I Thought I Was a Camping Expert….Then I Went Camping with My Baby.

During my three years of RV-ing full-time and several years of frequently camping before that, I encountered all sorts of crazy conditions. From below-freezing temperatures to nonstop rain, wildlife encounters, mechanical breakdowns, and madmen on the loose, I thought I had pretty much seen it all from either inside my tent or out the window of my tiny home on wheels.

But then, I decided to take my two-month-old baby camping, and that overconfidence quickly got shattered and the great outdoors felt a little less familiar. Here’s what happened the first time I introduced my tiny human to the world of camping, which ironically coincided with my first time camping during the pandemic.

The Trip

For Chikoo’s (a nickname, not his real name) first camping trip, we wanted to keep it simple and close to home. So, we booked a campsite in the Grants area of New Mexico, which was about an hour and a half away from home and a place we hadn’t spent much time in before.

Due to COVID-19, travel is sketchy right now to say the least. Any trip outside the home feels like a calculated risk and a balancing act between staying safe and stay sane, especially as a first-time mom of a tiny human with a developing immune system. Yet going on a trip in our own RV where we could use our own kitchen and bathroom felt safer than any other option at the moment. So, we just went with it and took out the good ole’ RV for a couple random weekdays to avoid weekend crowds.

Packing for a Baby

Between my husband and I, I’ve always been the packer for our trips. I have list templates for each kind of trip we take and usually start laying stuff out about a week in advance because I hate scrambling around at the last minute and always end up forgetting something important otherwise. But this was my first time ever packing for a baby.

Even after moving from an RV to a house, I’ve still stayed pretty minimalist with the amount of stuff I have, even with a newborn in the mix. But to accommodate the little guy on-the-go, we recently bought a fold-up travel crib that ended up working really well in the RV. In fact, he slept better in there than in the house and set a personal record of 4.5 hours of straight snoozing! For my first time packing for a baby, I definitely over-packed. But there was plenty of space in our former home-on-wheels, so there wasn’t much harm in having a few extra diapers and drool rags lying around.

Baby-ifying the RV

Little Chikoo isn’t mobile yet (unless you count his non-stop wiggling and kicking) so we haven’t had to truly baby-proof the camper yet. However, for a two-month old, we still did have to make some adjustments to our RV setup to accommodate the little guy.

This involved turning the sofa into a travel crib spot, the workdesk/dinette into a diaper changing station, and the top bunk bed into a storage area for baby gear and breastmilk pumping supplies. Of course, Monkey got to keep her bed on the lower bunk bed and continues to be an awesome big sister to little Chikoo.

Slowing Down the Pace

The main difference I noticed between my old camper life days and camping with a baby was the pace of travel. I quickly realized that I had to scale back my expectations of what we could seriously accomplish in a day and that I’d have to be more flexible around Chikoo’s needs – namely his demanding to eat about every two hours.

Pre-baby, the husband and I would have powered through a hike, checked out all a small town’s local attractions, and drank at two breweries by early afternoon. However, little things now like needing to stop and feed Chikoo along the trail gave us some awesome opportunities to take in the views, give a panting Monkey some much-needed shade, and just let the fact sink in that we are starting to introduce this strange and wonderful creature we made to the great outdoors.

Planning for Downtime

Part of slowing down the pace of travel involved scheduling in downtime at our campground and not spending the entire day out and about. Being out every moment of day was a bit too much for this little guy (and for us with him in tow!), so we spent more time than usual in the campground just chilling out. Being near El Malpais National Monument meant that we had some sweet lava rock landscape views from under the camper awning for a little shade from all that New Mexico sunshine.

Baby’s First 5-Mile Hike

But even with a slower pace and scheduled-in breaks, I’m happy to report that Chikoo did his first five-mile hike on this camping trip! By “hike,” I mean he rode in a front-facing carrier as the husband wore him on the hiking trail.

Our big hike was on a portion of the Continental Divide Trail that wasn’t overly challenging but still really beautiful and interesting to check out. Chikoo was super chill pretty much the whole time until it was time for a snack. However, poor Monkey got bit on the paw by something (spider? ant?) and was limping for a while until my tough gal worked it out and fixed herself back up again.

Our second hike the next day was to the Bandera Volcano and ice cave, which was a little shorter but still a pretty unique and dog-friendly place to check out on an uncrowded weekday morning. We wore masks everywhere we went, including on the hiking trails, just to feel as safe as possible. In my opinion, New Mexico has done a better job than a lot of states at controlling the spread of the virus, which makes me happy to live here. However, this particular area of the state seems to be known for its lack of compliance with public health orders, and even the mayor of Grants is now facing a $5,000 fine for hosting a 4th of July parade.

Avoiding Other People

As a pandemic baby, Chikoo isn’t getting the kind of socialization with family and friends that most babies have by this point in life. While we have been going stir-crazy quarantined at home, we intentionally chose a not-too-touristy destination, traveled on a Sunday-Tuesday rather than a weekend, and brought our own food and bathroom supplies to minimize contact with other people.

Fortunately, after over three years of full-time RVing, one of my greatest acquired skills is avoiding other people in campgrounds. Feeling claustrophobic and being bombarded by strangers at all times was one of my least favorite things about full-time camper life, especially towards the end of it. This skill came in handy now more than ever.

Although our campground got more crowded than I was expecting, people generally kept their distance from each other and most resisted the urge to hover over the most adorable baby of all time. This is about the only silver lining to the pandemic that I can think of right now, but I’ll take it.

What’s Next?

Although there were definitely ups and downs, I’m calling Chikoo’s first camping trip an overwhelming success…so much so that we’ve already booked his second camping trip in less than two weeks!

We’re planning to check out the Ruidoso area of New Mexico, a region that we have yet to explore as residents here. Not only will this be an exciting trip because it’s a new place but also because of another BIG CHANGE, which I’ll reveal in my next post!

Until then…stay as cool as this dude, who clearly has camping in his DNA.

Motherhood Month 1: Tales from the Newborn Zone

Greetings, friends! This blog has always been a space for me to chat about traveling and getting outdoors to do cool stuff. However, I couldn’t help but interject something a little more personal as a follow up to my last post, Preparing for a Baby in the Era of COVID-19.

When I wrote that about a month before my baby boy’s due date, I was stressing out about the whole childbirth thing, bringing a baby into the world during a global pandemic, and pretty much everything in between. Well, I’m happy to report that everything worked out just fine and that I’m now the MOM of a healthy and hilarious little guy who just turned one month old yesterday!

Note: On this blog, I’ll be referring to my son by one of his nicknames, Chikoo, which is a delicious fruit that grows in India and Central America. Chikoo isn’t his real name, but he does kinda look like a small, round, light brown fruit anyway!

As I mentioned in my last post, Chikoo was flipped upside down in belly, proving that he would already be stubborn from an early age. This resulted in me needing to have a c-section to safely retrieve the little guy and bring him out into the world. On Chikoo’s birth day, hospitals were still really crazy with COVID-19 safety protocols. But fortunately, my husband was allowed to be with me during every part of my hospital stay. This included him being in the operating room to actually watch part of the birth (EEEEK!) and staying overnight with me and Chikoo in the postpartum room.

I was required to wear a mask at all times while hospital staff was in the room with me, including during the actual c-section procedure and every time when a nurse came into take my vitals in the middle of the night. As far as childbirths go though, I couldn’t have asked for a better care team and recovery experience. My doctor and most of the nurses who took care of us explained everything to me really thoroughly, answered all my questions, and helped guide me in my first hours of being responsible for a newborn.

Thanks to Chikoo and I both being healthy and doing well, we were able to get out of the hospital in just two days, the very earliest that I was hoping for after the c-section. Meanwhile, our awesome local dog sitter took care of Monkey while we were in the hospital, plus a few extra days so we could get used to having a baby at home before introducing Monkey to her new baby brother. Spoiler alert: she’s been great with him over the past month – cautious, curious, and protective.

Fast-forward a month and here we are back at home, still social distancing but getting to know each other a little more each day. The whole lack of sleep thing at night is a real struggle with Chikoo, as it is I’m sure with all newborn babies. Breastfeeding and pumping are challenging, time-consuming, and sometimes painful – especially when food is loudly and frantically demanded every 1-3 hours. Getting work done is feasible for a few hours on some days but a total joke on others.

Meanwhile, I’ve been pooped on, peed on, and spit up on all within the same hour. But he’s also a little cuddle bug, makes the silliest faces that crack me up, makes the cutest sounds that melt my heart, and already seems to enjoy being outside and on the move.

With a newborn in the house, me recovering from major abdominal surgery, and due to just plain common sense, we’ve been pretty much homebound lately in this continued era of the coronavirus. My outings have consisted of a postpartum OBGYN visit and a pediatrician visit, while the husband ventures out for groceries and supplies once every couple weeks. Yet we’ve been getting outdoors a lot to enjoy this beautiful New Mexico springtime weather and the awesome plot of land we live on that is tiding me over until travel is a safer thing to do.

I hike with Chikoo in a carrier and Monkey on our little trail every day, and we’ve recently invested in some really comfy lounge chairs for the front porch.

To make our yard feel more like a brewery space, we’ve also picked up some new yard games – bags, bocce ball, and Yardzee (a large-dice version of Yahtzee).

There’s a forest road at the end of our little unincorporated village where we’ve gone out for some stroller rides. It’s usually more deserted than the popular trailheads nearby, but with everyone getting restless to get out while maintaining a safe social distance, even our little “secret” area is getting overrun by others.

A couple weeks ago I got to celebrate my first Mother’s Day. The concept of being somebody’s mom felt really surreal and still does. I spent most of my life never expecting to ever have a baby, but here he is, and it just seems to make sense right now.

Chikoo sure is cute in the newborn phase, but what I’m really looking forward to are the days ahead when we can start introducing him to amazing places, traveling with him, and helping him learn about the world around him. Hopefully all this frequent eating is helping him grow big and strong so he’ll soon be wearing his first pair of hiking boots and going camping for the very first time. And hopefully by then, all this pandemic craziness will have subsided and be nothing more than a great story to tell him about his first few months on earth.

But for now, Chikoo’s face is scrunching up, turning red, rooting around, and letting out a howl so loud that I would have never expected such a small being to make. This could only mean one thing. It’s feeding time…yet again.

Preparing for a Baby in the Era of COVID-19

As I sit on a yoga ball at my home office desk trying to focus on work, I can’t help but glance at the calendar and realize that my tiny human’s due date is only 31 days away.

In this era of COVID-19, it’s a crazy time to be bringing a new life into the world. But someone’s gotta do it, right? That someone has to be me? Really?!

When I first took those three pregnancy tests last August (five days after my 36th birthday and three days after buying a house in New Mexico), the idea of a global pandemic never crossed my mind. Now at the end of March, this crisis is affecting everyone in different ways. For some people, that’s being laid off from work, trying to home-school kids for the first time, or trying to care for a loved one who’s become sick. While those things aren’t my situation, navigating the uncharted territories of pregnancy, labor, and delivery are now front and center in my little world.

I read an NPR article today that hit home with many of the things that have been keeping me up at night lately. By around May 1st, will there be a shortage of beds or staff at the hospital where I’ve been planning to deliver? Will hospitals still be safe places to deliver babies then? Will I have to give birth alone with no one by my side for support? What if the baby or I get the virus while we’re in the hospital? Are birthing centers or home births viable alternatives? What if this little guy doesn’t flip around to the right position and a C-section is recommended?

My hospital has already limited the number of support people to just one per patient at the maternity ward, while some hospitals are saying no visitors at all. In spite of the risks, some hospitals are apparently suggesting that pregnant women get induced after 39 weeks to get their deliveries over with now before hospitals become more overcrowded. My parents planned to drive across the country to be here for their grandson’s birth and help out during our first few days as parents. But as with all travel plans, that’s now on hold indefinitely.

But it’s not all doom and gloom around here!

I’m happy to report that all of my friends and family are safe and healthy (although sanity is questionable), and so are Baby Boy and me. At each checkup we’ve had, he clocks in with a strong heartbeat and impressive growth at the 70th percentile for weight and length. I’ve been so fortunate to have an easy pregnancy with no complications so far, which seems to baffle every medical professional I see because of my “advanced maternal age” that still seems to get referenced at every visit.

With just a few weeks still to go before I get to meet my little guy, here’s what I’ve been learning along the way about preparing for a baby in the era of COVID-19.

Stocking Up on Gear (within reason)

I’m no hoarder and don’t support unnecessary hoarding in any way. I’m also a minimalist who cringes every time someone insists that “babies need a lot of stuff.” But in challenging times like these, it makes sense to be prepared with some essentials in case everyone else depletes the supply of what we end up needing.

With toilet paper now this country’s hottest commodity, we figured diapers may be next and that washable cloth diapers may be a more sustainable solution. I’d wanted to try cloth diapers anyway because of their alleged eco-friendliness and long-term cost savings, but now there’s even more of a reason to give it a go. We’ve bought a couple boxes of disposable diapers already too so we have some options as we muddle through our first few days.

My parents had planned to bring a bunch of baby essentials they’d bought over to us when they came to visit. But instead, they shipped us everything by mail in case it’s a while until they can get out this way.
As soon-to-be, first-time grandparents, they have been getting a real kick out of buying the little guy clothes in sizes ranging from newborn to nine months. I’m not a fan of shopping at all, so this was more than okay with me! Thanks to good ole’ mom and dad, he’s stocked up with a brand-new wardrobe…and totally starting to take over my office closet.

Gear Testing Makes for Fun Distractions

Within the last few weeks, we’ve also stocked up on a few pieces of baby furniture and such via online orders without having to risk our health by going into stores. We weren’t in any rush to buy baby stuff pre-COVID-19, but quickly stepped up our game now to allow for delayed delivery dates and out-of-stock items.

First of all, a car seat so that if a hospital delivery works out, we’ll be able to safely transport the little guy back home upon discharge. Quality tested by our stuffed pink chimp named Ginger “Dunkey” Bromeliad.

Next up was something for the little guy to sleep in. We had originally thought about just starting off with a portable travel crib/Pack-n-Play for our small bedroom space. But with travel now suspended until who-knows-when, we opted for a really basic stationary crib with a changing table attached instead. I don’t think our stuffed animal collection (testers) are going to want to give up their new sleeping space though.

Another priority for us was a rugged-wheel jogger stroller so that we can get outside and be active with little guy when he arrives. Here’s me testing it out in our gravel driveway. 

An awesome friend surprised us with this fun bouncy seat gift, giving Little Man additional seating options upon his arrival. The tester here is my 35-year-old Cabbage Patch named Isabelle.As someone who doesn’t like to sit still very long, I’m also intrigued by the whole baby-wearing concept. There are an overwhelming number of options available for this and I’m sure we’ll try out a few different ones over time, but here’s the first ring sling I’m trying out with Sapote the Cabbage Patch. Playing with all these new toys has been a fun break from the news and social media and gotten us more pumped for our tiny human to arrive.

Taking Baby Classes Online vs. In-Person

As first-time parents, we signed up for five classes at the local hospital to become a bit less clueless: newborn care, infant CPR, a just-for-dads class, labor and delivery, and breastfeeding. Before everything in life got cancelled, we were able to take two of those classes. Two of the remaining ones offered online versions with videos/quizzes/etc., which were actually really helpful.Of course, our stuffed creature collection came in handy again when it was time to put what we’d learned into practice. We’ve had this pink chimp for over seven years but she still became the diapering test subject – a perfect fit!

I actually have my next routine prenatal checkup tomorrow at the OBGYN’s office and they still want me to come in for it. It will be my first time out into the real world in about 2 1/2 weeks. Just in case the little guy decides to make an early appearance, I’ve already packed a hospital bag and made arrangements with our local dog sitter to come pick up Monkey and take care of her so she’ll be in good hands when I go into labor.

Staying Healthy and Active

Aside from genetics (thanks, mom and dad) I attribute much of my easygoing pregnancy so far to my being able to get outside and stay active. Although we’ve been avoiding parks and crowded trailheads, we have an amazing piece of rural property that makes it easy to get outside while social distancing.

With pleasant temperatures in the 60s lately, it’s been a great time to focus on yard work projects (in moderation), like weeding and building our very own little hiking trail. Our high desert temperatures are finally staying above freezing, which means I can try planting some flowers and vegetables soon too.We’re also fortunate to live near some remote forest roads and trails that you can hike along and never see another soul. When we moved here in August, we rescued an old home gym system from my in-laws that was collecting dust at their place and put it together in our garage. That’s really coming in handy these days too with all the gyms shut down. I do miss swimming though because pre-COVID-19, I was swimming over a mile in laps every weekend and really into that.

Trying to Stay Positive and Flexible

Between trying out new baby gear, getting outside, and having more than plenty of writing to keep me busy while working from home at my day job, it hasn’t been all that hard to stay positive while pregnant during COVID-19. When I start to feel stressed out about the state of things, he gives me hope. When I feel him kick (punch? roll over? I dunno…), I’m reminded that he needs a positive place to grow and learn, and that it’s up to his dad and I to make sure he gets it. And believe me, those little reminders happen a lot these days, especially after 9pm when I’m trying to get comfortable in bed and fall asleep.

There’s a lot of uncertainty in the world right now, but after all, no son of mine would come into this life without it being an adventure.