was unusual since he is almost always very cautious around the water. I guess he had grown more confident during our stay. He was standing on the seat and I told him, “Remember, you don’t have your floatie on. You can stand here, but you can’t go in the middle. You will sink.” When I said it, I thought that maybe he actually would slip off the seat, and being that I was sitting right next to him I’d grab him just as his head went under. And there we’d both be, lesson learned. But instead of squirming around in his typical fashion and slipping off the seat, he just stood on the seat for a long time, elbows propped on the tiles around the edge of the tub. He was deep in thought or he was tired or he was just having a moment. He stood there so still for so long that I became too comfortable with him being there, without a floatie on. I had a false sense of security. I almost forgot he was there.

Little Bear splashes at the beach in his lifejacket last summer.

Little Bear splashes at the beach in his lifejacket last summer.

I reached for my camera. The bag was beside the hot tub so I didn’t even need to get out of the water. He was beside me, within arms reach. He could have put a hand out and grabbed me. I only needed to shift my body and turn my shoulders slightly to reach my camera. I pulled it out of the case. I took the lens cap off and looked through the viewfinder to check the autofocus which had been acting up. I took a picture of the view.

And when I turned back, he was gone. He was underwater, swirling around and around, his panicked, pleading eyes staring up at me. I fished him out. It could not have been more than a few seconds. I held him while he cried and I felt my chest collapse with the knowledge that it could happen just like that. Beside me. Silently. What if I had decided to change the lenses? What if Junior had yelled, “Look at me, Mama!” What if. What if.

I write this now because we learn from our own stories and from the stories of our friends. If we can’t learn from the mistakes of others, our own growth only comes from our own mistakes. Don’t let that happen. Let my mistake be the catalyst for your change.

Junior wading in a tidepool, wearing his lifejacket last summer.

Junior wading in a tidepool, wearing his lifejacket last summer.

Put your child’s life jacket on EVERY SINGLE TIME they are near the water. I thought I could trust Little Bear but I should have never put that kind of trust in a two-year-old. The only way to keep your child safe around the water is to fit him or her with an appropriate life preserver and use it every time. Little Bear was fine. He didn’t swallow any water and he was back to swimming in just a minute. But I’d be selling us short if I let that be the end of it.

Drowning is silent and quick and it can happen right beside you when you turn away for just a moment. There wasn’t even a splash.

I thought it couldn’t happen to us, but I don’t think that anymore.

 

For more about water safety, click here.

To learn more about what drowning really looks like (and it doesn’t look how it does on TV), read this.

Considering an Adventure Abroad with Young Children? Don’t Think, Just Go!

The 365Outside Family on a hike in Todos Santos, Mexico

The 365Outside Family on a hike in Todos Santos, Mexico

You know those robo-calls that gleefully announce that you’ve won a free cruise? Or those drawings at the Trader Joe’s checkout to win a gift card if you bring your own bag? How about a virtual drawing to win a family vacation to Mexico? Sigh . . . . ever wonder if anyone actually wins those things?

Well, the most amazing thing happened to us. Through Outdoor Families Magazine, we entered a drawing for a weeklong family vacation to Baja offered by Thomson Family Adventures. And we won! Can you even believe it?

Of course we couldn’t and we kept waiting for the catch. We figured there would be some hidden costs or extremely limited dates or absurd amount of red tape to claim such an unbelievable prize. In fact this was perhaps the most perfect, serendipitous prize for our family to win. Though we love adventure and travel, we haven’t had the chance to travel abroad since the boys were born. And our most recent adventures tend to involve sleeping in tents or winter cabin camping. A luxurious but adventurous trip to a new country was basically our dream come true. And there was no catch.

Of course because the trip was potentially so awesome, I immediately began to sweat the logistics. The advertised itinerary recommended that participating kids be age 6 or older. Junior comes kind of close at 4.5 but Little Bear is still not even 3. And Baja is not only located in another country, but the opposite coast of another country, so it would require a full day of traveling to get there. And then of course there were the usual mom concerns about traveling to less developed regions with small kids who still run amuck, lick windows and stick their fingers in unidentified holes in the ground. The whole thing could have been a disaster.

A glimpse of the packing.

A glimpse of the packing.

But it turns out I had nothing to worry about. The awesome people at Thomson Family Adventures collaborated with us to create a slightly modified itinerary to accommodate the boys, we packed lots of entertainment for the long travel days and planned to arrive the night before the official start of the trip, and I packed an entire medicine cabinet along with a “just-in-case” prescription for children’s Z-pack to ease my fears. Before we knew it, we were off.

Though I’d love to write a day-by-day exhaustive description of each and every moment, I fear it would run over into novel length rather than blog post so here below, I list eight wonderful experiences that made this crazy trip so unforgettably worth it.

Junior practices snorkeling in the casita pool.

Junior practices snorkeling in the casita pool.

Junior spots a sea lion while snorkeling through a cave with the Captain

Junior spots a sea lion while snorkeling through a cave with the Captain

  1. Watching Junior go snorkeling for the first time. Junior loves the water and is infatuated by sea life. He can name more varieties of whales and sharks than I can. One morning he woke up and asked me, “Mom, what are those things in the Mariana Trench?” and when I stared at him blankly and said, “huh?” he just added, “You know, hydrothermal vents!” Seriously. So when we told him he’d have the opportunity to snorkel in the ocean with sea lions he was pretty excited. We bought him a tiny little mask and snorkel and sent them with him to swimming lessons before we left. He even insisted on “practicing” in the tub. When he got in the ocean and finally put his face in (after many dramatics about the cooooooooooold water which was actually a balmy 74 degrees,) he was totally wowed. I could hear him squealing through his snorkel. Later, back home, he was proud to report that he’d seen a parrotfish, an angel fish and a sergeant major, correctly pointing to each on our fish ID card. And he did see a sea lion too – click here for the full experience!

    Little Bear sneaks in a nap on the boat ride after snorkeling and lunch on the beach.

    Little Bear sneaks in a nap on the boat ride after snorkeling and lunch on the beach.

  2. The kids being troopers on the long and bumpy boat ride. It took about two hours to get out to the sea lions, partly due to lumpy seas and partly because we took the scenic route to get the full experience. We swung by crystal clear bays, a frigate bird colony and visited with some dolphins. We were sharing the boat with another dad and his ten-year-old daughter, and I was pretty proud when he remarked on how well-adjusted the boys are on a boat. We spend a lot of time on boats and had brought their own lifejackets (thank goodness for Puddle Jumpers!) to make sure they were comfortable. Since we plan to spend a year living on our boat, I was really relieved to see how easily the boys adapted to the long ride. They even both took naps on the way back!
  3. Junior and Little Bear pose with some of the kids at the Palapa Society in Todos Santos. They all looked much happier before we asked them to pose for a picture, I promise!

    Junior and Little Bear pose with some of the kids at the Palapa Society in Todos Santos. They all looked much happier before we asked them to pose for a picture, I promise!

    Visiting the Palapa Society. The Palapa Society in Todos Santos is a volunteer-run English language program that aims to open opportunities for the children of Todos Santos by teaching them to speak English. This was supposed to be a volunteer opportunity for us, but because we tend to have our hands full with the boys everywhere we go, I’m afraid we weren’t as much help as many travelers may be. Instead what it ended up being for us primarily was a cultural experience for the kids. The class we sat in on was with Mexican children mostly around age 7. The English skills they were learning were the same things that Junior is currently learning in preschool so it was a great experience for him to participate right alongside them. He sang the alphabet with them, named his colors and shapes, and did a coloring worksheet. Though he was pretty shy, it was still an eye opening experience I think. And donating books and a soccer ball to them at the end of the lesson was a great way to expose him to the importance of generosity and giving.

    My daily breakfast of huevos rancheros thanks to Chef Iker!

    My daily breakfast of huevos rancheros thanks to Chef Iker!

    Junior chows down on some raw octopus ceviche. He loved it!

    Junior chows down on some raw octopus ceviche. He loved it!

    Watching our tortillas being made at lunch.

    Watching our tortillas being made at lunch.

  4. Amazing meals that defied expectations. We knew we’d be eating a lot of Mexican food. I mean, it’s Mexico. We even made sure before we left that the boys each had a preferred staple of Mexican cuisine to fall back on when needed (Little Bear: cheese quesadillas, Junior: fish tacos). What we didn’t expect was the huge range of delicious options we actually found in Todos Santos. Okay fine, we didn’t find anything on our own; it was all thanks to our guide Mauricio, but the point is, the food was amazing. Our first night even included a tasting menu served in a private room by the chef himself at Santo Vino in the iconic Hotel California. There was sashimi, ribs, flank steak and salad. Stuffed peppers, dessert platters and wine pairings. The list goes on. Of course we also really enjoyed our fill of local cuisine and I think my favorite meals were really at the hole-in-the-wall places that Mauricio chose for lunch. One day it was a tiny outdoor courtyard serving all varieties of ceviches (and the only other person eating there was the chef from our dinner the first night, so you know it must be good!) Another day it was the most delicious taco place where we watched our tortillas being made before we ate them. Top everything off with some gourmet popsicles and all was right in the world.
    The boys on the last summit of our hike.

    The boys on the last summit of our hike.

    Junior in the midst of our hiking standoff.

    Junior in the midst of our hiking standoff.

    Our hero Mauricio gets Junior engaged with animal tracking and the hike begins again.

    Our hero Mauricio gets Junior engaged with animal tracking and the hike begins again.

  5. Conquering a big kid hike with Junior. We knew before we left that there would be a morning of hiking in the desert. And because I am such a control freak, I began mentally preparing Junior for this several weeks in advance. We talked a lot about hiking, and how sometimes we get tired and it’s okay to rest and then get going again. We talked about how sometimes, when our muscles are working hard, they might start to ache a little and that’s okay because it’s just how they grow stronger. We talked about how Little Bear would likely ride in the carrier (oh how I love our Ergo) but that big kids can do big hikes. Of course it was only about five minutes into the hike that Junior announced how tired he was and said he didn’t “feel like” hiking anymore. A standoff ensued and finally Mauricio stepped in (have I mentioned how wonderful our guide was?) and engaged Junior with looking at tracks in the sand. Off we all went again, happy as could be. We even had to chase Junior up the final rocky slope to the last scenic lookout.
    Little Bear rides with Mama!

    Little Bear rides with Mama!

    Junior rides his pony along the beach

    Junior rides his pony along the beach

    Junior feeds Chappo after a long ride on the beach

    Junior feeds Chappo after a long ride on the beach

  6. Horseback riding for both boys. When Sam from Thomson Family Adventures emailed me several days before our trip to confirm a few details about the itinerary, she asked if we wanted to try horseback riding or if we’d prefer something else since the boys are so young. I was really uncertain what to do. Obviously if horseback riding was a bust, we’d prefer something else, but the boys absolutely love horses and selfishly, I was really looking forward to horseback riding on the beach. I even considered telling her that I would go riding while the boys stayed behind with the Captain. But instead we left things kind of loose and said we’d give it a shot. Even when we arrived at the ranch, I wasn’t sure we’d do anything besides feed the horses a few carrots and lead the boys around the paddock a few times. Instead, Junior got comfortable on his pony Chappo right away, and one of the great riders at the ranch led his pony from her horse for the entire ride. Little Bear also fit right in, nestled on my western saddle, wedged with an extra saddle pad. We set off and I could hardly believe it when the boys lasted for an entire two-hour ride. The closest thing I even heard to a single complaint was, “Mama, I wish I was a horse so I could eat some of those leaves. I’m hungry.”
  7. The 365Outside Family enjoys a beautiful beach and time to reconnect.

    The 365Outside Family enjoys a beautiful beach and time to reconnect.

    Late afternoon quiet time in the hot tub with the kids.

    Late afternoon quiet time in the hot tub with the kids.

    The cheesy falling in love again part. Oh I know, it’s so cliche to say that you went on vacation and fell in love all over again. Of course you did – you had all your meals prepared for you, you had zero responsibilities as far as home and work, and you woke every morning to a beautiful view in a tropical setting. I mean, come on! But, even more so for me and the Captain, being someplace tropical, beautiful and warm, with long days spent moving from one adventure to the next really brought us back to the lives we were living when we first met. We met in the British Virgin Islands where we were both living and working full-time on sailboats. He was leading study abroad programs and I was a live aboard skipper and instructor for a charter company. On our days off together, we’d grab a boat and head out for a sail, anchoring to free dive before lunch or take the dinghy around to a favorite snorkel spot. The days were long and hot and busy but they were so, so beautiful. And the same could be said for Baja. Experiencing that lifestyle again, even briefly, with the boys made it so special and made me even more excited for our year afloat.

  8. The view from our balcony and bed at Casita Colibris

    The view from our balcony and bed at Casita Colibris

    The nightly sunsets at Casita Colibris. When we first checked in to our room at Casita Colibris, I was worried it would feel cramped with all four of us sleeping in such close quarters. I worried we’d be tiptoeing around the boys while they slept, or they’d be waking us with their tossing and turning. I didn’t realize we’d be so tired each night that we’d all go to bed at the same time and sleep soundly through until morning. And I didn’t realize that the nightly bedtime rituals would become my favorite part of each day, despite all the rest of the excitement. Each day, we’d take a late afternoon dip in the pool and hot tub, then shower off and dress for dinner. We’d arrive back to the room just in time for the sun to start its evening show and we had front row seats. After the boys got into their pjs, we’d all snuggle up together and watch the sun sink lower and lower as the sky turned from pink to orange to red. When the last glimmer of sun disappeared below the horizon, we’d steal a page from our friends over at Windtraveler and whisper, “Goodbye sun, thanks for a great day!” Then we’d read our final bedtime stories and sing our final lullabies by the fading lavender glow on the horizon. These special evenings together, with nothing to think about except family and the beauty around us, were my favorite moments on a favorite trip.

Little Bear and the Captain snuggle at sunset.

Little Bear and the Captain snuggle at sunset.

The choice to bring the boys abroad was an easy one for me, but there was plenty of worrying beforehand nonetheless. Of course traveling was easier before they came along. Of course adventures were simpler. I fall under the category of “control freak” when it comes to planning and preparing for adventures with the kids, and this was no different with the exception that on this trip, everything for the week had to fit into two duffel bags under 50 lbs. I packed and repacked, made list after list, and stressed myself out to the point of wondering if maybe we’d have been better off driving to Florida instead. But in the end I can honestly say that this adventure, for us, was even more than we could have hoped for. It refreshed our appetite for travel, affirmed our passion for adventure and introduced the boys to what we hope will be a lifetime of pushing beyond their comfort zone to experience all the wonder the world holds. The experience of travel is one of the greatest gifts we can share with our children and though it may not come easily and will hardly ever come without bumps along the way, doing something that makes you a little nervous in exchange for experiencing a new culture, a new environment and a new adventure is always worth it.

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Junior asked to take his picture with his favorite truck.

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Junior reaches the final summit on our hike!

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Thank you again, Thomson Family Adventures and Outdoor Families Magazine for making this trip possible for us.

 

**Though we won this experience in an online drawing, we were not compensated for this review and the opinions expressed here are solely our own.**

Why I Fenced the Kids In

The beauty of the backyard fence

The beauty of the backyard fence!

Our yard backs up to some overgrown woods that fade into a very muddy brackish creek tucked in behind the salt marsh. It’s neither particularly beautiful nor particularly ugly, but rather just a normal little patch of trees and undergrowth. Before kids, we blazed a trail through it complete with a fallen tree bridge over the creek. The path came out on the street behind ours which leads to the marina and a few open hay fields great for dog walks. But, the path was never maintained enough to juggle a baby while dancing through it, so eventually the low growing thorns prevailed. All that’s left of it now is a rotting log bobbing in the dirty water.

Junior frequently does a little "babysitting" in the backyard while Mama makes dinner.

Junior frequently does a little “babysitting” in the backyard while Mama makes dinner.

Last year we finally fenced the backyard in. It feels wrong to me. I want my kids to explore and adventure and feel unrestricted in the great outdoors. So I’m sure there will come a time when I don’t want the tall stockade fence that runs the perimeter of our small backyard. But that time isn’t now.

Before the fence, I dreamed that someday my kids would be the ones blazing trails through the woods, resurrecting the remains of the old treehouse perched behind the neighbor’s house and living out their fantasy world in shadowy hollows and hideaways. Once my oldest was on the move though, all I wanted was a fence to stop him. I know how hypocritical it sounds, when I really do want to raise my kids to be free range explorers. And I do realize how lucky we are to have this funny triangle of overgrown woods nestled between the back of our home and those of our neighbors’. Someday my kids will be the princes of this tiny kingdom, but not yet.

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The fence also gives us a little privacy for summertime sprinkler play.

Right now, I need the security of knowing that I can turn my back to them for just two minutes while I drain the pasta into the sink. I need to know that one is not chasing the other further and further into the mud before someone loses a boot and then lands with a splat, covered in thick sludge ten minutes before we need to leave for school. I need the firmness of physical boundaries that can’t be broken as easily as the verbal ones I set with with a sharp, “Not past that tree! Stop right there!” I want them to explore and play outside of my watchful gaze, but I can’t yet trust them to stay close on their own.

Holiday party mayhem after dark!

Holiday party mayhem after dark!

Last weekend Santa arrived to town by clam boat at the boat ramp down our street. There were carolers and little train rides and lots of sugar and hot drinks to go around. We invited some friends to mosey two minutes up the road to our house before and after they greeted the big man. With lights strung around the back fence, and a crowd of parents to patrol the gates, the kids were let loose to run rampant in the relative security of the backyard. It was well after dark and though lit, the yard seemed vast and dark and the kids went bonkers.  They rode bikes on the grass, hid in the playhouse, pushed each other around on the tractors, weaved their way in and out of the lilac bushes, and played some kind of catch-dodgeball hybrid, all while the parents chatted around the fire pit in the driveway. The backyard fence meant our two year old could run loose with the big kids. It meant the adults did not have to take shifts combing the woods for runaways. It meant that we could let the kids be kids without the overbearing gaze of parents. This is the time for a backyard fence.

There will come a day sometime soon when I won’t want the fence. There will be a day when the boys are ready to stake their flag in the wooded empire, claiming their kingdom. There will be plenty of days for tree climbing and stick swords and rope swings hung haphazardly over thin green branches. But today, I’ll drink my coffee in peace knowing that they can’t escape quite yet.  Today, they still live in my kingdom.

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How I Get Two Toddlers Packed and Out the Door For a Beach Day In 20 Minutes or Less

You already know that we’re always in a rush.

So it’s no surprise when I leave the house at 9 am, two kids in tow, with the intention of grocery shopping, returning home to put the food away, making a picnic, packing for the beach, and being out the door again by 10:15.

Little Bear's favorite beach activitity: solo exploring!

Little Bear’s favorite beach activitity: solo exploring!

You see, when it’s mid-October and a beach day presents itself, you simply cannot ignore it.  It’s an unwritten rule that beach days in mid-October must be taken advantage of.  Especially when said gorgeous, 70 degree sunny day happens to fall on a holiday Monday.

This is exactly what happened today.

And we did it! I pulled up to the gate at the beach parking lot at exactly 10:30.  Mission accomplished.

So what magic trick did I use to propel me and two children faster than the speed of light?

Well, we arrived home with all the groceries at 9:45.  That left me half an hour to put away groceries, pack a lunch, pack a beach bag, change the boys into beach clothes, and get everything and everyone in the car, ready to go. And believe me, when I’m in a hurry these kids have a tendency to move about as fast as a glacier.

But hope isn’t lost.  I’m lucky enough to be a pretty experienced beach-goer so I’ve got a system in place, for days like this when it’s just me toting along a two-year old, a three-year old, and all our  gear.  And I’ve refined our system enough this summer that I think it’s share-worthy.

So here we go.

"Look at this hermit crab, Mama!"

“Look at this hermit crab, Mama!”

There are three ways to fail at beach days with the kids:

  1. Too cold.
  2. Too hungry.
  3. Too bored. (I take issue with this last one because I really believe that the beach in and of itself should be enough entertainment, but I’m keeping this real so just bear with me.)

I have fallen victim to them all. This is of course made worse by the fact that your toddler will have zero ability to tell you what is actually bothering him or her.  Conversations with my kids when they are about to lose it typically go something like this:

  • Mama:  What’s wrong?
  • Child (lips blue, teething chattering):  Nothing.
  • Mama:  Would you like to sit on the towel with me and warm up?
  • Child:  No. I want to play dinosaurs.
  • Mama:  Ok, I will be a t-rex.  What kind of dinosaur do you want to be?
  • Child (face turning purple and heading rotating 360 degrees):  I’M NOT A DINOSAUR.  I’M A BOY.  I WANT TO PLAY WITH REAL DINOSAURS! I WANT A REAL LIVING DINOSAUR TO PLAY WITH RIGHT NOW!!!!!!

This might be no big deal at home, but at the beach it’s a whole different story.  The worst part about failing at beach days is that once you’ve failed, you’re stuck on the beach with a giant bag of unpacked stuff spread all over the sand, and a child who seems to have lost all muscle control by the edge of a tide pool and is shrieking at piercing decibels.  Your car is probably parked about a mile away.  So good luck.

See what I mean?  The stakes are high, my friend.

My ace is our beach bag.  I keep it packed with the essentials and in the mudroom, ready to go at a moment’s notice.

The contents of my beach bag - all we need for a day at the beach!

The contents of my beach bag – all we need for a day at the beach!

Here’s what we keep in our beach bag all the time:

  • Two towels.  These are larger sized beach towels, but thin.  I love them because they provide a ton of space for seating but don’t take up a ton of space in the bag.  I know some people are really particular about fluffy towels, but we are not them.
  • Sunscreen
  • Baby powder.  I have never used baby powder on the kids or myself in any kind of routine personal hygiene, but I do use it all the time at the beach for removing sand.  It is magic.  Sprinkle it on their hands, rub briskly, and voila – it’s like they just washed!  I also use it on their feet before they get into the car.

    Keeping cozy in wetsuits

    Keeping cozy in wetsuits

  • The boys’ wetsuits and rashguards.  Today, both boys wore t-shirts with their board shorts.  I brought their rash guards so that they’d have something long-sleeved to put on while playing if they wanted. The wetsuits are always ready when the boys want to splash around.  The water is pretty chilly right now, but even in the middle of summer it’s never that balmy so these are a must for long days in the water.
  • A little diaper pack.  Both my kids are potty trained, but Little Bear still sometimes does not give much notice when he needs to go.  When it’s just me and the two little ones, I don’t see myself scooping him and Junior up and sprinting up the path, through the parking lot, and to the port-a-potty in any timely manner.  Also, I admit it.  I have an unreasonable fear that he will fall in.  So, I bring a few pull ups and some wipes.  If he needs to go, I put the diaper on him, and then change it as soon as he’s done.  I used to bring an actual potty with me (and we still do when we’re out on our boat) but I stopped bringing it to the beach once I realized that if he did drop a doozy, I’d have to carry it all the way to the port-a-potty to dump it anyway (duh).  I keep the diaper stuff and an empty trash bag in a little wet bag that can be used for sandy, wet bathing suits if needed on our way home.

To get going, I only need to add:

Murphy's Law: Someone will always require a complete change of clothes.

Murphy’s Law: Someone will always require a complete change of clothes.

  1. Complete changes of clothes for the boys.  I make sure to bring extra cozy clothes that I know they’ll wear.  They really only want to change their clothes if they are cold, so I pack sweatshirts and thick cotton shorts.  I also always have an extra change of clothes in the car too, just in case.
  2. Water bottles.

    Snacks keep everyone happy!

    Snacks keep everyone happy!

  3. Food.  I try to pack things that can be eaten in multiple small portions so that it’s not a huge deal if anything gets dropped in the sand.  I cut sandwiches into small two-bite chunks.  I break up bananas.  I give them two pretzel sticks or half a cheese stick at a time.  Other popular beach snacks for us are cereal bars, applesauce or yogurt packets (the kind you drink), and just about any kind of fruit.

I’ve whittled this packing down a lot this summer from a much larger pile that required one of those cumbersome beach carts that I eventually hated.  I used to bring a huge beach tent.  It is an awesome, lightweight, easy-to-set-up tent so none of that was the problem.  The issue was that it was awkward to maneuver down the boardwalk on the beach cart, and I could never get the kids to sit under it. It really just provided personal comfort for me for about ten minutes a day so it was more trouble than it was worth.  The same goes for the beach chair that I used to bring.  I miss it sometimes, but when I’m by myself at the beach with both kids, I don’t get much time to lounge anyway.

Our old beach setup- way too much stuff for me to handle on my own! We reserve this gear for boat trips now!

Our old beach setup- way too much stuff for me to handle on my own! We reserve this gear for boat trips now!

Other things that I’ve removed from our beach packing include the huge shovels, buckets, nets, and trucks.  Instead, we now have a small mesh bag that Junior carries himself.  It contains a few small trucks, some small sand tools, and one small bucket.  Anytime he wants to bring something else, I tell him to go ahead as long as it fits in his bag and he can carry it. Sometimes Little Bear carries a ball too.

So, there you have it.  That’s how I get out of the house, to the beach in less than twenty minutes, with two kids under four.  It doesn’t take tons of stuff and a full camp setup to enjoy a day by the ocean.  A full day beach day on my own with both kids used to overwhelm me with packing and prep work.  These days, I keep it simple so that we can be out the door, and enjoying the day, in almost no time at all.

A beautiful fall day at an empty beach!

A beautiful fall day at an empty beach!

10 Things I Learned From Camping with the Kids

I will admit it.  About 12 hours into our camping trip, I was already fantasizing about bailing.  I was lying in our tent’s predawn glow, essentially on the ground (because my circa-1985 Thermarest had slowly deflated over the course of the last 6 hours) and I was trying to stay as still as possible so that I wouldn’t wake Little Bear who was about 18 inches away.

I had it all planned out.  The Captain and Junior, sound asleep in their own tent, could stay the course and I would bring Little Bear back to my parents’ house, not far away, where I would sleep on a real bed, in complete silence and darkness, and wake to espresso.  It would be decadent.

Our campsite, finally all set up!

Our campsite, finally all set up!

You have probably already figured out that our family is not one to dabble.  We do not in general lightly sample but instead tend to dive headfirst into whatever adventure is next (after The Captain checks the water, that is.)  This is how we came to spend four years living on sailboats, how we came to buy a house sight-unseen, and how we came to have two little boys in the span of 19 months.  So it should not come as a surprise that when we decided to take the boys camping for the first time, we booked an off-grid site for the middle of September in New England.

Truthfully, the site books up six months in advance so, having not come up with the idea until March, September was the earliest availability.  But timing aside, we did purposefully choose a campground that had no running water, no electricity, and no street access.  There would be no retreating to the car for a morning coffee run, no asking our neighbors if we could borrow some dish soap, no packing the car full of supplies for every possible what-if scenario.  We would have to arrive, with all commodities, by boat and rely only on what we had packed.

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Sunrise on the first morning (aka what convinced me not to pack my bags and head for the hills!)

But, I did not end up leaving early.  I ended up lying perfectly still for another hour, until Little Bear began to stir, and I dared to unzip the tent and step into the dewy morning.  After my morning coffee and a sunrise swim, the world was right again.

We only spent two nights out there with the boys, but it was long enough to know that we wished we could stay much longer and that next time, we will.  The learning curve was steep, and I’m sure there will be plenty more to learn next time.

To get started, here are ten things I learned this time along the way:

1. Never underestimate the power of simple comforts from home.  

My children are creatures of habit and nothing says comfort to them like a cup of warm milk and a snuggle with their lovies.  This was one area in which we didn’t skimp.  If you have a comfort routine at home, stick with it on-the-go.  Along these lines, I left my pillow at home, and missed it all weekend.  If you have the space, pack the things from home that bring you the greatest and most basic comfort.  A pillow and a steaming mug of hot coffee in the morning are pretty much all I need.

2.  Surrender the schedule

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Early morning beach romping for Little Bear

Before I had kids, I was one of those extra-annoying people who talked about how, when I did have children, they would be super flexible and “just along for the ride.”  HA! I’m officially sorry to everyone who had to listen to that bull.  My kids are the opposite of “along for the ride.”  In fact, sometimes I feel like it’s me who’s being taken for a ride!

We have a pretty rigid schedule that we usually stick to in  order to make sure that the kids are getting enough rest and eating healthily.  When we can’t stick to the schedule, they tend to transform from adorable, affectionate little munchkins into holy terrors.  Have you seen what happens when you feed a Gremlin after midnight?  Very similar experience.

In any case, when camping, it went out the window.  The kids were up late with the campfire.  They were up early with the sun.  They rested multiple times during the day, sometimes napping, sometimes not.  They did a lot of snacking.  A LOT.  But since the entire day was pretty open without any commitments, we were able to make it work.  They were still mostly well-rested and well-fed, so this laissez-faire approach worked better for our schedule while camping.  It was not easy for me to let go of our usual schedule, but things were SO MUCH easier once I waved the white flag.

3.  Good company is key!

Our private beach!

Our private beach!

Since The Captain and I already spend enough time staring into each other’s eyes (just kidding . . . kind of!) we brought along some good friends and their daughter.  It was awesome to have our friends along, and not just because they brought all the things we forgot.  Friends also bring a fresh perspective and, when needed, a different voice to tell your kids to quit it.  These friends in particular were a huge help because they had spent a lot of time on the island in the past, and could show us around!  Plus their daughter playing with our boys is just about the cutest thing ever.

4.  Coffee.  As much as possible.  As soon as possible.  

Enough said.  But really, this is no different from my daily life.

5.  No shame in plan B.

Even though I didn’t end up taking Little Bear to seek refuge with Nana and Poppy, if he had not started sleeping better and had the weather not been as good as it was, we would have.  It was comforting to even know that was an option.  And there is no sense in making everyone miserable just to say you finished what you started.  Remember, 365Outside is not a competition – it is supposed to be fun.

6.  The greater the risk, the greater the reward.

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Sunrise swim for Junior and The Captain

Though it would have been a lot easier to drive up to a campsite, pull the tent out of the car, and set it up right there, it wouldn’t have been as fun.  We are adventurers, after all! We didn’t want to be in a cramped campsite, wedged between strangers and tripping over each other. Instead we chose a campground accessible only by personal boat, with only 10 campsites total.  It was quiet and there was a ton of space to spread out.  Our campsite even had its own private beach.  We spent most of the weekend blinking at each other, repeating how we couldn’t believe how amazing the place was.

7.  Pray to the weather gods

We seriously lucked out!  When we booked this back in March, we knew that September could be a gamble.  It could have been 50 degrees and rainy.  There could have been a hurricane.  It could have been completely miserable.  Instead, it was 77 degrees and sunny.  There is no way we’d have been able to stick it out if it had been horrible weather.  We are all for enjoying the outdoors regardless of the weather, but with nowhere to truly dry off and warm up, the kids would have been a wreck within a few hours.  We were so grateful to enjoy this last gasp of summer!

8.  It gets easier the longer you’re there.

We wished we could stay longer not only because we were having so much fun, but also because it takes a while to settle in and get the hang of things.  The second night was much easier (as in, we actually slept) and the kids were really getting the hang of things.  It only took a full 36 hours of repeating “Do not wear your shoes in the tent,” before they began to listen.  Imagine the possibilities if we’d stayed a week!  They would have probably achieved world peace . . . or world domination.  Hmmmmmmm.

9.  Children are primal, wild beasts.  

The kids, going berserk.

The kids, going berserk.

As soon as we got off the boat and unloaded what was, literally, a boatload of gear, the kids went nuts. It was like returning a wild animal to its natural habitat.  They sniffed around for maybe two minutes and then were immediately running in circles, kicking up dirt, making crazy little hooting sounds.  Our friends’ daughter was literally picking up handfuls of dirt and rubbing them into her scalp.  Little Bear found an old half-burnt log and smeared the ashes on his face before he tried to take a bite of it.  And you know what?  That’s ok.  No, I’m not going to let him eat things he finds lying around in the woods, but it’s ok for them to get filthy.  It’s ok for them to let loose.  That’s why we’re here.  It’s nothing a dip in the ocean won’t take care of.

10.  It’s all about the memories.

Our kids had their first s’mores.  They watched their first sunrise over the water, in their jammies, before stripping down for a morning swim.  They built sand castles, dug rivers, foraged for firewood, and went “bear-hunting.”  They went to sleep when it got dark and woke when it got light again.  For a few days, they lived a simpler, happier life.  And that makes me happy too.  We will definitely be back.

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