I remember the exact day our Sky Meadows State Park
It was our second family outing with our infant daughter, Charlie. A park staff member informed me about Trail Quest while I fed Charlie a bottle in the visitor’s center.
Charlie taking in the scenery and fresh air at Belle Isle State Park
Charlie was born three and a half months early and spent three months in the NICU. Because of this, her immune system was weak and her damaged lungs needed protection from illness. Her doctor recommended we avoid crowded public areas and people with cold symptoms. We lived in Northern Virginia at the time. Anywhere, other than our home, was a crowded public place.
The outdoors became our refuge
After speaking with the staff member that afternoon, I decided Charlie and I would visit all thirty six state parks. I purchased a jogging stroller to ease future trail exploration. One park at a time, we hiked, we explored, and we grew. Looking back, I realize I reaped more than I had originally set out to attain.
Immediately, I noticed the obvious benefits. For example, Charlie and I weren’t trapped at home., we had fun together, my overall health improved, and we had more quality time as a family.
As I checked parks off of the list, there were some unexpected gains. They are as follows:
1) I rediscovered my self-confidence. Charlie’s early arrival and subsequent three month NICU stay had left me timid, anxious, afraid, and insecure. The more miles I pushed the stroller, the better I became at it. It wasn’t long before I ventured off of easy trails to attempt more challenging trails. With Charlie in tow, I journeyed beyond the familiar parts of the state to areas I’d never been. I’d learned skills from park programs that I previously never pictured myself attempting. Each Trail Quest park code attained and each skill mastered was joined with a feeling of accomplishment.
Taking in the great outdoors
2) I learned to manage stress.Charlie’s infancy and toddlerhood have been loaded with unforeseen challenges. Visiting a park is my go-to stress reliever. The outdoors provides me with the time and quiet I need to think and problem solve. My outlook can be reset for the better by spending a day in a park.
Snack time at Wilderness Road State Park
3) I figured out how to make therapy less work and more play. Charlie attends therapy four days a week. She receives occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, and music therapy. When she is not with a health professional, we are expected to further work on her therapy goals. I resent the therapy homework. I don’t want to be a therapist. I simply want to be Charlie’s mom.
Instead of working on therapy goals, I let Charlie play at a park. The skills required to play in the river atWilderness Road State Parkare the very same skills therapists suggest Charlie work on. I stopped thinking about therapy beyond appointments a while ago. Nevertheless, Charlie has thrived and exceeded her doctors’ expectations.
Our visit to Staunton River State Park
4) I’ve reclaimed my infant and toddler parenting experience.
Our daily lives consist of a rigid adherence to an appointment schedule. Frequently, I mourn the loss of my average, everyday baby and toddler parenting experience.
One day, when I look back at these years, I will do so fondly. I won’t remember the hours I spent with Charlie in doctors' offices, hospitals, or driving to therapists. Instead, I will have memories like the strange looks we received while cooking out in late November at Natural Tunnel State Park, and so much more.
Charlie visits Kiptopeke State Park on the Eastern Shore of Virginia
Our visit to Natural Tunnel State Park
My Grayson Highlands State Park, this summer.
Like most journeys in life, I’ve gotten more out of it than I had intended. Everyone hikes their own hike and no two people’s Trail Quests are alike. What will you discover on your quest? Getstarted here and find out.