We just arrived home from a 2+ week vacation in the bay area. The final trip home is always my least favorite leg of a trip, all the fun is done and I just want to be home or still on vacation. But this was a pretty nice trip home all in all. Dee napped quietly in his car seat strapped next to the window as we "blasted off" on the second leg of our flight home and I watched him, lovingly, and proud of what a great traveler he was.
I reflected on how flexible he had become in the last two weeks. The first few days were kind of rough, he woke up crying the first night and I nursed him back to sleep something I haven't had to do in over six months. He kept asking when we were going home. Demanded to go swim in the pool at mommy's house. He was crankier than usual, and clearly thrown off by all the changes in his routine and environment. I had to remind him a few times at a restaurant one day that we don't eat paper. Travel is kind of stressful for anyone, vacation travel hopefully in the "good stress" kind of way, but especially for two year olds. We did what we could to keep a regular nap and bedtime routine, sleep being key to a happy toddler in this house. We brought along his lamby (a lambskin rug he has slept on since birth) and some of his favorite books and a few toys from home.
As the trip wore on he seemed to relax into the new rhythm, enjoying meeting new people and exploring new places. We started "rehearsing" our day each morning, and at his request, throughout the day if he needed it. Rehearsing is a strategy I recommend to my clients all the time when children are having a hard time with transition and it is sad that it took me four days into the trip to really realize that it was what Dee needed. Each morning I would say "lets talk about our day" and then I would go over the plans, the when and where and who of what we had in mind for the day. Dee would listen attentively, often asking me to repeat the story over and over. In car rides to new places he would say "Mommy wanna talk about my day?" If it was early in the day we would go over what was coming up. If it was later in the day I would ask "do you want to talk about what we did today or what we are going to do tomorrow" his answer would vary but he often liked to relive his day over and review what we had already done and seen and where we had been. It is actually something we do at home too, usually over breakfast and then again at dinner each night.
Two year olds don't have a lot of control in the world and a pretty limited concept of the scope and breadth of the possibilities out there. Their world is growing fast and it can be pretty disorienting. When I talk about rehearsing with families I remind them that as the grown ups in control THEY KNOW what is happening next, but little ones don't have that privilege. If you or I were doing something engaging and someone came into the room and grabbed us by the arm and demanded we stop and move on to something new we might be peeved as well. Giving toddlers a little warning, "5 minutes and we are going to stop toys and get ready to go to the store" followed by a 2 min warning and maybe even a little clean up the toys song can prevent more toddler melt downs than you can imagine.
With some of the kids I work with verbal rehearsal isn't enough and we start using pictures to illustrate their day, or hand them a photo or object when it is time to move from one activity to another. In the end I think it is about respecting our little ones need to know, need to have a little control, and giving them some of the same courtesy we expect as adults.
As I sat on our plane I was reminding of an encounter I had on my husband and my's three month odyssey in Mexico after graduate school. We were staying at a spanish language school in Gunajuato and an American family was there as well with two children probably ages 7 and 9 or so. I said to the mother that I was glad to see them traveling abroad with kids. Sometime I felt that I had to do all my traveling before we had children, but really, they are portable too. She smiled and said yes, they are, and added "and, the more you port them, the more portable they become." We had such a great family vacation and it was a joy to watch my little one become a little more portable.