It begins with this. You wake up your toddler at 6 AM-ish on the weekend. Barely opening and scratching his eyes, he says grumpily, “No driving, sleep pa!” which means he isn’t ready yet. You then comfort and lock your child in your arms, and both of you succumb to extra hours of bliss, off to Dreamlandia while the daddy practices grace and patience on the impending late start of this trip.
It’s Not the Destination; it’s the Journey
You wake up shortly before 9 AM deciding you will hit the road anyway. For the sun is out, the temperature as warm as you will wish possible in Ireland. For what can you give a child better than experience?
So you prepare, and you scavenge your house for the essentials—the outfits, the sunblock, the hats, the camera, the extra nappies, never mind the food, you will get that along the way. You bundle up your child in his car seat conditioning him for the two-hour journey and telling him about the name of the place you will go—Northern Ireland—and he tries to say it in his cutesy toddler tone.
You lock your seatbelt mentally going through the house checklist (alarm, keys, lights, taps) while the husband keys in the destination in the GPS. You say a little prayer.
Enjoy the Sights
You then breathe out and hit the road. You sing the current favorite songs with your toddler, brace yourself for hundreds of “Mommy, there’s a big truck/big tractor/big car!” and relish the ride.
You take all the beauty in when it’s all quiet in the car— the lovely sights of this big old world unfolding in every bend. The calm harbor, the fog settling down a quaint town, the vast blue coast, the sweeping landscape.
Stop and Play
When you find the most perfectly-situated playground with one side facing the sea, the other to the mountain, you stop and you release your child to play, to rock away, to climb heights, to challenge himself.
You swing him nice and easy at first, swaying him higher and higher, his delight and shrieks escalating in the same progression.
You offer your hand for the challenging obstacles, showing him where to put his hands, his feet, his eyes.
Throw the Stones to the Sea
You tell him about the big blue sea and Who made it all. You pick up a stone and show him how to throw rocks out to the sea. You tell and show him the difference of toss and throw.
You encourage him to try tossing and throwing again when the one he just tossed landed five inches away from where he is standing.
Touch the Nature
You then lead him closer and closer to the sea, tell him he can touch the water, the seaweeds, the snails, the seashells. You teach him about the texture, the rough ones, the smooth ones.
You pick a daisy and tell him the name of it, “dey-si,” and he repeats it over while twirling the thin branch in his tiny hands.
You pick more wildflowers at every stop, at every chance you get. You tell him the color instead because you don’t know the name. This flower is color yellow. Yellow.
He holds this so-called yellow flower protectively until the new one comes along. He then throws the former with great abandon and admires the new one on his hand. This time you tell him the color. Pink. The husband corrects you. It looks like purple. So you say, purple.
You raise him up to pick flowers from the highest of places. You teach him he can reach far and beyond, to be creative, to be resourceful. Flowers do not just grow on the ground.
Carry, Hold and Kiss
You carry him when he’s tired. You hold his hands firmly when you need to protect him.
You kiss and hug him whenever you can because you know this season of childhood is not forever. One day, he’ll grow up and will be wanting a trip without the parents, without the kisses and the cuddles.
You take few family photos because your hand is always, always full with a toddler.
And then you go home with another set of memories to cherish of that one beautiful summer day. You don’t regret that you started late. You will not even remember the disciplining exercises which happen along the way because toddlerhood is such a curious, cheeky age, pushing boundaries and patience. But also, toddlerhood is precious and fragile, sweet and fierce, absorbent and bendable, and you hold on to it precariously knowing it’s just another season of life. You go on trips; you embrace this sweet, quirky, fleeting season.