Day Trips: Parents’ Day Off

Ash and I don’t go out often.

We tend to be homebodies, happy to spend our time together after Jai’s gone to bed. But we do try to get a night or a day off by ourselves at least once a month.

Leaving Jai is less of a problem given all that I do to prep him and the caregiver for our time away. Figuring out what to do for Ash and me – that can be a problem. Many times we go see a movie or out to dinner, but we end up having a lot of extra time either before or after the event and end up being aimless for the rest of our date.

Part of the problem is we don’t manage our time well. We aren’t exactly rushing to get back to Jai, but we do end up cutting our nights shorter because we can’t figure out what to do with ourselves.

One type of date with the most kind of success for both of us is the day trip where we go outside our comfort zones.

Considering a Day Trip

We can’t take day trips all the time, but they are perfect for our once a month outings. Taking a Saturday or a Sunday to get out of the area to do something fun is a fantastic way to reconnect and try something new.

Especially as parents, we’ve found that whenever we take a day trip somewhere we say to ourselves how much fun Jai would have if we take him there. More on that Friday. But these trips also double as reconnaissance for things to do with a toddler.

Day trips can be a road trip to a specific destination or becoming a tourist in your own city. It depends on the mood, desire, and time frame. Most of the time Ash and I limit ourselves to locations within a 3-hour drive from Jai.

When he’s ready to be away from both of us for more than 24-hours we will consider longer trips that can take us overnight.

I love day trips because many times it gets us away from the big city and into the countryside for a nice long drive. I love getting away from technology and the confines of the urban setting to recharge my batteries. I find that I get stressed if I spend too much time in the concrete jungle so taking a day to unwind out of my normal environment helps manage my personal stress.

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Babysitter & the Toddler

Summer is the perfect season for date night or day trips away from the little one. But leaving a child with a babysitter or a caregiver is stressful, especially for me.

I know that Jai is in good hands and have little concern over the caregiver’s ability, but I worry about his current separation anxiety stage and the stress he might cause the caregiver. 

Every time we come back, the answer is pretty much the same: he may have fussed for a few minutes after we walked out the door, but forgot all about us in favor of the fun times. I don’t know why I worried in the first place, but it happens every time.

When I was younger, babysitting was one of my first jobs and I took it seriously.

I attended babysitting prep classes, had a book of all the important CPR/First Aid information I would need in case of an emergency, and my rates per child. I really appreciated it when the parents left me with a ton of information relating to the child’s needs because it took a lot of the guesswork out of various scenarios. There was never an issue, but I love to be prepared regardless.

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Rainy Days: Toddler Book Activities

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Jai is still in the early stages of toddlerhood and therefore limited by what he can do with organized activities. Many of the activities have to either be done by me for his benefit, or with a lot of supervision to make sure he doesn’t hurt himself. That’s if his attention span lasts long enough.

That said, Jai loves books. He’s not able to read them yet, but he loves sitting down on his bedroom floor and flipping through the books for vast stretches of time. I’ve walked in to check on him only to have Jai chase me out of his room so he could have his private book time. Jai brings his favorite books to whatever adult is close at hand and makes the reader repeat the book a couple of times before moving on.

It came to mind to find a couple of activities we could do on a rainy day that ties into his favorite books. His current favorite authors are Dr. Seuss, Mo Willems, and Sandra Boynton (this last one makes me happy because she is a local author where I grew up). I know that making the connection between his favorite story and activity would make him happy, plus I always enjoy a creative endeavor.

Below are the activities I came up with to do with Jai on those rainy, summer days.

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Rainy Days: Visiting the Library

I was lucky enough to live in a small, rural town growing up. There wasn’t a lot to do because of it, but it was perfect if you were a parent wanting a child to get creative with their entertainment.

In the summer, if I wanted to get away from the house, I had two choices: pool on the sunny days and library on the overcast/rainy days. Living in a valley in rural New England meant that there were plenty of days where I would have to go to the library as clouds got trapped by the mountains.

I loved my little library. Repurposed from an old Victorian farmhouse, the downstairs was filled with books, while the upstairs housed a creepy taxidermy collection and stored books meant for the summer book sale. The library was run by volunteers, so they were all older women who were either retired or looking to get away from their retired husbands.

This also meant it was extremely low-tech. I left my old town in 2008 and I believe they just got a computer for public use in 2005. I grew up knowing and loving the smell of a card catalog. The place was so tiny that I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t still use one because hunting through the cards or shelves might be faster than doing a computer search.

I loved my peach-colored, cardstock library card. It got so worn and frayed around the edges from use and lived with a place of honor in my wallet. It was the only card that actually did something, as most of the other cards were pretend or store loyalty cards.

Going to the children’s section, I knew where all my favorite books and series were located. I broke my visits down into two parts: the books I wanted to read there and books I wanted to take home with me.

I can’t remember the names of the series, but there were some short children’s books meant for teaching manners that had interesting artwork I read every time. They were super short so I would spend a half-hour reading through these books before moving on.

I was such a voracious reader as a child that I had to get two to three young adult books because I had a tendency to read a book a day. It was the reason why my parents encouraged me to go to the library when I was old enough: they could not afford to keep up with my reading habit. Book fairs, bookstores, all were a bane to my savings because I had to buy more books that I would finish in a couple of days.

The library was a wonderful way to save both my chore/odd job money and give me a sense of independence to go somewhere unsupervised.

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A Berry Picking Time

Another favorite outdoor activity I had growing up, besides camping? Berry picking.

Every late-spring my mom would take me berry picking at the local farms. We tried to do two trips a year: strawberries and some other local fruit (blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, or apples). Living in New England meant shorter picking seasons so we could miss a specific harvest by a week depending on how well the fruit developed.

This meant my mom would announce one morning that she’d be heading to the farm in a few days and ask if I’d be willing to help her. When I was younger, I had little choice in the matter but I loved it anyway; and when I was older it would depend on my work schedule for the week.

I found on the days I had to work or go to school and miss helping her were always disappointing. She’d try to adjust her schedule to accommodate me, but sometimes the weather and harvest wouldn’t cooperate.

Our Family Traditions

Strawberries were a must in our family.

If we could only do one picking a year it was strawberries. We had a rhubarb plant growing in our backyard so my dad always requested a strawberry rhubarb pie every summer. My mother never believed in doing anything half-measure so she would make sure to bake him a pie with only the freshest ingredients: rhubarb and strawberries she picked herself.

With the haul, she would preserve a batch of strawberries in syrup. My mom would freeze this mixture and thaw it for Christmas morning every year. Our favorite traditional Christmas meal, besides the evening feast, was homemade scones, clotted cream, and those syrupy strawberries picked earlier in the year.

There was something wonderful in knowing that I helped make Christmas breakfast a little more special by helping pick those berries. During the cold, dark New England months it brought a little bit of spring sunshine for the day.

Another fun tradition that started while strawberry picking was the story about a mouse visiting his relatives whenever we picked. No matter the farm and no matter the location (I happen to know he’s moved down South), my mom and I would create this elaborate story about his adventures over the past year and all the fun he was having while visiting.

It was one of those fun traditions that started one day when my mom spotted a mouse in the patch we were picking in. I think she started talking about it to make sure I wasn’t startled or to keep herself from being startled, so a story began about why he was there. Our stories grew over the years, though we’ve never physically seen him again.

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Jai helping pick strawberries this year. Photo credit: Michelle Melton Photography

Like all my favorite traditions and childhood memories, I’ve wanted to share them with Jai in some small way. I didn’t even wait for him to be born before I took him berry picking: I was between 5 to 7 months pregnant when I went picking for strawberries, peaches, and blueberries.

Last year, we took him peach and blueberry picking while he was in my carrier. This year we’ve gone strawberry and peach picking so far (blueberries are around the corner). Because peaches are on a tree, it was easier for him to physically help this year, though he may have grabbed several under-ripe ones for Ash, who’s a fan.

Jai is a blueberry lover,  and the farm we go to has such tall bushes that he’ll be able to help me again, so I know most of the fruit he picks will be put straight into his mouth and squished into my shirt. I have accepted and plan to be prepared for it.

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