You think I would have learned my lesson by now. For the second year in a row, we had to pack up and end our vacation only two days in. This time from one of our favorite camping spots. The Adirondack Mountains are SO beautiful and only four hours away from home. Clean lakes, fresh air, all the hiking and fishing we could dream of. The state park we choose to stay in is so well-maintained and family oriented. It’s hard not to get excited about going!
We thought Clara would love it. She’s walking now, and her new favorite obsession is exploring the great outdoors. I packed all kinds of fun activities and small toys to keep her occupied during the car ride and the stay at the campsite. All of which she really liked (links below), but it wasn’t enough.
Let me start with how Monday morning (the day we left) started out. I woke up at the ass-crack of dawn to finish the packing and make sure all those last-minute details are taken care of. Mike gets up maybe an hour after me and finishes his packing and grabs us breakfast. Clara had slept really well the night before and showed no signs of waking anytime soon. Perfect. I can eat in peace and make sure everything is done before I have to wake her up. Mike gets the boat and care loaded up with the gear and I decide to wake up Clara at 7:30AM. This way she can eat, play, do whatever it is toddlers her age love to do, and we can set out right at naptime.
This sweet baby girl woke up in the BEST mood. I fully expected her to start crying and throwing her elephant lovie at me for waking her, instead she just smiled and lifted her arms toward me. I got her out of her crib, changed her diaper, got her into travel clothes, and brought her downstairs for breakfast. She ate everything I gave her, drank her whole sippy cup, and said she’s “all done!”
This was too good. She stayed happy like this all morning. Smiling at Mama & Dada, running around the front yard with her sidewalk chalk while we finish loading the gear, and singing along with Super Simple Songs on the Amazon Echo while we bring the birds down to the dining room (easier for my mom to care for them there while we are gone).
Okay, everything and everyone is ready to go! We decided to leave a tid bit early and stop at a local playground to let Clara use up the last of her energy. I wish I was able to get pictures of this experience because it was perfect. My hands were full of Mike’s pocket items so he could go down all the slides with her and push her on the swings and chase her around the entire playground. It wasn’t long before we smelled the undeniable scent of poop and knew it was time for a diaper change and a nap.
Get her back in the car and start our journey. She’s still happy but getting sleepy, just what we wanted. Again, this was going too well. When is the other shoe going to drop? Nothing EVER goes this well when there is an unpredictable toddler involved.
It wasn’t until we got on the express way that we realized our first big mistake. We left way too early. We made her use her energy up too quickly and it isn’t anywhere near her naptime. Crap.
Now I’m sitting in the back seat with her. I have snacks, toys, activities, diapers, wipes, water, allllll the road trip essentials to keep her happy on the road. Singing songs to her and hoping she will just fall asleep and wake up in time for lunch.
Nope. This kid started getting overtired. Like that cranky, sleepy, yet still has energy to burn tired. I start grabbing things to make her happy. We settle on her watermelon Montessori toy and that seems to keep her occupied for a while. Her real nap time comes and goes, she’s crying, not wanting to sleep, I’m getting scared. Mike suggests we just stop for lunch and see how she does after. Good plan.
Does great at lunch, eats her whole meal and seems ready to wind down. Within just a few minutes of leaving the restaurant, she’s out. Halleluiah!!! I can finally relax a bit and snooze for a half hour myself.
We drive for about an hour and a half before we end up at our first destination – a hotel in Watertown, NY. Clara wakes up just as we are pulling into the parking lot and she’s ready to play.
SHE’S HAPPY AGAIN! This is great, she’s running around the room, jumping on the bed, snacking her little heart out, and giving kisses. We’re feeling pretty confident about this, she can handle it after all. Evening was spent laughing, playing, eating, and snuggling.
Then. We had booked the room with a single king-sized bed and didn’t request a crib. We are no strangers to bedsharing with Clara and figured it would be fine because she loves to cuddle with us anyways. She fell asleep at like 6:00PM. Way too early for bed but I figured she has had a long day, she’s probably tired, she’ll sleep all night. NOPE. Clara wakes up an hour later. Nothing is getting her back down. It’s now 10:30PM and she’s still going strong. Mike and I are beyond exhausted and Clara could run a marathon.
To be honest, I have no idea how it happened (mostly because I was pretty much asleep myself), but she eventually settled down and went to sleep for the night. Fast forward to about 2:00AM. Clara and Mike are sleeping beautifully (even if Clara is taking over the entire bed). I’m literally crying and choking on Tylenol from pregnancy pain. When I get further along in pregnancy, my hips and legs start to lose circulation while laying on my side. I woke up to this happening and couldn’t get comfortable if my life depended on it. I had to get up and stretch, sit on the floor, stretch again. Nothing helped. Mike finally heard my sobbing around 5:00AM after a failed attempt at getting myself in the shower. I told him I couldn’t do the trip and needed to go home. Clara woke up from hearing me crying and started signing and saying “more” (food).
Breakfast isn’t being served for another 1.5 hours so I grab my phone and turn on Super Simple Songs for her. This sort of occupies her for that time and I can pull myself together a bit. The pain subsides and we head to breakfast. We decide to continue on the journey but head out closer to nap time so we don’t make the same mistake as the day before.
The drive up the campsite is about 2.5 hours, perfect for nap. Clara falls asleep pretty quickly once in the car and we head out. She sleeps through almost the entire drive and wakes about 10 minutes away from our campground. We park at our site and take it all in. That mountain air is incredible! Our site sits right on the pond and the views are to die for. Mike lets Clara out of her seat and she starts exploring the campsite. In between helping to set up the gear, I’m filling Clara’s tiny fists full of pretzels to keep her happy as she explores.
Mike unloads his kayak and Clara makes a b-line for it. She pretends to row and paddle just like her daddy. All the while, pretzels are hanging out of her mouth and she’s happily crunching away with her three new teeth. I make sure the sunscreen is slathered on (our favorite clean/natural sunscreen brand linked below), and I let her use her imagination while we finished setting everything up.
Most of the afternoon went pretty smoothly. We put Clara in her new red wagon and took a walk around the campground. She enjoyed pretending to steer it and barking at the family dogs staying on the other sites. When we got back to the campsite we decided to get a fire going and grill up some burgers. My feet were starting to feel pretty sore by then so I plopped myself in my camp chair and kept an eye on the little one while Mike handled cooking the food.
This is where things started going wrong, and didn’t get better. Clara wouldn’t eat ANY of her food. Guys, this never happens. I was blessed enough to have given birth to a child who eats literally anything. ANYTHING. Food, dirt, crayons, paper, ant hills, you name it. So, when she kept saying she was hungry but refusing to eat, I knew we were in for it. I had the Mama feeling. Mike and I tried to let it go and just let her play for a bit. If she’s really hungry, she’ll eat something when she’s ready, right?
Okay, now we need to find something else to occupy her because she’s starting to get bored at the campsite. Fishing and playing usually does the trick. The campground has an amazing playground in the picnic area. We decided to take her there and she had a blast…for maybe a half-hour max. BUT, she’s genuinely happy in these pictures, playing with her daddy.
Back at the campsite, she starts to get overtired and cranky. Starts making this high-pitched screaming so loud dogs on the other side of the pond started barking. If I so much as looked at her wrong it was an instant meltdown. There was nothing we could do to console her, and we knew it was only going to get worse the longer we were up there. We wanted so badly for everyone to enjoy the trip, but our instincts told us it just wasn’t going to happen this year. She was not going to handle sleeping in the tent at night (or napping during the day), and she certainly was not going to handle the lack of daily routine she has come to rely on. It was simply time to go home.
I put her in the car and entertained her with food and toys and random objects as well as I could while Mike rushed around the site and broke everything down. He was amazing and did it all in about 30 minutes. We sadly pulled out of the site and checked out. Clara was asleep before we were even a mile into the trip home.
So yeah, Mike and I are super bummed it didn’t work out again this year. We had been looking forward to this trip for months and here we are already leaving. We talked about it on the way home. We realized that as much as it sucks, we can’t really be mad about it. We just can’t. It’s not Clara’s fault in the slightest. She’s so little and at an age where structure and routine are her best friends, and overstimulation is her worst enemy. Safe to say, I have learned my lesson. She isn’t a baby anymore, a little being whom I can just bring with me wherever I go and she will just sleep through it. We have entered this new stage of life where she is quickly becoming her own person and showing just how she feels about things.
As I watched her sleep from the backseat, I couldn’t help but cry a little. Not because I was sad about vacation, but because I realized this was the only way she was finally able to relax. Looking at her sweet, angelic face made me tear up because I love her so much and I felt so bad that I had put her through all the stress of the day. Also, pregnancy hormones are NO JOKE, I cry at everything these days.
We stopped at the same hotel in Watertown for the night. Mike had been driving so much the past two days, he really needed the break. I had pizza delivered right to the room and we watched Simple Songs and kept Clara happy. It was clear she wouldn’t ever have settled down in the tent, she would barely settle in the hotel room for bed time. But after that, it seemed like she knew we were going to be home soon. She woke me up just in time for breakfast to be served, and remained in the most amazing mood. She ate her fill at the table and Mike took her outside to run around for a few minutes while I ate my own food. We checked out of the hotel just in time for Clara to start to get sleepy again. She took a beautiful two-hour nap on the ride home and woke up just as we were getting back into town.
She was finally happy, back in her own environment, and Mama could finally breathe again. Even though we didn’t get to have our grand mountain-based camping trip, we still enjoyed little camping activities right in our own backyard. Our huge fire pit/grill made for a perfect way to make homemade meatballs, chicken kabobs, grilled corn on the cob, and roasted marshmallows. I got Clara into bed right around her normal bedtime and sat in the backyard with Mike for a while, just enjoying the fire and each other’s company.
After some discussion, we decided it was best to save the big family vacations for when the kids are just a little older, like, out of the toddler stages. Until then, he and I will take little mini trips together. We booked a baby moon for the end of July. A little two-day camping trip in another favorite state park of ours, just the two of us. It’s something for us to look forward to, and we won’t be away from our daughter for long.
This is what parenting (and life) is all about. You just need to figure out what works for you. It’s trial and error and eventually success. All I can do is hope I don’t mess up too badly.
Links to our favorite kid-friendly travel items:
· Sun screen
· Baby camping chair
· Watermelon Montessori Toy
· Block shapes and board
· Jumbo crayons
· Toddler coloring book
· Teether raddle
· Pacifier clips
· Name tags for diaper bag/luggage
· Elephant lovie
· Convertible car seat
· Baby/toddler-friendly utensils
· Diaper rash stick
· Straw cups