Don't get me wrong — I think my baby is the finest thing in nature — but there comes a point where I can only take so many coffee mornings and Baby Bounce & Rhyme sessions. I missed getting out into the world. The smell of a woodland. The sound of boots on a path. Sunlight through leaves. Aaaahh…
One day, after they had been sitting next to the back door for nearly six months without being used, I felt like my hiking boots were… looking at me. With an expression. I looked back at them and thought about all the reasons why not. In the UK we don't have dangerous things like bears, snakes, poisonous spiders, or the Tea Party, but… what if I fell over? What if I put my foot into a rabbit hole, twisted my ankle and was stuck in the middle of nowhere? What if I got attacked? There could be stray dogs! Murderers! Baby thieves! What if my baby got sick suddenly, miles from anywhere? My map reading can be pretty dodgy at times — what if I got lost? What if I wandered off a cliff, never to be seen again?
My boots stayed where they were, and I made heartfelt explanations as to why I felt we couldn't be together.
In the end, my son made the decision for me. At eight months he decided to try to pull himself up on tables and grizzle that he couldn't quite walk. If the relentless noise of the whole activity could be reduced to a training montage at the end of which he walks, I'd be a lot happier. Sadly, this is the real world, and learning things takes a while. After a particularly grizzly and frustrating morning, I thought about everything that could go wrong, from the big to the small, and prepared accordingly. I packed a bag with baby food and milk and plasters and medicine and nappies and a change mat and my charged phone, emailed my husband to say where I was going, fed the baby, put on my boots, put the baby in a sling, grabbed the map, and went.
Taking mini-hikes on my own with my baby has helped me get out of the house, but it has also provided me with the sense of quiet in the day, and an opportunity to recharge. Here are my top tips for how to do it:
- Use a good quality sling — the "spread and splay" type are the best for longer wear.
- Start small. You may have been able to do 20 miles in a day before you had a baby, but that doesn't necessarily mean you can do it now. Start slowly, build your confidence.
- If you're going alone, be sensible about it — tell people where you're going, charge your phone, take stuff like extra food and clothes for the baby in case of disaster. I tend to email my husband before and after I go, so he knows I'm ok. Use your common sense.
- Have an "escape route" — there are some days your baby may not dig it. There are some days you will think that maybe you've overstretched yourself. Planning walks that have the option for you to cut them short can be a lifesaver — no-one wants to have miles to go when the baby decides they have had enough now.
- Relax and enjoy it!
I get that space of quiet, to think about what I want, or — even better — think about nothing at all. Sometimes I walk with friends, but sometimes I don't want that. Sometimes I just want the time to think quietly. The day after my husband and I had a huge disagreement I went and stomped across the countryside in a rage, and by the time my husband came back home I had walked out the anger and was able to have a more rational discussion. I don't know if I would have had that same perspective if I'd just gone out to a baby and toddler session.
I once heard someone describe staying at home with your baby as "being alone without the benefits of solitude." What walking did was give me back a space to think. If he's in his sling, he's either entertained by the view or asleep, and what I get is some peace. While I can't guarantee that I will get to the end of my cup of tea without the baby wanting me to do something, I can pretty much be sure of getting to the end of the walk without him interfering with my thought processes.