Holiday Survival

We made it. The boys went back to school today after being ignoring my need for personal space and being all up in my business out for holiday break for an eternity the past two weeks. I’m just thankful the current “bomb cyclone” isn’t dumping snow here and extending the break. While I love the special family time we’ve had over the holidays, our boys seem to do best with more structured days than what we have during breaks, and that one line from “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” has never held so much truth. Really though, we had a sweet time together with only minor injuries sustained [by me: approximately 17 crotch shots, a twice busted lip, and a bloody nose. Those were probably my fault, though, since I decided this break was the perfect time to introduce them to Star Wars, and convinced my poor wife they were ready to watch them. All of them. There’s been lots of light saber battling. Positive note: even at only 3 and 6 years old they realize the supremacy of the original trilogy.].

Our three boys have seemingly boundless energy, and it takes some planning to give them enough ways to get it all out without destroying our home (and sanity). It was a Lego-heavy Christmas for our two oldest, so that provided them endless hours of calm engineering play my wife and me a combined 20+ hours of back-breaking Lego set assembly while they attentively looked on fought each other and trashed their rooms. Fun. The day after Christmas we decided a family hike was needed to release some of that energy. We drove up to the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest between Cleveland and Helen to hike Yonah Mountain, which should be about a 2 hour car trip according to Google maps. Google maps doesn’t take into account added time, though, for say, a vomiting toddler. We had already left the house and gotten onto the Interstate when it began. Oh, it was bad. It was bad… And we’re at that point in our parenting where no one is currently being potty trained, so we don’t even think about packing extra clothes most of the time. Honestly, after bundling up the kids for a day in the mountains and loading our own packs with lunches, water, and first aid supplies, the toddler was lucky we remembered to grab a couple diapers and some wipes.

We thought maybe it was a fluke at first. You know, like maybe he found and drained one of the old bottles of milk he likes to stash under the sofas and beds and every other nook and cranny in our home. The volume suggested a one-and-done kind of deal. So, I exited, pulled into a gas station, and lovingly let my wife get some extra bonding time with him while she cleaned him up…

Wrong. We were so wrong. Repeat that scenario three times. Three more stops to clean up. We thought perhaps we should just call it a day and turn around and go back home… but, he seemed happy and done. And honestly, it was my own back on the line, not his. I would be the one wearing him in the hiking backpack all day, so I really wouldn’t have proceeded if we didn’t believe he was finally finished. We were already in the middle of nowhere, but finally at least found a Wal-Mart where we could stop and buy him a few changes of clothes; we weren’t taking any more chances on having only one more outfit for the day.

Wal-Mart. The day after Christmas. I lost track of how long my wife was in the store while I was in the car with all three boys, who were completely restless and car-weary by then. We passed the half-hour mark. The minutes kept passing. I began to think this was payback for having allowed her the privilege of cleaning up our son. Then, as a phoenix rising, she emerged from her own nightmare of retail hell with a bag of clothes. Finally cleaned and ready, we proceeded to go find the trailhead, a mere 4 hours since our journey began.

People sometimes get the impression that our kids naturally just love the outdoors like we do, but I’m here to dispel that myth. It can take a decent amount of cajoling to get their participation some days… especially on the day after Christmas, when they really just wanted to stay home and play with their new toys. So, we let them pick the trail activity. They made us play safari. Our oldest son created this elaborately tragic backstory of a family who disowned him after his evil sister spread nasty lies about him to his parents; he subsequently chartered a plane, en route to India, but the tail broke off while he was in the restroom, and when he came out he was sucked out of the plane, somewhere over Africa. Luckily, he landed softly in a lion’s den, and was adopted as one of their own. He learned to hunt and survive in the wild, and grew up to become a tour guide on the savanna. Our middle son just wanted to kill things, mostly snakes.

Finally, off we set on our hike (through the African savanna). The boys did great. It was a cold and windy day, but beautiful. Clear blue skies. Sunlight beamed through the bare December trees. We spotted glimmering icicles, and crunched through beautiful ice crystals in the mud. The boys turned the icicles into snacks… and then weapons. Thankfully no one put out my eye.

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About halfway up, a friendly (albeit obtuse) hiker on her way down questioned us as to our 3 year old’s ability to make it all the way to the top. He was incensed by her doubt, and determined to keep going and prove wrong the lady who dared to say his legs were too short. After the lady was out of earshot, our oldest said, “She doesn’t even know we’re Smallwoods; we always do our thing-thang.”

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The kids pressed on and made it to the summit- to the visual reward of hawks circling at eye level and a prime view of the Blue Ridge Mountains from the main rock face. We played and ate and took in all the views before beginning our descent. When we finally finished the 4.5 mile trek and made it back to the trailhead parking lot, the boys were able to see and appreciate the scale of the mountain they had just climbed- all 3,166 feet of it, with approximately 1,500 feet of elevation gain.

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We rewarded them with a short ride over to Helen for dinner, where they loved seeing the Christmas lights and decorations. They each received a giant lollipop from the candy shop, and a $1.98 mystery box from the glass blower’s shop before making the 2 hour car trip home. Thankfully it really only took 2 hours this time.

We made lots more memories during the break, and even did a bit more hiking, but this day is one of my favorites. The day we did our thing-thang.

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