This article originally appeared in “Chicago Tribune”
ave you ever tried to take a walk with a toddler, without a stroller? It’s absolutely maddening – like trying to walk a drunk puppy without a leash. With my older son, I discovered this early on and spent the next three years strapping him into a stroller every time we went anywhere. It was quite convenient, but now he’s 4 and still wants to ride in a cart at the grocery store.
I’ve been trying a different strategy with my younger son. We still go for walks with the stroller, but I’ve also discovered how to “walk” him and his older brother without worrying about them running into traffic or wiping out on cement. We go to the woods.
Once we get on a trail, my restless boys take off. They sometimes stop to climb fallen trees or pick up sticks, and sometimes they veer a little too far off the path and I need to rein them back in. But overall, we all enjoy a good mix of fresh air and freedom.
Recently, I discovered an awesome group for mamas like me to hike with their little ones. It’s called Hike it Baby, and it has branches all over the world, including one here in the Chicago area. The organization started in 2013 when new mom Shanti Hodges of Portland, Ore., asked participants of her local moms’ group if they’d be up for a walk or hike. Since then, the nonprofit has exploded to 238 branches in six countries with more than 102.000 members.
Hike it Baby is completely volunteer run, which means anyone can join or lead a hike. Last week, I decided to give it a shot and led my first hike, from the Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center in Willow Springs.
I met five other moms and their little ones, ranging from 5 months to 4 years, for what started out as a parade of chaos. The two oldest kids were either running way ahead of the group or lagging behind because they’d found a cool rock (or stick or drain pipe), the toddlers couldn’t decide if they wanted to walk or ride in a stroller, and one of the babies was crying in her carrier. I’ll admit I was a little stressed thinking about how our little circus was going to make it 1.6 miles.
But as we got deeper into the woods, I stopped thinking about the finish line and started appreciating the journey. We were no longer individual moms worrying only about our own kids. We were a pack. Snacks were shared and strollers were borrowed. We took turns corralling the curious preschoolers back on the trail and rescuing the toddlers from mud puddles. No one was complaining about our slow pace or feeling guilty about her kid’s behavior.
I looked at and admired my fellow mamas – out in the wild babywearing, stroller pushing, handholding, carrying and chasing.
As one mama, Kelly Parker, of Addison, said after our hike, “Everyone looks out for one another and their little ones. I feel like we all just want to lift each other up, and get some much-needed time outdoors in doing so!”
I love being outside in nature with my boys, but Hike it Baby adds a whole new dimension to the ordinary walk in the woods. It’s not just about getting fresh air or conquering a trail; it’s about community.
Hike it Baby member Elizabeth Hoesley of Chicago couldn’t have said it better: “It’s an excellent way to feel connected to the outside world again, to feel like a human, and to remember that you’re not alone in the frustrations and joys of being a new mom.”
Tips for hiking with your tot
Beth Anne Klein, co-leader of the Hike it Baby Chicago branch, shared the following tips for hiking with your baby or young child.
• Dress for the weather. “It’s important to make sure your kid is the right temperature,” Klein said. She recommends dressing your little one in layers so you can make adjustments as you go. When babywearing, make sure your baby’s legs and feet are covered in cold weather – since pants can ride up, she recommends using adult socks as legwarmers.
• Be prepared for anything – especially if you have a toddler. “I have a 2-year-old, and sometimes he want to walk, but other days he wants to be worn. I always have a carrier with me in case he gets tired,” Klein said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen on a hike, and it’s all OK. We stop for diaper changes, we stop to look at pretty leaves …”
• Bring snacks. “You might need to bribe your child to keep going,” Klein said. (And that’s OK, too.)
If you’re not sure what the best carrier is for your child, Babywearing International of Chicagoland is a great resource. If you join, you can test-drive a carrier of your choice before committing to purchase it
Make it fun! Bring bubbles, magnifying glasses, bug and leaf identification cards or books – anything to get your little one excited about the adventure.
Hike it Baby is free and open to all families. To join the Chicago branch and learn about upcoming hikes, visit HikeItBaby.com.
Nicole Radziszewski is a freelance columnist. She lives in River Forest and is a certified personal trainer and mother of two. Check Nicole out on Facebook at Facebook.com/mamasgottamove.