The Great Toddler Hike

When Comanches hiked with their little ones, they did it right.

When Comanches hiked with their little ones, they did it right.

With the blossoming of her new photography business, my wife started hinting that she may have to leave town for a wedding, should the opportunity present itself. I told her that was fine—great even! That would be a chance for networking, for building her biz, for adding a little coin to the till. I told her I was totally behind the idea, if an out-of-town job ever came.

Then it came.

She left Friday night after we put our 19-month-old son down for bed. She’d be back Sunday morning. I kissed her goodbye, went to bed, and woke up to the whimpering from the other room that means 5:30 a.m. has come. And I realized I was parenting on my own.

I shook off my exhaustion—parents of toddlers aren’t allowed to be wiped out until at least an hour into the day. Kiss the boy. Change the diaper. Slop the apple sauce in a bowl. What am I going to do with you, Hank?

He just looked back at me, his mischievous mouth covered in semi-transparent golden goop.

Hiking!

My wife’s not a big hiker. She gets bored unless there’s a lookout or a waterfall. I love hiking, and Hank’s as active as they come. About a zillion times more active than I am. Make a sandwich. Make another. Three? Another grin from Hank. Three. Dress the boy. Dress myself.

We’ll shower later.

The drive was fine. He almost fell asleep. Not yet, pal!

“We’re going to run, Hank!”

“Run!”

A slight pause. Then I realized my mistake.

“Out! Out!”

“Not yet, buddy. We’ve got about five more minutes.”

“Out!”

Five minutes later, I wiped the snot from his face as I unbuckled the car seat. And then the real challenge began.

I thought hiking would be easy. You just walk, right?

No.

You walk ten feet, then your son stops to pick up every acorn in a forest full of oaks. Then you walk another three feet until your son stops again.

Maybe Hank’s part Indian. The Piutes used to build these storehouses for acorns. Hank could fill one in a half-hour.

I know my parenting skills. Distraction is key.

“Hank, look at this stick!”

“Tick!”

And he’s off, running at full speed, down a rock- and root-strewn trail caring the toddler equivalent of a javelin. Just call me Dad the Impaler.

Distraction!

“Hank, throw the stick!”

“Tick!”

“Throw it! Like this.”

Modeling works. He throws it. Then he goes to pick it up and throws it again. And again. So far, we’ve traveled thirty feet down this one-mile trail.

“Want to sit on my shoulders?”

“Show-der?”

Keep him entertained! With Hank on my shoulders, I begin bouncing. He likes it, especially the part where I say “Bounce, bounce, bounce” interminably. When I stop saying it, he says “Down!” so I have to keep repeating the word, keep bouncing, the whole mile. Oh, and back.

Have miles gotten longer?

The round trip took three hours. And of course, I’d left the diaper bag in the van. My shoulders were soaked with sweat and toddler pee. My back ached with the work that is fatherhood. And of course, I didn’t pack any water.

But Hank saw the sandwiches.

Photographic evidence that other fathers have been pulling the same trick since at least 1905.

“Jelly?”

“Jelly.”

He took a few bites after I buckled him in, but his body craved something more than food. It was naptime.

Next time Mom leaves, it’s movie day.

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