My husband Josh and I are so blessed. We live near amazing family, and we get to visit amazing family in amazing places. If we had it our way, they would all live in one place, but try as we might to orchestrate that, so far our plans for other people's lives have been met with smiles, but no action...(so far...)
We have been able to travel to Colorado to see Josh's family several times since Gavin was born. The first time, he was only three months old and traveled like a champ. The second time he was seven months old. Being somewhat of an overachiever when it came to separation anxiety (he had it 2 weeks before and 2 weeks after the "normal" range), it was a very stressful trip for him. (My main indicator besides trouble falling asleep had to do with poopy diapers, and trust me, you don't want me to go there.)
The next time we went was Christmas and New Year's, during which Gavin had his first birthday. He definitely still had trouble sleeping in a new place, but I also noticed something else. It seemed like he was growing up even faster in those two weeks than normal, in a good way. Before we went, he was pulling up every now and then but didn't really seem super interested. While we were there, pulling up and cruising around on the furniture became his new favorite activities. I thought maybe it had something to do with being around cousins closer to his age (3ish as opposed to 6+), but now I'm wondering if it also had something to do with the new place, the new people, the adapting--the traveling in and of itself.
When I publish this we will have just wrapped up a fall trip to see Colorado family. During the trip, Gavin turned 21 months. It was a great trip. The sleep adjustments went MUCH better (so relieved). The new faces/new places adjustments were somewhat rockier because now that he is older he is even more aware, has more opinions, has more ways to express them, etc. He is in the thick of the struggle between "I do it myself," and "Mommy, don't leave me." Even so, he warmed up to everyone nicely (relative to his extreme shyness), and he'll warm up to them even better the next time (we have a plan).
Once we were there for several days, I started to notice that developmental acceleration that I noticed during Christmas. The mom in me is relishing it --the doggone cuteness of it all. The scientist in me (which I didn't know existing until I had a kid) is pondering it. First, the cuteness:
His sense of humor was already coming along quite nicely, but it's taken a big leap. He often would initiate little jokes with Josh and me, and now he is doing it with other adults, even his almost five-year-old cousin. He is stringing even more words together and in even more meaningful ways (and with even more adorable inflection). Physically, he is trying more "stunts." Small things like taking steps down off of bigger curbs, but also big things like we took him to open gym at The Little Gym while on our trip (he goes weekly or more at home), and he wanted to walk the balance beam without holding my hands and did (what!? proud tears!).
One night was a picture of exactly what I am talking about. After playfully engaging his cousin during dinner, asking to dip his bread in hummus and (correctly) telling Coach (Grandpa) when to stop and go based on the color of the stoplight, he did all the motions to an obscure version of "If You're Happy and You Know It" almost exactly in rhythm.
Then before bed, he "taught" me how to play the "pretend you're sleeping and then wake up and laugh and snuggle Gavin" game that he and daddy had been playing while I was on a phone call earlier. He also did this pretty amazing thing while we were reading The Eye Book. A couple times recently, Josh and I would read an entire line except the last word and let Gavin fill it in: "They see a ___ (bird). They see a ___ (bed)." Tonight, we did that, and then he did it back to us. He said (in toddler-ease), "Our eyes see ___ (we said nothing, still unsure of what he was doing, so he filled it in for us) blue. Our eyes see...red." (We started catching on.) "They see a..." We blurted out, "Bird," probably more excitedly than when we first did it as kids. He went on, "They see a..." "Bed!" we said. We let out some gentle good-job-buddy's, so as to not frighten him with the cheers that we going on in our heads. This was followed by all manner of silliness and cuddles and (mutual) adoring looks. After he was in bed, I might have been heard saying, "Best. Bedtime. Ever!"
Okay, so now that I've fully indulged my emotional-mommy side, I'll give my scientist-mommy side (though admittedly much less developed) a turn.
I think I'm starting to see why these trips stretch him so much, in ways that I never could on my own at home. But it's impossible for me to talk about it without first considering why kids feel so safe with mom and dad. Yes, we've been with them their whole lives, but we also know them intimately in the here and now. We know that "unna" can mean "under," "upside-down," or "Uncle Justin," and we use our context clues to interpret and communicate back with them. We know that they like to get all the cars to the bottom of the ramp before giving one a second run and that they often finish their meal with a few rice puffs. We know. And when it's in our power and their best interest, we accommodate. We are training him, but in some ways, he is training us. In my estimation, that's as it should be. It's the comfort zone.
It's not like when we're at home, I never take him out of his comfort zone. We experience new places, do play dates, learn lots of new things every day. But traveling is extended time out of the comfort zone. I'm starting to think there's nothing like all of sudden living with a whole lot of new people that your toddler hasn't trained yet. Warm, wonderful, welcoming, affectionate, observant and intuitive people--but still untrained. In this new environment, Gavin encounters a lot of humans with new ideas about how to play, how to joke, and how to do every day things, and I think--in the context of the continuing safe support of mom and dad who know these new people have Gavin's best interests in mind--this is a good thing.
Like he does with Josh and me, he still tries to ensure his preferences prevail, but he also knows these new people are untrained, so he sometimes tries a new way in spite of his preferences. This is something that I could not artificially manufacture at home without considerable heartache on my part and confusion on his because he knows I am trained. I would not arbitrarily change things up. For a good reason? Yes, I would (a new sleep schedule is necessary, potty-training must ensue, etc.), but because of the bond we have, I wouldn't do it for the sake of shaking things up (maybe that's just me).
I think this adapting has been good for him. And as he is trying new ways with new people, it seems his mind is somehow opening up in other ways: "I am safe to joke with people who are not mom and dad," "I can do that balance beam with no hands," "I can talk more and longer," etc. I'm not sure how, but I don't think these developmental leaps while traveling are my imagination.
Of course, they absolutely might be my imagination. As I've mentioned in other posts, this mommy-scientist has a sample size of one, not something from which to draw conclusions. But my sample size of one is plenty enough for me to sit here and ponder my imperfect observations. Enough for me to relish his growth and progress. Enough for me to keep perking up my eyes and ears and heart and keep getting to know him better.