Getting Out of the House with a Toddler - St. Michael's Farm Preserve, Hopewell, NJ

St. Michael's Farm Preserve, Hopewell, NJ
January 25, 2012

At my husband's suggestion, I am "getting out of the house more often." Two weeks ago he offered this advice. It was prefaced by the following, "You may not want to hear this, but, you know, take it how you may, but I think you may want to get out of the house more often."

I was filled with, well, what would you be filled with? I could tell he was readying to tell me something he thought I may not want to hear. We've known each other for a while and our home teems with a genetic predisposition to stubbornness. Oddly, I wanted to hear his advice, so I relaxed myself and was surprisingly open to his suggestion. 

"Write a list. Think of places you'd like to visit. That's what I'd do. That's what I do when Beren and I are alone." I nodded my head. I never made a list.  

I did however call my parents on Tuesday and went to visit them. I had a hard time getting Beren to nap, so my mom and I went to Target to buy a carseat. Beren fell asleep before we arrived. I sat in the car. My mom returned with an immense box that we shoved into my car. Beren continued to sleep. We drove over to the Phillipsburg mall, agreeing for the thousandth time that the mall was a bit sad and empty of stores and shoppers. Rain poured down, making it more grim. 

"Do you want to go in?"

"No, not really," my mom replied. We talked for about thirty minutes until our feet became cold. 

"Sure you don't want to go in?" 

"No, I'm fine." I pointed the car towards home. Beren sleeping still.

The following day I met an acquaintance at the Boro Bean in Hopewell. We walked through town and the park. For the first time ever, Beren turned to the stroller and indicated he preferred to ride. 


This week, I am starting something new. It may happen this week only, but I think it is a good idea: each week my toddler and I will take a walk together. I will bring my camera, diapers, oatmeal, and my curious son. My son will bring himself. Through the tales of our adventures, I'll let you know what we find, how successful the trip was, if we will return, and if I recommend the place to other solo parents with a Curious Toddler.

As I said, I never made a list of places to go. Today was off to a rough beginning, scattered. I managed to get us out of the house and wildly considered my options. The site had to meet the following requirements: easy walk, close to home, stroller-able and toddler-walkable, interesting to Mom with Camera. 

We arrived at the Carter Road parking lot for D&R Greenway's St. Michael's Farm Preserve. No trails were apparent and a muddy farm field surrounded the lot. I noticed a person sized gap in the fence and headed across the mucky field, my very heavy toddler tucked under my left arm and my right pushing the stroller.

I used a puddle in the parking lot to remove the shaley soil from my shoes and the stroller wheels.

We arrived at an old farm road that I knew we could walk, and I noticed two problems: the very fascinating road with all its 'brrrm brrrms' was very close and the land around the old farm road was flat and easily navigable. 

After orienting my son away from the road repeatedly, he began to pull the leaves off of mugwort and watched them blow away. Shortly, he took off through the field. As the thread that attaches him to me lengthens, his adventuresome nature blossoms, and his balance improves, he no longer hews to easy trails. My mom has confirmed this, telling me that he takes right off into multiflora rose patches, dragging her along. 

Headed off-trail.

 One reason why I advocate for metal fencing for deer exclosures - they are easier to maintain, no need  to do fence embroidery. 

Another walker approached us as we examined a deer exclosure around a stream bank restoration. My son inched towards me at a rate equal to the walker's approach. By the time she was within greeting distance, Beren was exactly between me and the stroller. 

I recall once being at the market and hearing a parent say "Danger Stranger" to their child. I felt uncomfortable and wondered if there was another way to tell your child "Trust me, trust yourself, be aware." I also wondered if it was me, the parent, that was uncomfortable, scared, imagining the terrible. 

Once my son rounded a corner at a cluttered store and I felt my heart in my throat as he disappeared. I have a little, short while before explaining Danger Stranger and am thankful to observe my son's animal instinct.

 A gnarly, viney hedgerow.

By the time we passed the barns and went down the hill (pictured above), Beren had been in and out of the stroller, up and down from my arms, and nursed numerous times. An enticing creek-crossing was ahead, but it was not ours to ford today.

Beren stomped on a torn apart trash bag while I wrinkled my nose, exclaimed, "Yucky!" and assisted in his stomping efforts. He wrinkled his nose and stomped again. (This is my method for expressing, "Don't touch that." It seems to work.) Beren became interested in a clump of multiflora rose surrounding a red cedar. He tripped on a stump and fell. 


I buckled Beren into the stroller and opened our thermos of oatmeal. He was the happiest since well left the mugwort patch a half hour previous. After eating, we turned away from the creek reluctantly. Beren looked back at me and began to complain.

We flopped onto the wet gravel and I nursed him. He was again happy, briefly. 

Back in the stroller, he began complaining again, I began singing to calm us both.  

 The route I should have taken from the parking lot. The mucky edge of the field planted in white clover, travelled by hikers more in the know than I.

Lots of dogs out, off-leash, some poop trailside. As you may know my son and I have already had one run-in with trailside droppings. Notice the white hair in the heel pad impression.

A beautiful hedgerow sugar maple.

 Beren was intrigued by some piles of rubble. The time we reached this one, he was hunched in his stroller, ready for a nap.

 Back at the parking lot, Beren was even keeled and enjoying the crunchy terrain. 

The edge of the car is exactly at toddler height. Lots of baby-friendly debris to explore.

The best part of Getting Out of the House was playing in the car with a Commerce Bank pen and a hair pick. We read Brown Bear, Brown Bear three times with glee, me unwittingly following our new routine of story time before sleeping. Beren went with resistance into the carseat. I nursed him while he was buckled - thanks to the moms at my local La Leche League meeting, I have learned I am not alone in extreme auto nursing. 

I played our game: Momma runs around the car and taps on the windows making silly faces until she gets in the driver's seat. I looked at Beren, "Should we continue our adventure?" Droopy eyes replied, "No." 


A week after receiving the advice, while lying in bed with the lights off, I said to my husband, "You know how you said I need to get out of the house more often?" 


"I really wanted to hear your advice. I didn't want to be defensive."

"Yes. I didn't know how you'd take it."

"Yeah, well, it was good advice. I also like being at home. I like baking bread, I like doing laundry, I like holding the house together, I like dumping out the compost and collecting things from the garden."

"What you do is really important. Baking, laundry, feeding the birds, holding the house together. Thanks for waiting to tell me these things. Thanks for not being defensive."