When you have kids, everyone and their dog is ready warn you about sleepless nights, explosive nappies and reflux. They stand there, arms folded, with a smug look plastered across their face as they knowingly nod along to your utterly incredulous expression. Like lambs to the slaughter, new parents are thrust into these issues with hurricane force, often coming out the other side a dishevelled version of their former selves. And, while toddlers, on the whole, don’t bring with them the wealth of shock and awe tactics that new-borns do, they do still pose some very vexing problems. The latest to hit our household is the case of a toddler refusing her carrier.
We all know toddlers: those emotionally irrational bundles of energy who, one minute, are throwing their arms around your neck to give you loves but, with the next breath, angrily throw every damaging object they can get their little paws on in your direction because you’ve had the audacity to tell them that they can’t eat the remote control. They’re also unbelievably stubborn. Trying to get them to do something that they don’t want to do is akin to brokering a compromise between the Brexiteers and the Remainers. Their ideals are so far apart from yours; why should they enter negotiations when they know that they hold all of the cards? Namely, that they can choose to drop, flop, roll and scream (usually in public) until you agree to their demands.
So, here we are, on a hilltop, attempting to reason with an exhausted 2-year-old who is currently (and stubbornly) refusing our offer of help. She’s crying (loudly), shouting (I’m NOT tired!) and splaying her legs to avoid being incarcerated (as she sees it) in the carrier. I’m not even sure why we’re surprised by any of this. After all, we went through exactly the same with our nearly five year old just a couple of years back. It appears that we erased those painful memories for the sake of our on-going sanity. But, here we are again: caught in time between a head that tells our nearly 3-year-old that she’s a big girl who no longer needs to be carried, and the Lilliputian legs that tell us (despite her protests) that she does need some help now and again.
As much as it’s a minor frustration, particularly when this happens within sight or earshot of other, less understandingfolk, who I’m sure occasionally look at us as ‘bad parents’ for ‘dragging this poor little youngster out into the hills’, it’s part and parcel of raising a toddler. As much as I know we’ll just have to wait it out with her, giving her the chance to only walk as far as she can until her little legs build more strength and endurance, there are still a couple of small things that we can do to help the situation.
Firstly, we can redesign of our trail routes and plans for a period of time. There’s no getting away from it,unfortunately. The long days over more challenging terrain where we could just scoop her up into the carrier for a rest are over for the foreseeable future. We are blessed to have kids that love the outdoors and love to walk so, getting out into more isolated, beautiful areas won’t be a problem. We’ll just have to adapt what we do.
In practice, we’ll plan fewer circular routes. As parents, you’re the best judge of your child’s capability and energy reserves, but linear routes help us as they provide a bit of a safety net should one of them get tired far more quickly than we anticipated. With circular routes, it can be tempting to try and push on to complete the loop. This is never a good idea with a tired, naggy toddler. Linear routes, on the other hand, make the decision of turning around far simpler. Remember: cutting a walk short is always a great thing to do if it results in a positive memory for everyone on that walk. Push them too hard, too soon and you may end up struggling to engage them with the idea of an outdoor adventure in the future. Nobody wants that! Find a cafe, treat them to a hot chocolate, and they’ll end the adventure on a high.
Another tactic we use to combat tiredness and tantrums is to carry a toddler’s weight in picnic snacks. What I’ve lost in terms of carrying a small human, I’ve most definitely gained in carrying Pom Bears, sausage rolls and apple juice. Of course, we’ve always carried snacks for a family hike it’s justthat now we carry more. You see, we stop more now. Little legs need regular rest stops to replace the time they might have spent in the carrier. Some days it seems like we spend as much time on our waterproof picnic blanket as we do actually walking. Please don’t take that as a negative either. One of the best things about our family walks is the chance to sit down and eat together in the great outdoors with no distractions. These little rest stops aren’t just a practical recovery break, they’re a great family time for chatting, laughing and strengthening bonds.
More stops obviously means more periods of inactivity. On colder days our toddler might normally have spent her period of inactivity cocooned under the waterproof and windproof canopy of her carrier. Now we need to find other ways to keep them both warm. Firstly, we always carry our group emergency shelter. Given that our family adventures are very unlikely to find us on terrain that would warrant the use of a bothy for the foreseeable future, this might seem like an unnecessary addition. However, this giant parachute-like canopy, is a fun way to have a picnic. The kids can use their imagination to conjure up all sorts of adventurous scenarios while it keeps the wind and rain at bay. From pretend igloos on arctic adventures to force fields that keep us safe from the Decepticons, emergency shelters don’t have to be saved just for emergencies when you have young kids.
These childhood developments are as much a test of us parents as they are our kids. Knowing when and how to adapt will keep everyone happy in the long run. There’s no denying that my back won’t miss the weight but I will miss them playing with my hair and singing in my ear as I walk. So, for now, I’ll continue to carry around her empty carrier for a while. Just in case. She might be ready to grow up and move on. I just want to freeze her in time.