July 7, 2016

Parenting in the Wilderness: Finding Our Own Ways to Renew.

wilderness parenting

Every piece of advice I read about being parents makes some kind of mention of “taking a break.”

It’s solid advice. It’s rational.

I understand why it’s on every list, because a lot of parents out there might not want to put in the effort it would take to take that “break,” and some might not feel like they deserve to.

But some parents, they can’t take a break. They only have four hands between the two of them and there are no other available hands to turn to.

Sometimes, it’s only one parent with only two very tired hands.

Half of the year, I am one of these parents. My husband works for the National Park Service and from May through November, we live in Yellowstone National Park.

After a luxurious winter in Chicago, I found myself back in the wilderness this Spring. I returned to the solitary life of a stay-at-home mom with a one-year-old baby, no other kids around and almost no other adults either.

I have no mommy group, no swim classes, no story time at the local library. I have no babysitter. My husband and I cannot go on dates. There is no running to grocery store without the baby (and the grocery store is two hours away anyway).

When I focus on the things I do not have in this life—writing time in coffee shops, yoga class, professional massages—I second-guess what we are doing.

But then there are other kinds of things we do not have.

Things like pollution, noise, a million wasted hours standing in line. Out here, we are free from the influence of others. I can go days without measuring my parental strengths and shortcomings against those of other mothers, or worrying about developmental milestones, or just plain comparing myself to everyone else around me.

I admit, it is a little bit like cheating, but just by virtue of geography, my life out here is a little more Zen.

Except when it’s not.

Except when my daughter is throwing a tantrum and I’m so out of patience that I lock myself in the bathroom and cry.

Of course there is a lesson here, too. In this way, in this moment, she is the wily, mischievous Zen master flipping my canoe to teach me balance, or humility, or reminding me to go with the flow.

Dominant child rearing advice would proclaim that when I reach this critical level of frustration, it is time to take a break: phone a grandma, pass the baby, get some rest.

But if there is no such option on the horizon, no other hands to turn to, what can you do?

You have to be crafty out here in the wilderness. You have to find different ways to meet your needs. You must cultivate an “abundance consciousness.” You have to figure out ways to recharge.

So what do I do?

For starters, I take great pleasure in a few simple luxuries. In exchange for living this frontier life, I allow myself three indulgences: baths, books and coffee.

Our small apartment has a nice deep bathtub and I soak in water so hot and pure.

I buy high-quality dark coffee and I make myself rich, strong, pour-overs at home.

I stop by my favorite used bookstore on our trips to town and buy memoir after memoir, recounting tales of strong women. When I need a boost, I give myself a sip of one of these—sometimes reading just a page or two as she plays with blocks at my feet, sometimes putting us in the tub together, sometimes making a strong cup of coffee with honey when I’ve already had a few.

Most of all, I attend to these indulgences as gifts, as rewards, as my own little way of saying thank you to myself.

The second way we recharge is to go on “dates” as a family.

Every weekend, we leave the park in one direction or another. Every weekend, we see something new. Sometimes we travel hours to sit down at a breakfast restaurant. Other times, we hike for miles to take in an epic view.

Each weekend, we seek beauty and adventure. We seek novelty and fresh air. We do this together in an attempt to stay present, while building a past that we’ll always share.

Next, out here in Yellowstone, I seek restoration through prayer.

It is embarrassing and hard to admit, because even as a longtime yogi, I could never really get into meditation; I could not feel like myself in prayer. Then motherhood presented me a desperation so acute that prayer was the only natural response to it.

I needed to ask someone for grace and understanding; I needed to ask someone to protect her; I needed to thank someone for the unbelievable beauty of her perfect little face.

Motherhood literally brought me to my knees. So in my weaker moments, I ask the universe to wash away my resentment, my bad attitude, my tired tears and to fill my heart with grace and light.

Finally, in the spirit of full disclosure, I must also say, that in the moments when coffee, or adventure, or even appeals to prayer aren’t enough to smooth out the wrinkles, I lean on a certain Red Furry Monster.

Screen time is totally taboo for little ones, and I monitor it very closely, but I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge him. That little guy has helped me to meet writing deadlines, to prepare some semblance of a nutritional meal, to just plain sit and stare at the wall for a moment to try a halt the rapid spinning in my head.

Nobody is perfect, and I’m no exception, so cheers to doing whatever you need to do to keep your head above water.

Living out here is a kind of forced discipline. I bring home only healthy food, and then I have no choice but to eat it.

The internet is so slow that social media loses its luster and streaming video is a far away dream.

The only real entertainment we have is the natural beauty—the geysers, the wildlife, the mountains, and the lakes—so we visit them day after day. It is discipline by default, but I’ll take it.

Author: Nico Wood Kos

Image: Julian Bialowas/Unsplash

Apprentice Editor: Brandie Smith / Editor: Renée Picard

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