Last weekend we decided to take a late afternoon hike into our local hills. While this may seem pretty innocuous, we are very much morning people. It wasn’t long before we were reminded why. When toddlers don’t nap they’re hard work. VERY hard work!
In all honesty, this late afternoon hike was never meant to happen. The previous day we had, in fact, agreed to set the alarm early and drive out for a sunrise hike. However, as we were coming to the end of our two weeks off together as a family our body clocks had begun to slip into a slightly kinder regime than the one that requires us to get up for work and prep the kids at daft o’ clock in the morning. As such, we overslept.
OK, OK…I’ll hold my hands up and admit: I rolled over and turned the alarm off about ten minutes before it was due to go off. What can I say? I needed my beauty sleep! So, after a lazy morning, we finally decided to get our backsides into gear and head out to catch what was forecast to be a clear sky sunset. It didn’t take us long to regret not getting up early.
Now, I don’t know about your kids, but our kids seem very pliable most mornings. Of course, they wriggle and fight when you’re trying to get them dressed. Yes, they spill their milk literally everywhere eating their breakfasts but, for the most part, they are so used to getting up and leaving the house that it’s a relative breeze getting them sorted. As both Nat and I work full time, both kids started nursery at 9 months old. Consequently, getting up, getting dressed and leaving the house at that time of day is a naturally occurring part of their day.
Another crucial factor in us tending to get outside into the great outdoors early in the morning is that both of our toddlers still have a midday(ish) nap. They sleep far more soundly at night if they’ve had their nap so this, for us, is a routine that we’re happy to continue right up until they begin school. We’re also happy for it to continue because without their naps they are completely different children. The impact of sleep deprivation on our kids is to turn them into whining, aggressive, crying Gremlins. They really aren’t very pleasant, believe me.
Yes, you’ve guessed it: on the day in question our two toddlers decided they were having far too much fun play fighting to wind down and eventually fall asleep. Naively forgetting the impact this lack of sleep would have, we started our usual routine of feeding and prepping the kids, and packing the rucksack and car. Wow! It was like time had contracted and we were stuck with two wild little people in some sort of warped alternative reality.
The first stage of this sleep-deprived craziness seems to be hyperactivity. Somehow managing to operate on lowered energy levels, our terrible two quite literally run wild. They fill the surrounding area with belly laughs, squeals and raucous cries. Every object within their line of sight becomes an object to grab, throw, chew or hit something with (usually each other). So, as we were doing our level best to get our gear together and sort them out, they seemed to be doing everything in their power to dismantle all of our progress.
The next phase was to get them into the car. If you are able to picture the way a crocodile rolls its prey in order to bring it under control, this will give you a pretty good idea what I look like trying to get one of my napless toddlers into a car seat. It’s a long and drawn-out process that leaves me feeling like I’ve been on the receiving end of a Joe Wicks HIIT session. Then, in the time it’s taken me to lock the door, turn the engine on and reverse out of the drive, they’re fast asleep.
Following the huge sense of relief, deep sighs and pitying looks at each other, it then dawns on Nat and I that this is absolutely worst case scenario. We’re only going to be in the car 20 minutes. You’ve heard the saying ‘ let sleeping dogs lie’? Well, we were now going to have to wake them both up mid-nap. It is literally like poking an angry bear with a stick. We briefly considered mission abort but that would mean waking them now. Our kids, you see, who could sleep through a nuclear explosion, cannot, for whatever reason, be removed from a car without stirring. Would it be better to let the house take the hit and get them back inside to cry and be hideous? Thinking they’d benefit from a lack of an enclosed space and we’d benefit from 20 minutes of peace in the car, we pushed on undeterred.
By this time, it had already taken us about 3 times longer to get out of the house and into the car than our usual morning adventures do. Although we were hiking up to see the sunset, the passing time, although physically and emotionally sapping, wasn’t too much of an issue for us. Yes, we might not get quite to the point that we wanted to watch the sunset from but we’d still get a damn good view. As always, we’d gone well prepared with all of our necessary outdoor gear and clothing, including head torches, so if we continued to make progress at a snail’s pace, a little darkness wasn’t going to spoil our fun.
After arriving and sorting the car park money out and double checking our gear, the time had come to poke the bears. Neither of them were very impressed. Believe me when I say that I can’t reliably judge exactly how long the first kilometre took us. That first km is now just a blur of angst, a memory confined to the deepest recesses of my brain in order to protect me from the damage it could do. All I know is: I’ve never walked a slower km.
What really wound me up more than anything, however, was passing an elderly group, with clothing more suited to the bingo hall than the great outdoors, who decided to pass judgement between themselves loud enough for me to hear. Apparently, our youngest, who was crying in the carrier at the time, was crying because it was too cold for her to be out.
Now, without really feeling the need to justify myself, all I’ll say is that the temperature was around about 1oC and our kids, layered up to the hilt with thermal base layers, merino wool and fleece mid layers, Patagonia down jackets, hiking boots and winter snow boots (tested down to -50), ski mitts, hats etc. etc. (you get the picture) were certainly not crying because they were cold! Our youngest was crying because she was over-tired.
Choosing to move past the judgmental older generation before I felt compelled to yell the truth at them, things began to settle down. Despite the temperature dropping further as the sun began to drop lower, something magical happened. Both kids suddenly came out of their sleep-deprived emotionally unstable states and became our children again.
Our youngest wanted to get out of the carrier and walk. Our eldest wanted to jump on rocks and test his skills going up steep terrain off the side of the trail. Eventually, just as the sun was about to set, we found a patch of grass just off the trail and plonked ourselves down. I got the flask of hot chocolate out of the rucksack, together with our four cups, the kids had a snack, we took some photos and we watched one of the best sunsets I’ve seen in our local hills. All was right again in the world.
On the way back down to the car both kids walked the entire way. It was slow going, yes, but Jesse was more than happy to don his head torch. It may have been an absolute pain in the backside to get out and then for the first section of the walk but, my God, the second section made up for it. We delayered the kids for the journey home and even stopped at McDonalds to get them a Happy Meal each.
Would I do it this way every week? Hell no! But, if getting out in the morning isn’t possible for whatever reason, we’ll continue to get outside in the late afternoon. Yes, it’s far, far harder, but we all, the kids included, cherish our outdoor time. You can’t sit and watch a glorious sunset surrounded by beautifully scenery, enjoying a hot chocolate as a family from the comfort of your living room.
Furthermore, the mood that they were both in initially would have probably resulted in a claim on the house insurance. So yes, for the foreseeable future, we’ll be sticking to early morning departures. But, if you happen to see us out in the hills during the late afternoon, give us a friendly smile or some parental encouragement. We might just need it for a little while.