By Ben Gruber
Some days, you just throw in the towel and walk away. I am not talking about war philosophy here, just parenting. If you have been there, you get it.
Our plan was to head to Powers Bluff Park, located just off of County E about 10 miles south of Auburndale. The area was known as Tah-qua-kik, or Skunk Hill, to early Potowatomi who lived there. Eighty acres of state historical areas and 70 acres scientific preservation area are both located within the park, as is a 1.5-mile self-guided nature trail. Native American dance rings and burial grounds are preserved here.
A last minute decision to head to Powers Bluff with the snowshoes for a little exploring seemed like a good idea. Snowshoes were loaded, snacks stashed away in the camera bag, toss the puppy in the car seat and the toddler in the back of the station wagon, and we were off. I had never been to the park before and was excited to check it out, blanketed in fresh snow.
Halfway into the 26-minute drive, things started to go south. My 3-year-old started showing subtle signs of turning into a 3-foot tall, growling, whining menace that should only be viewed from a distance.
Sometimes, when a knowing parent sees this coming, you can head it off with an early nap. If the stars align, you can even delay it a while with bribes. Clearly, today was not my wife and I’s day.
The previous three days had been spent at Grandma’s, where apparently naps are optional. We made it to the park entrance listening to a chorus of, “I’m hungry. I’m cold. I want a snack.” When we pulled into the park entrance, the gate was locked, and a borderline meltdown was happening in the backseat.
Apparently, the winter recreation area was closed due to poor snow conditions. Since we were not here to tube or ski, I figured we would be OK to continue with our plan for some off-trail hiking.
Unload the kid and the puppy. Get toddler dressed up for the weather. For the record, dressing a sleep-deprived toddler in snow pants and boots is equivalent to putting socks on an angry octopus. We got her all dressed up, strapped on our snowshoes, grabbed my backpack, and headed down an ungroomed trail through the woods.
We hiked approximately 20 steps through the unbroken snow, admiring the beauty of the heavy snow slinging to the branches of the pines. Deer tracks crossed our path. We enjoyed every minute of those first three minutes until Addy proclaimed her “legs are too tired. I’m taking a break.” She lay down in the middle of the trail and proceeded to eat snow.
Since we could still see the car parked about 30 feet away, we encouraged her to continue hiking — first by bribery, then by threats, followed by pleading and bargaining. It did not work. Those early warning signs of sleep deprivation now developed into a full-blown toddler meltdown right there in the woods. After a total of 80 yards of snowshoeing, we turned and headed back for the station wagon: a teary toddler headed for a nap and two parents with pride and dignity in shreds.
We shall return to Powers Bluff another day. For now, it is nap time. The silence is golden and great for writing. Win some, lose some. Today’s takeaway is that sometimes it is better to walk away than to force a bad hand. I could have held strong and forced her to hike, but I did not want a sour memory next time I asked her to go.
Remember to consider tomorrow when outdoors with children. Live to fight another day.
Ben Gruber can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.