We recently went camping for the first time as a family of four. It was Kiwi’s first time sleeping in a tent. And as I feared, my notoriously terrible sleeper slept pretty much not at all.
We stayed at Stub Stewart State Park just one night—a compromise to our usually longer trips since we figured sleep would be such a nightmare—and it’s a good thing, since I sat upright in our Forester with Kiwi alternately breastfeeding and dozing on me the entire night. I didn’t even attempt to get her to nap in the tent because I was tired, not insane.
So for each of her naps, I buckled her into my baby carrier and set off on a hike.
But even in my bleary, exhausted state, I treasured those nap hikes.
Silence is golden
I haven’t been that quiet, or been in the midst of such quiet, since before either of my kids was born.
My phone was dead from having used its white noise app most of the night. My wonderfully curious preschooler was back at camp collecting rocks and leaves. I had no one to talk to—not even my baby, as she fell asleep to the steady rhythm of my steps.
So I tuned into the forest.
I listened to water cascade over the rocks in a creek. I heard birds sing to each other. I heard my own breath, a slower counterpoint to my sleeping baby’s exhalations. I heard the subtle sounds of nature that usual life overpowers.
Listening to myself
As the world around me grew quiet, so did my mind. I let go of the bitterness of having slept only a handful of hours the night before. I stopped wondering what fun the rest of the camp was having without me. I found myself reveling in the gift of nap hikes.
After all, when I get alone time back at home, I fill it with something. I open my computer to tap out a blog post or send an overdue email. I try for the millionth time to unclutter the counter. Or I zone out in front of a screen, watching House of Cards or scrolling through Facebook.
None of these things is particularly restful.
But hiking in the shade of maple and Doug fir trees? Noticing the hues of purple of the wild foxgloves? Hiking at my own pace with no agenda? That is restful.
The value of alone time
I cherish my family, and the camping trip was a celebration of our foursome. But I also value myself.
Like most people, and probably every single mom who has ever lived, I seldom have a chance to just be—with no obligations, no distractions and no schedule. That rarity made the nap hikes that weekend even more special.
On one hike, the trails were entirely deserted. The only people I saw were two women on horseback. They called to me, waved and said something unmemorable about the beautiful weather. I merely gestured back—I didn’t want to speak and risk waking Kiwi.
“She’s got a sleeping baby,” the lead horseback rider whispered to her companion.
They stopped talking and I stepped to the side of the trail, making room for their gorgeous horses.
“Great job, Mama,” one woman said to me as they passed.
My only human contact on the nap hike—a few words exchanged with a stranger—was encouraging and so very kind. For the rest of the hike, my steps felt even lighter.
Ready for noise again
Kiwi woke a while later. Her big eyes, which are still turning from blue to hazel, opened wide. She stared at the patches of sky peeking between the tallest branches. She seemed to be a bit stunned, as if she were figuring out exactly where we were and why she wasn’t in a pack n’ play.
I was already on my way back to camp. I left the quiet of the forest and stepped into full sun.
My reentry into camp was anything but silent. I rejoined my family and friends and all the noise that accompanied them—laughing and shouting and cheers-ing tall boys and barking. But the quiet of my nap hikes made this cacophony sound even sweeter.