Saying goodbye to dear friends and starting on the 14-hour journey back to the desert was bittersweet. A heavy veil of exhaustion fell down upon us a few days before we left. I underestimated how much energy is required vacationing with your kids when your partner is far away (Kris went home a couple weeks ahead of us). I underestimated how much time I'd need to see (truly SEE and spend time with) all our friends who we've missed so much. Miles sprung a fever out of nowhere and was only content being held, which derailed many of our plans the last few days. Though Jes assured me otherwise, I began to feel we were outstaying our welcome. I missed Kris.
I trust her when she says we could stay forever. I think it's more that we all felt a tension between wanting the fun to continue, recognizing how precious our time in Colorado is, and yet also craving just a tad more space. Space to sleep apart from one another. Space to have temper tantrums without disrupting the equilibrium of the group.
Of course, the moment we pulled away and waved goodbye, space didn't matter.
Day One of the drive was about grieving. Wanting to be home, but not wanting to leave. Not understanding why it takes SO long to get from one home to another. Watching the sky-scraping, snow-capped beauty outside my windshield, then seeing it fade in my rear-view mirror. Miles felt much better, but still wanted Mama, and so he screamed for me from the backseat. It was too painful for him to see me but not be able to touch me. I spent a couple hours with one hand on the wheel and my other hand reaching back to hold his foot.
Day One was about being between. Not here nor there. Pulling further away from friends but yet still too far from Daddy, from the comforts of our home. B cried, saying she just wanted Micah and Dana and Ben and all her Arizona friends to move to Colorado and we could all stay there forever. Old friends and new. All in one place.
I felt the same way. But then, refreshed by a night in a comfortable hotel, we embarked on Day Two. We crossed from alpine landscape into desert, and I watched the outside temperature gauge climb, and I saw the soaring buttes, saguaros and alien-like redrock formations, and I realized a small part of me had missed this landscape in all its harsh oddities.
We passed a sign pointing to the Grand Canyon, and had I not been anxious to get home to see Kris, I would have turned. I realized we have so much more of the desert to show our children. And yes, we sorely miss the mountains and snow and green meadows and old friends. But we can trust they will be there next time we visit.
As I write this, Kris is trying to entertain the kids and let me rest. But they want to be with me. B keeps bringing me strawberries (one for her, one for me) and we're eating them in bed and talking about our adventure. Her lips are bright red with strawberry juice. She just made me promise we'll do it all again next year.
|singing and eating ice cream|
|scooter rides with friends|
|playing outside at dusk|
|playing in the sprinkler|
|if Miles were a country singer, this would be his album cover|
|exploring South Park|
Want some adventure? Try: 1 campsite. 13 adults. 12 kids (age 4 and under). 5 dogs. Infinite fun.
|playing in creek|
|rock throwing contest|
Exhibit A: the pet moth. As in, "Mommy, I LOVE him and he LOVES me and I want him to sleep with me in my bed and I'm going to take him home to Arizona."
She wanted to write a letter home to her friend Micah about the pet moth, so we did. Micah also has a nurturing tendency toward bugs...for instance, the 4-inch-long beetle he found next to his pool (that freaked me the heck out).
Mr. Moth is still with us, despite a scare when we lost him and B was convinced he'd been eaten by coyotes.
I figure this is a healthy balance to the princess obsession, no?
Kris said Miles cast like a pro....not an easy task when you're 21 months and the rod is bigger than you are.
There's only one thing to do when you stumble upon a loud, colorful, music-filled motorcycle rally in the middle of nowhere, Colorado....
Dance, baby. Dance.
and perhaps run away when the scary biker dude tries to dance with you.
|doesn't this look like the Carlton Dance?|
Parents of toddlers take note: Disneyland has nothing on a few dozen Harleys, loud music and french fries. Or this:
|road kill bike|
Sunday marked the end of my 365 project. This is a shot from our trip to South Park City, a preserved 1800s Colorado mining town (and the namesake for the cartoon). Normally I wouldn't encourage my child to sit on a railroad track, but since the train wasn't operational, it made for a cute photo op.
I haven't been disciplined about editing and posting photos, but I do have all 365 photos cataloged and ready to turn into a photo book. It's amazing to look back at the past year in pictures. Miles especially has changed so much since the first shot, don't you think?
On August 1st I'll start another 365. If you want to join me, leave a note in the comments. Or if you're partway through your 365 already, tell me what you've learned so far. For me, I was surprised at how difficult it is to stay on top of not only taking photos, but uploading them and keeping them organized. Also, it's a challenge to discover new subject matter every day. Even with two cute kids around, I wanted to keep it fresh and interesting, which wasn't easy.
Fifteen years ago, Kris packed his mountain bike in a cardboard box and boarded a Greyhound bus in Appleton, Wisconsin. He rode all the way to Silverthorne, Colorado, 36 hours total. He had a couple hundred bucks to his name and a dream to make the Rockies his playground for a summer. He'd never traveled west of Minnesota, had no job lined up, no friends in Colorado and no place to stay. But that didn't bother him as much as it did his mother. Within a couple days he found maintenance work at one of the ski resorts and a second job cooking at a small upscale cafe on Lake Dillon. He ate Chex Mix, which was a sponsor at the resort (and thus free) until his first paycheck cleared and he could afford real food. And, as he'd dreamed, he rode his mountain bike a few hours every day.
So began his romance with Colorado.
Last week, Kris took us back to the cafe on Lake Dillon where he worked. We ate a huge, delicious brunch of Eggs Benedict and pancakes and all the fixin's. Then, he introduced the kids to the lake. The place where he fell in love with snow-speckled mountains and gushing rivers and icy alpine lakes brimming with trout. (Of course, it would be several more years before he and I would meet back East, move to Boulder, get married and have our children in the shadow of these mountains. But that's another love story.)
|pretending to throw them in the lake|
One of the first items on our mountain agenda: Take the kids hiking. But of course, not just any hike would do. The ever-adventurous hubs had his sights set on an alpine lake perched at nearly 12,000 feet. Way too steep for the kids to walk on their own, so we loaded them up in backpacks. Yep. Mommy and Daddy were pack mules.
Side note: Comfortable child carrier packs make a world of difference. Thanks to having worked for outdoor magazines, we've tested several, and in the photo we're wearing our two favorites. Kris is wearing a Deuter Kid Comfort. I'm wearing a Macpac Vamoose. (We were not paid to endorse these packs. We just really love how comfortable and functional they are.)
We hiked around some old mining ruins and abandoned log cabins, which the kids thought were pretty neat. And we crossed a couple of snow fields. It's always fun to see snow in July! At one point, the trail climbs so steeply that we used an old mill cable as a hand rail. I was thankful that our little daredevils were secure on our backs and not trying to scramble up the rocks themselves.
The payoff for a tough climb? Lunch, served by the lake at 11,800 feet.
After exploring an old mine car and looking for fish, birds and marmots, we descended the trail. The steady sway of our footfall lulled the kids to sleep in their packs.
Confession: I love running into other hikers on the trail and hearing their praise when they see we're hiking with young children. A few hikers were suffering their way up the trail as we were descending all-smiles, and they said "wow! you guys are tough!" It's not so much that I like to brag, but I like busting myths like "you can't hike tough trails when you have kids." or "you can't go backpacking with young children."
Of course you can. You just have to work a little harder for it...and have more patience, which in turn makes you appreciate the destination all the more.
My boy, with his blue headlight eyes and hair so blonde it’s transparent. Get him wet and he’s bald as the day he was born.
My boy who can barely say other, simpler words like “milk” and “car.”
He fastens himself to me like a baby chimpanzee. Wherever I go, he follows and cries “down! down!” when really he means “up! I want up!” He’s happiest in a soft carrier strapped to my back or perched on my hip.
I’m tired. But I stop myself short of complaining. One day I will miss this. I will miss cooking awkwardly, uncomfortably, almost dangerously with my left hand while the boy’s chubby bottom occupies my right. I will miss the sound of his bare feet slapping the tile floor to the rhythm of mama mama mama.
There’s a theory…not mine, but one I’ll adopt: Boys soak up their mamas when they’re small. They devour every ounce of nurturing. They kiss their daddies on the lips and burrow deep into mama’s chest because society has not yet told them not to. One day they will steel themselves against these tender, vulnerable, needy moments. So, for now, they crave more than their share. Deep in their round bellies, they stow away this raw, pure, naked love to draw upon later.
I scoop him up one more time and he says “sass-satch,” spit flying from his cotton candy lips. And I say, “yes, Sasquatch.” It’s a hint of what is to come, this word that’s hard to pronounce and beyond his comprehension. One day, sooner than I would like, he will know what Sasquatch means and he won’t want to cling to me quite so tightly. Independence and masculinity will drop down like a veil between us.
I sense the fragility. So, with sore biceps, and a mind that craves more sleep, more quiet, I do my best to fill his well. And he fills mine.
How do you survive a 14-hour, 2-day road trip with two toddlers and only one parent? Here are a few tricks that worked for us....
1. Set the kids up with toys and snacks at arm's reach.
2. When you see something interesting, stop and take a closer look.
3. Pack treats. Don't be afraid to use them.
4. Stay at the most comfortable hotel you can afford. There were plenty of $45/night lodges on our route, but since I was traveling alone with the kids, I wanted something a little more comfortable and secure (I prefer when the rooms don't open to the outside). So that meant spending a little bit more. But it was worth it. Also, I asked the front desk for a port-a-crib so that I wouldn't have to unpack ours from the car.
A friend gave us this tip: Pack a small overnight bag so that you don't have to unload your big suitcases en route. In it was our toiletries, and change of clothes for each of us.
5. Remember where you're going and where you've been. We stopped at the Four Corners monument and the kids stood squarely on the quadripoint. So their little Crocs were in all four states at once. They had no idea what it meant. But they liked watching people gather there and perform Twister-like moves--right hand Utah, left foot Colorado! right toe New Mexico! Left pinky Arizona! To me, though, there was another important measurement. I glanced down and saw this on my dashboard:
55 degrees is exactly 55 degrees cooler than home the morning we left. This was at the top of a mountain pass. Our destination is more like 70 degrees, which is right around perfect.
A few other tips that were helpful for us: Break up the trip with activities like coloring time, DVD time, music/singalong time, snack time. Play I spy. Let the kids choose places to stop (within reason)....this is how we ended up at the giant duck.
If you're driving through remote areas, bring a small toddler potty for roadside bathroom stops (it happens).
Have patience. Call a friend. Have more patience. Drink coffee. You will get there eventually.