CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — Some moms worry about daycare, others about eating schedules. I spent the first eight months of my daughter’s life obsessing about how to sleep in a tent with an infant without smothering her.
It’s trickier than it sounds. And from my informally poll of nearly every outdoor parent I know, I’m not the only one.
Hat or no hat?
Sleeping bag or no sleeping bag?
Then there’s the emotionally charged topic of co-sleeping.
If it’s warm enough, she wouldn’t need a hat or hood on a sleeping suit. But it’s Wyoming — nights are almost always cold.
Maybe we should just wait until she’s older, I thought recently, until she can walk and is strong enough to remove worry about smothering. But by that time I would have gone almost two entire summers without camping. That wasn’t an option.
Plus, with kids, there’s always going to be something to worry about: eating goose poop, wandering too close to water, sharp sticks, mountain lions, mosquito-borne illnesses, hornet stings … the list goes on. If I kept her home, I’d know she’d be safe, but then I’d worry about too much time at home.
The only answer to all this obsessing? Go camping.
Fresh air would do us all some good.
So during one unseasonably mild weekend in March, my husband, dog and baby and I headed into the hills.
The impossibility of maintaining an active outdoors life with children in tow is one of the more damaging myths about having kids. Does having a child change things a little? Sure. Are there worries? Depends on your personality. Is it worth it? Absolutely.
Keep it light
Bill and Lisa Mixer never considered leaving their new daughter at home — or staying home themselves. When the Casper couple’s baby was 6 weeks old, they went to Yellowstone National Park.
“I just didn’t think she should stay home. Maybe I was a clueless father, but she just went with us,” Bill Mixer said. “It was family and she was going to go. She went with us everywhere.”
Bill learned over the years to temper his fishing ambitions just a little with his daughter. An avid angler — Bill Mixer has caught a trout a month for more than 20 years — he knew being outside was more important than catching fish.
So he let her throw stones and skip rocks, content to simply be outside.
When his daughter, MacKenzie Mixer, was 12, the duo left for a week of fishing in southwest Wyoming. Shortly after, she became the first person to earn Wyoming’s Cutt Slam — a certificate confirming she caught four native strains of cutthroat trout in their respective drainages.
And now that she’s an adult, MacKenzie Mixer and her dad still fish together. They went to the North Platte River on a recent March weekend where she may not have outfished him, but she kept pace, he said.
“It’s a bonding experience that’s kept us close,” he said. “I guess doing those things with your kids will do that. You always have the outdoors.”
Don’t listen to the naysayers
When Casper climber and firefighter Micah Rush and his wife decided to have a child, they heard plenty of versions of: “Your life’s over. You’re never going to do the same things again.”
Rush’s pre-kid life was certainly not lacking for adventure. In 2012 he set a new record in the new record for the Cirque Traverse, a looping-together of all 11 peaks in the Cirque of the Towers in the Wind River Range. He works for Exum Mountain Guides in Jackson and has climbed and mountain biked all over the American West.
Now he has a 2-year-old son, and not all that much has changed. He and his wife, Kelly Rush, took their son on a week-long camping trip in Idaho at 10 days old.
On a mid-March Monday afternoon, he and his family were in Colorado, mountain biking and climbing with friends and their kids.
“They’re not around screens, and they’re in the outdoors. They will play with dirt and rocks all day and have a ball,” he said. “They have way more fun outside.”
He’s figured out how to make mini-adventures for his toddler. He takes him mountain biking on a strider bike — a bike with no pedals that helps teach balance and early cycling skills. When he goes climbing, his son tries a smaller version.
“You have to do it. People stop when they have kids, and I think it’s the worst thing. You drag them along and they come with you and get used to it,” Rush said. “Now he goes hiking, and when he gets tired he sits on my backpack.”
He and his wife are expecting a daughter in June, and he still doesn’t expect his outdoor life to change.
“We do everything, just at a little slower pace.”
Plan, then go
My husband, Josh, and I had big plans leading up to our baby’s arrival. In the final months before she entered this wide, beautiful world, we’d slated more than one camping and fishing trip.
She was due four days before archery elk season would open. Josh applied for tags, and I figured we would go along.
Then Miriam came two months early, and our plans changed. She was fragile. Our neonatal doctor wasn’t sure how to respond when I asked on the day she was discharged if she could sleep in a tent.
We decided not to push it.
But even with our new parameters, we went fall elk hunting — Josh headed into the mountains before dawn, and Miriam and I followed for midday and late-afternoon hunts. We waded through plenty of streams and learned lessons like all new parents: Keep them fed and don’t mess with naptime.
Then on that warm weekend in March, we wedged our tent and sleeping bags inside our car next to her Pack ‘N Play and carrying pack.
We spent the day fishing. Miriam giggled at her first up-close encounter with a trout. She watched the sun set on sandstone cliffs, and when it was time for bed, we all piled in the tent, (relatively) confident in our sleeping arrangement. While I still woke up every 30 minutes to make sure she was breathing, we made it through the night.
The next time will be easier, and the one after that even more. We already have a fishing rod for her when she’s ready. But if she mostly just wants to throw rocks, pick up pine cones or look at flowers, it will be OK, because we’re outside.