Well, here we are.
It’s been 40-ish days since we all entered the “new normal” of the COVID-19 era. Our homes are now also our schools and workplaces and playgrounds and churches and gyms.
Our hands are chapped, our parks are closed, and our kids are stir crazy.
We are all in survival mode right now.
Let me say that again for the folks in the back. WE ARE ALL IN SURVIVAL MODE RIGHT NOW.
Each of us is navigating unique griefs, challenges, joys, work/school situations, family dynamics, emotional realities, recreation restrictions, and sets of circumstances brought on by this pandemic.
We’re all doing the best we can with what we have, trying to hold on tightly to the things we love while also doing what we need to do to protect the most vulnerable in our communities. We’re finding new rhythms and digging deep for creative ways to engage with our kids.
And we’re all in this together, mysteriously, even though many of us are feeling painfully separated from each other. Here we all are, for better or for worse, showing up and pressing in and adjusting and re-adjusting a thousand times every hour.
My story is my story. As you read this, or any of the rest of our perspectives, please don’t read them as prescriptive or as some kind of how-to for this wild time we are in. Such a thing just doesn’t exist.
I do hope that maybe a little glimpse into our day-to-day can help you feel less alone. I hope it can normalize some of the ups and downs you might be experiencing right now. At the very least, I hope it can inspire you to check in with yourself and take a deep breath. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
I’ve been staying at home with my kids since my oldest was born, about 4.5 years ago now. So in many ways, our daily reality hasn’t changed a whole lot other than Micah no longer going to preschool 2 days a week.
He misses his friends and teachers, but we aren’t really worried about attempting to “homeschool” him beyond our normal routines of reading and playing and engaging with his curiosity.
Lydia, my sassy almost-3-year-old daughter, is just along for the ride. She knows that we’re supposed to give people space and that it’s important to keep our germs to ourselves.
She knows that the playgrounds are “cautioned off” right now. Other than that, her biggest concern (OK, my biggest concern for her) is remembering to poop in the potty instead of her underwear. Business as usual.
My husband, Ben, is a civil engineer for our county’s bridge and hydraulics department. Shortly after our state issued official stay-at-home orders, he set up an office in the small shop in our backyard.
His makeshift work-from-home desk setup is surrounded by camping equipment, skis, bikes, strollers, and other miscellaneous gear. We are incredibly grateful that he is still able to work, and that we get bonus visits from him on his breaks throughout the day!
Our resident adventure pup, a 6-year-old Chesapeake Bay Retriever named Yeti, is also thrilled to have Ben around and spends most of her day sleeping peacefully at his feet and sharing his carrots.
So that’s who we are, a little family of four in beautiful Bellingham, Washington. And here is our day. Another gloriously normal and spectacular day in the life.
Want more? You can read all of our A Day in the Life of an Outdoor Mom posts here!
Because we’re being technical here, this is where the day begins. We’ve actually been doing pretty well with both kids (FINALLY, PRAISE THE GOOD LORD) sleeping through the night, so my son’s voice comes as a bit of a shock to the system.
My sleep has been less-than-stellar since all of this began. Sometimes I just can’t get my mind to turn off. Most nights my hips ache like crazy because I’ve been running with the stroller more to keep my sanity intact. Sometimes I have no explanation.
Thankfully, this wake up is a quick fix. Micah is at my bedside, his voice quivering a little, informing me that his white noise isn’t loud enough. For the love, sweet boy. I encourage him to turn it up, and back he goes to his room.
It feels like I have just fallen back to sleep, and here come the footsteps. THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP. “Mom, can I have my snack and play in my room and put a sticker on my chart?“
Same questions every morning, bless his little creature of habit heart. When the midnight/insanely early wake-ups were especially rough, we started some new strategies.
We now leave a bowl of Cheerios in his room at bedtime in case he wakes up hungry. We started a sticker chart for him to earn some new construction vehicles for the backyard if he can stay in his bed all night. And he has gotten fairly used to playing independently in his room until we let him know it’s OK to come out.
This is when my husband, Ben, starts his workday. Before heading out, he starts the coffee pot, one of the simple and profound ways that he shows his care for me (he doesn’t even drink coffee!). These kinds of things feel especially meaningful right now, when all of us are stretched so thin.
I try to take advantage of this time of relative solitude, because right now self-care opportunities are incredibly rare. With Ben off to work, Micah playing happily in his room, and Lydia still sleeping (she appears to be hitting a growth spurt and has been sleeping in until almost 8 most days) I have a few minutes. I’ll take that.
I plod quietly into the kitchen to pour my coffee and then return to my bed.
Snuggled back in, I scroll Instagram for a few minutes and take in the small bit of news I allow myself for the day. The daily email from The Skimm helps me feel informed without being buried by too much information – a delicate balance for my anxiety-prone mind.
When I’m done with that, I pull out my book. Currently Jen Hatmaker’s “Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire” is gracing my bedside table and helping me ground myself just a little bit before the storm hits.
8am – 10am
This time, in our house, is often the most difficult of the day. The process of getting everyone dressed, eating breakfast, brushing teeth, and preparing for whatever we are doing that day literally takes two solid hours. At least.
The reality of small kids with big opinions feels especially present here.
Lydia objects violently to getting dressed this morning, and instead crouches stark naked in her room and methodically pulls every single book off her bookshelf.
When she does get around to choosing clothes, it is only with the help of an armful of stuffed animals (who also, incidentally, have rapidly changing opinions).
Micah is very involved with his Matchbox cars and does NOT want anything to do with cleaning his room. Or with anything that I ask him to do for that matter. I spend way more energy than I should bargaining, bribing, and threatening consequences, ignoring everything I know to be true about parenting best practices.
We’re just…out of sorts. I honestly can’t recall how we ever got out of the house in time for 8:45am preschool dropoff – that feels like another lifetime, doesn’t it? When we did things like that?
I know it’s not just the kids who have a rough time starting the day. Often this is where I’m at my worst – weary, lonely, frustrated, restless. I am a textbook extrovert, and my soul is aching in isolation. Anyone out there feel me on that? I really miss my friends. I miss my friends’ kids. Heck, I miss people I barely even know! So many things to miss.
Here’s how it manifests for me, this underlying ache: patience is short, anxiety is high, and I can’t seem to shake the gnawing questions lingering just underneath the surface.
When will we get to see our people again? How long will all of this last? What does normal even look like now? How much of this will my kids remember? Am I doing an OK job navigating all of this with them?
When the questions start getting too loud, I know I need to get outside. We all do.
We spring into action. Almost every day since this COVID crisis started, we’ve gotten into a rhythm of mandatory “fresh air time” at some point between breakfast and lunch. Rain or shine, good attitudes or bad ones, backyard or bigger adventure (which is obviously relative at this point)…everyone knows we’re going to get out.
I usually try to rally some kind of consensus on what we do. Today, both kids are miraculously excited about the same option. A hike it is! Win!
Our city and county park trails are still open at this point, with social distancing regulations in place. We are infinitely grateful for this privilege, and do not take it for granted that these spaces can still feel “wild” even within the confines of our city limits.
I make an on-the-spot call to head to a local nature preserve that the kids have never been to. We all need something that feels new. I haven’t been there in years, but I remember it being pretty magical.
Micah and Lydia each grab their backpacks and start packing for themselves as I throw everything we actually need into the kid carrier. Micah and I have a little discussion about appropriate pack weight as I regrettably inform him that filling a 12 liter pack with Matchbox cars may not be the wisest decision.
He takes this opportunity to check in with me and make sure I am prepared, referencing the handy little packing list diagram on the inside of his backpack. “Do you have sunscreen, Mom? A jacket? Snacks?” Thanks, buddy.
Check out our full review of the REI Tarn 12!
Miraculously, WE ARE ON THE ROAD. It feels kind of strange to be driving in the car with the kids – something we’ve done only a handful of times in the past however many days since all of this started. Has it been a week? A month? Twelve years? Your guess is as good as mine.
It’s a quick trip to the trailhead, and we’re off and running (literally). Lydia wants to start out hiking on her own, which presents its share of challenges as I try to keep track of one kid in front of me and one lagging behind. But I know that fostering her independence is worth it, and her goofy little toddler trot is kind of my favorite.
It’s both encouraging and kind of heartbreaking how avoiding other people has become second nature to my kids at this point. We don’t pass many people on the trail, especially since the main loop is now limited to clockwise traffic. But as soon as they hear voices or footsteps, they both freeze and skitter off into the bushes. These are strange days.
The new trail is a wonderland to my little adventure buddies. “Mom! Sword ferns! Fiddleheads! Look, a bridge!” It’s not just the fresh air that helps me breathe easier in the woods. It’s watching these two encourage each other, imagine with each other, and help each other see the beauty all around them.
After about a quarter of a mile hiking S-L-O-W-L-Y on her own, Lydia is ready to ride in the carrier. I don’t fight it today, because honestly I need to move my body and we’re in a tough stage where her pace and Micah’s pace and my pace are all vastly different. On another day I might work a little harder to have her keep going, but right now this is where we land.
Micah is absolutely in his element. Climbing stumps, walking across logs, stomping in mud. His creativity comes alive out here. And honestly? So does mine.
I can feel myself pressing into the kind of parenting I aspire to. A reset of sorts. Where earlier this morning I felt so irritated and exhausted and defeated, it feels like I’ve tapped into some kind of reserve of energy, patience, curiosity, and joy.
Nature therapy at its finest.
We get to our first decision point – there is a main loop trail that is 2.8 miles long, and a little 1.2 mile “bonus loop” that ducks down to a pond. I let Micah make the call on whether or not we go to the pond, and he doesn’t hesitate with his YES. Off we go.
About a mile and a half in to the hike, Micah spots a downed tree that immediately becomes an excavator in his construction-obsessed little imagination.
He spends the better part of 10 minutes telling me all about the different controls and what they do, which part is the boom and which is the scoop. He makes sure I stand back because the truck makes really loud noises and he doesn’t want to hurt my ears.
It takes some convincing to get him to keep moving, but I promise him we can keep looking for more trucks along the way.
We get to the pond and find a little family of Canadian Geese enjoying a meal next to the trail. The adults not-so-subtly remind us to keep our social distance by hissing in our general direction, so we don’t linger very long.
I can tell Micah is starting to drag a little bit, so I do what I can to keep him motivated until we find a good lunch spot. We take turns pointing out wildflowers that are just starting to bloom and we listen for frogs. We find as many things as we can that are white or green or brown.
Whatever it takes to keep moving.
We come upon a perfect little resting spot – a nice, wide log that extends about 30 feet from the side of the trail. I start the kids in on lunch, and all of us perk up a bit with some sustenance.
A mom with a couple small kids walks by, and we exchange somewhat nervous smiles of solidarity. It’s so hard with littles who could realistically, at any moment, decide to ambush a friendly-looking stranger with a leg hug.
We wave and say hello, reassuring the kiddos that it’s still alright to be friendly while keeping our distance. In times like these, it feels much more acute how this lack of social contact is affecting all of us. It breaks my heart a little bit every time.
Something about the trail, though, it makes me feel like things are OK. We are OK. Living things are still growing and following rhythms. Maybe somehow we are still connected to something bigger then ourselves and our little family.
Once lunch is finished, we have a decision to make – call it quits and return to the car, or keep going and complete the main loop trail?
Lydia has been skipping her nap more often than not these days, so I decide to push ahead. I want to be out here as long as we possibly can. Micah is thrilled.
We’ve got 2 miles under our belts, and I think I can rally a few more. I’ve also discovered a stash of Reese’s pieces and peanut butter chips in the backpack. Score! This means I can institute our tried and true “hike 1/4 mile on your own 2 feet without whining and you can have a treat” policy. Bam.
If you need some more ideas for hiking motivation, Amelia has a great post on Tricks for Encouraging Kids on the Trail!
The treats keep us going for a little while. Micah’s motivation is up and down, alternating between I DON’T HAVE ANY ENERGY! and WATCH ME RUN SO FAST DOWN THIS HILL!
Lydia is, blissfully, still taking it all in. Constantly chattering in my ear about what she sees, occasionally pretending to be asleep in the carrier. And, of course, eagerly anticipating her hard-earned reward every 1/4 mile.
Sometimes when Micah starts to drag I ask him to hold my hand, and I squeeze it every few steps while making a “zzzzt” sound (my best electric shock impression).
This is a brilliant imaginary transaction where I am able to infuse him with some of my energy. It is shockingly effective (pun intended) and makes him giggle every time without fail.
I’m not *entirely* confident how much longer we have to go on the hike, only that the entire main trail is 2.8 miles. So we press on.
Sometimes I “accidentally” give 2 Reese’s chips instead of one. We sing songs and take extra water breaks. We marvel at the amazingly tall trees towering above us.
I point out some dried sap on a tree trunk, and we talk about how some tree sap makes maple syrup and how much we all love maple syrup.
We talk about how when I was little and lived in Vermont we made our own maple syrup. Micah asks if we can go to Vermont together someday and make maple syrup together. It’s magic. It’s also hard, don’t get me wrong.
But mostly it’s magic.
And then, all of a sudden, we see the sign telling us that we have completed the loop. We’re so close to hitting 5 whole miles, which is a pretty big deal and close to a PR for my 4.5 year old on his own little legs.
The last quarter of a mile brings with it a little shot of adrenaline as we wonder…will we make it to 5 miles before we get to the car? I see him beam with pride at his accomplishment, which makes the last stretch a breeze.
We stop and take some selfies to celebrate. I’m so proud of this dude. And of all of us, really.
On the way home, we blast some music and talk about how many trees there are in the whole world. As I glance in the rearview mirror, I see that good kind of tired on my kids’ faces. The kind that makes cheeks rosy and eyelids heavy and hearts happy.
Everyone unloads, changes out of muddy clothes, uses the potty, and washes hands. Then the kids settle in for another hard-earned snack and a couple episodes of Thomas the Tank Engine while I take a shower. Because sometimes screen time = self-care and I am 1000% OK with that.
Time to get back into the fresh air! Springtime weather here in the PNW is unpredictable at best, so when it’s decent we try to take advantage as much as possible.
I remember today’s Get Outside Family challenge is to draw something outside. We haven’t done all the challenges this month, but it has been so helpful to have a little dose of inspiration every day.
Drawing is marginally successful at best with my littles, but the idea of taking construction paper and crayons outside is novel enough to get them excited. We head out the front door for our “art project” and draw a few flowers and plants from our yard.
After the thrill of drawing wears off, miracle of miracles, I open a package that arrived today only to discover the sidewalk chalk that we ordered weeks ago! #winning
Ben is done with work and heads to Costco to replenish our milk supply along with a few other necessities to get us through the next few weeks.
There is another pang of grief as he grabs his mask and Micah asks if we can all go together. It feels silly to lament the fact that we can’t take the whole family to get groceries, but all of these little things are part of the bigger picture.
Life is different now.
We stay outside and the sidewalk chalk occupies us until Ben gets back.
Ben and I have set aside a few hours a week where I become unavailable to the family and do something I need to recharge. This is one of those hours.
Some days I go for a run, some days I go for a walk and listen to a podcast, some days I sit on the patio and read a book. Some days, before all of this started, I would meet up with a friend.
Today, I’m choosing to write. I work on this post, sort through some photos from the day, and engage a different part of my brain. I turn on music – my choice of music – and play it as loud as I want.
It’s so important to have this, especially now.
In some ways it feels like a drop in the bucket, but without access to childcare we’re doing the best we can with what we have. And I’m grateful for these moments whenever they present themselves.
It feels like my soul has taken a deep breath. While I was writing, Ben took care of the groceries and created a construction site for the kids in a section of our yard where we’ve never been able to get the grass to grow. They are thrilled and dirty and hard at work.
As Ben finishes getting dinner ready, I help rally the kids inside. They negotiate a few more minutes of work (Mom, I’m busy digging right now) and finally, reluctantly, agree to wash up.
Dinner time. We take turns sharing our “Happy/Sad/Silly” moments from the day around the table, always an interesting experiment in conversational etiquette with a 2-year-old and 4-year-old.
We know the kids are small, but it’s important to us that we set a precedent of creating space for all of us to reflect together. Sometimes their answers are goofy, sometimes they are imaginary, and every once in a while they are surprisingly profound.
Bottom line: we consider it a win we keep the topic of conversation from revolving entirely around poop.
We (sort of) get through everyone’s answers before devolving into general shenanigans, silliness, and the kids doing whatever they can to make each other laugh.
Bath time. It’s been a long, active day and things are starting to fall off the rails.
The water started before Micah had put the plug in the tub and THIS IS NOT ACCEPTABLE. There is screaming and there are tears and everyone’s blood pressure starts to rise a few notches.
But…then Dad pulls out a couple of plastic large-tip syringes that he bought to bleed the brakes on our bikes (don’t worry, they’re still clean and unused), and VOILA! Magic squirt guns. It’s amazing where we find inspiration when we’re desperate to turn things around.
While Ben takes care of the rest of bath, I clean up dinner and start a load of laundry (because mud + sidewalk chalk) and get everything situated for bedtime.
The downside to big adventure days is this level of sheer exhaustion our kiddos experience at the end of the day. It can make bedtime rough, to say the least.
But when we hear our babies in the bath squealing, “Dad, we’re having fun!” it still feels worth it.
The kids have been begging for a game night. Mom & Dad are fried, but we cave and play a quick round of Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders to help us all wind down.
At long last, we have arrived! Bed time. I give Lydia a hug and kiss goodnight as she heads into her room to read with Dada and Yeti, who insists on curling up at their feet every night for story time.
Micah snuggles into my lap to read his choices for the evening – The Honeybee, Dragons Love Tacos, and Big Words for Little Geniuses (he is practicing memorizing every word of the last one so he can recite it for his preschool teacher on video).
After books, I tuck Micah in and he says his prayers: Thank you Jesus for excavators and dump trucks and drills (these are givens every night) and thank you for OUR BIG HIKE and for YOU, MOM!
Be still my beating heart.
TAKE. A. BREATH.
I change into my own pajamas and take a few minutes to scroll Instagram. Social media is such an emotional roller coaster, and that feels especially intensified in this age of isolation.
On one hand it helps to feel somehow connected, like I’m still seeing my friends and know a little bit about what’s happening in their worlds even though we can’t hang out.
Conversely, it feels like a brutal reminder of how separate we are. How much I miss actual physical presence. How tired I am of seeing so many of the people I love only through screens.
I wander out to the living room to check in with Ben, and as I go to close the curtains I notice that there is a breathtaking sunset emerging. I step out onto the front porch and stare for a few minutes.
When the colors start to fade to black, we snuggle up on the couch for a few episodes of Schitt’s Creek, our latest Netflix binge. It doesn’t take long for our eyes to get heavy. We call it a night. Over and out.
I feel like this is where I need to give you an important disclaimer, so here it is: This was a really good day.
Not all of our days are really good. In fact, some of them are impossibly tough and raw and emotional and stressful.
And yet, some of them are really, really good. In this season, I’m learning (or at least trying) to embrace each day for what it is. Celebrate the delightful, lean in to the difficult, and stay present to the whole range of in-between.
Today I’m resting in the sweetness that we found on the trail and in our home and with each other. Tomorrow may bring something entirely different. I’ll have to deal with that as it comes.
But right now, in this moment, I’m going to let myself be grateful for this remarkable, ordinary, wild, beautiful, hilarious, challenging day in the life we’ve been given.
© 2020, Tales of a Mountain Mama. All rights reserved. Republication, in part or entirety, requires a link back to this original post and permission from the author.