Saturday, May 18, 2013

Year One, Month Three Musings

Vacation. Having survived (again, I think this is absolutely the most appropriate term) our first vacation with Jackson, KB and I ventured off this past month for our first vacation WITHOUT Jackson. Going into it, there were a number of things to be concerned about. Would Jackson be okay without us? Would we be okay without Jackson? What if we both died in a horrible plane crash? Having dealt with the last item before we left by coming up with a list of life lessons for the Monk on the Blog (which totally seems like a waste of time now that I survived those flights!), we crossed that item off the list – leaving only two remaining. Here’s how it all worked out:

Would Jackson be okay without us? In a word, absolutely. Over the past few months, he’s become quite the independent kid. As long as someone is around to feed him, open the door to let him outside, and Baby Segway him around, I don’t really think he cares who it is. He got quality time with his grandparents, they got quality time with him, and we got the peace of mind of knowing that our son doesn’t only get injured on our watch – as both sets of grandparents were responsible for varying degrees of bumps and scratches while we were gone. In fact, the only real sign of any distress from leaving our child for a week came at the airport when we arrived home. After initially smiling when he saw us coming, Jackson freaked out and was terrified of both of us. This probably would have crushed parents with more fragile psyches, but I found it absolutely hilarious. He would sit on his Grandma’s lap, happily smiling at every stranger that walked by – then the moment KB would walk towards him he would start crying and trying to jump out of her arms to escape. Thankfully, this act only lasted a few hours and then he was back to thinking we were the coolest things since sticks and rocks – but I can’t help but wonder if that was his way of punishing us for leaving him for a week. Or if it turns out he actually just likes hanging out with his grandparents waaaaaaaay better than us, and realized that if we took him back, he would be returning to a life of school, vegetables, and reasonable bedtimes.

On the flip side, would we be okay without Jackson? In two words, pretty much. After the plane safely landed in Mexico, it was like stepping into a time machine. All the sudden I was mid-20s Brian whose only goal was to keep himself alive and have as much fun as possible, as opposed to worrying about another human being. Once the drinks started flowing and I had sand beneath my feet, worrying about my son was the last thing on my mind. Kate, on the other hand, wasn’t quite as care-free. I partially blame this on the fact that our resort had free-wifi that stretched all the way to the ocean – but she was never far from her iPhone, checking for updates about Jackson, begging for pictures from family members, and requesting hour-by-hour write-ups about exactly how he spent his day. To me, these weren’t all that exciting (1:00 – played with rocks, 2:00 – played with mulch, 3:00 – opened and closed the fence gate repeatedly), but Kate ate them up. Having said that, I think that did help her relax knowing that he was fine. I’m proud to say that although his name did come up in a few conversations here or there, we weren’t the annoying parents talking nonstop about their child back home over every dinner conversation or picturing what he would be doing if he was there with us.

All in all, I’d say the trip was a tremendous success, and really opened my eyes about the best way to do vacations with a small child. Separate family vs. grown-up vacations seem like a tremendous idea – at least until the kids are old enough to appreciate a real vacation. We had been talking about doing another “family vacation” this year – but after initially throwing out ideas about going somewhere more fun (like a beach), it seems like Jackson would be just as happy going to a sand volleyball court and playing in the sand, followed by an afternoon in a kiddie pool in our backyard. Why pay all the money to see the real thing? I haven’t quite perfected the details yet, but I think the maximum distance traveled for a vacation with a child should adhere to a formula of the child’s age multiplied by 2 hours. For a one-year old, that gives you a two hour radius of home – but by the time they’re three or four (old enough to appreciate things), it opens the door to get 6-8 hours away from home. I’m sure at some point, we’ll seem like bad parents if we continue to take adult vacations – but for now, they seem like a great idea all around – a win/win/win for parents, kids, and grandparents.

Parrot. Before we left on vacation, my mother was fairly certain that given a few full days with Jackson, she’d be able to teach him to talk, actually go down stairs backwards, and do basic math. Apparently she was spoiled by having a genius baby like me back in the day – or thought that she had some secret parenting tricks that were going to provide a miraculous breakthrough in Jackson’s mental development. When we returned, we found that the Monk was pretty much the same as we left him – with verbal capacities somewhat similar to a parrot, and still unable to comprehend or predict dangers that come with things like blindly stepping off a flight of stairs.

However, over the past two weeks, his ability to mimic me (like a parrot) came pretty close to being “baby-book worthy” for generating his first words and his first song. I don’t know what inspires him to suddenly start imitating me – but it’s sporadic, and usually occurs in the evening, after dinner, when it’s just the two of us hanging out. First I got him to keep saying “Dada”, and then got out the video camera and said “Jackson, what’s my name?” to which he replied “Dada”. Somewhat cheating – but I think I might be able to take credit for being his first word.

Shortly thereafter, I found myself singing a song (surprise, surprise) to him to the tune of "Frère Jacques" that I call “Where is Jackson”. After I stopped singing it and went back to doing dishes, he immediately started humming the tune – so that might be his first song – but if it is, I totally regret not singing something more hilarious to him that evening so that I could tell people when he grows up, “Yep, the first song my son ever sung was ‘Riding Dirty’”.

Although I think Kate is getting slightly worried about Jackson’s lack of verbal communication skills (note: I’ll remember this when Jackson won’t shut up two months from now and she longingly looks back to the days when he just pointed and grunted at things), I’m fine with it. Honestly, he understands pretty much everything. This basic knowledge of commands is really giving me my first glimpse into how awesome it’s going to be to make him do work around the house someday. Today he can put dirty clothes in a hamper, put away his toys, and take out the garbage can. Tomorrow he’s going to be cutting grass, doing the dishes, and getting me beers from the fridge. Can’t wait.

The Great Outdoors. I remember when some of my friends first became home owners (suckers, all of us!) – suddenly we’d be complaining about the weather over beers because it was preventing us from cutting the grass – something that we went the first 20+ years of our lives without ever caring about. But now, suddenly it was a huge pain and made us all feel like cranky old men. Flash forward a few years now that I have a child. Once again, rain is my worst enemy.

I don’t think you really comprehend how important it is to be able to go outside until you have a child. Pre-Jackson, I’d gladly spend a rainy Saturday afternoon on the couch watching reality TV marathons and taking naps. Post-Jackson, we’re stir crazy and realizing that we’ve already played with every toy in the house and used up all my tricks by 8:30 am, frantically realizing that I need to find something to entertain my child for another 11 hours before bedtime.

It’s not as though the answer is “you need to buy more toys” or “you need to come up with more games to play with your child” – I think regardless of what we were doing, my child would want to be outside. We could be standing inside a toy store full of puppies and clowns, and he would stand at the window pointing to go outside and play in an empty parking lot. As part of dealing with our ever-paranoid fears that we are raising our child incorrectly, I recently started reading “The Happiest Toddler on the Block” (which of course, is a follow-up to “The Happiest Baby on the Block: The Story of Jackson” – because we read that book, and I have yet to find a child happier than mine… unless he’s cooped up inside). But in the book, the author talks about how boring the indoors is to kids – even if it’s full of video games and brightly colored toys, they want the sensory experience of the outdoors more. I totally buy into this theory.

Most of the time, it’s not a problem to feed this desire. Since my child’s favorite outside toys are sticks and rocks, there is plenty for him to interact with around our house when it’s nice outside. However, when it’s rainy outside, you need to find creative ways to keep him entertained. Note: even though Jackson would gladly just play in the rain, since he only owns one pair of shoes, doing so basically prevents him from leaving the house for the next 24 hours as his shoes dry off, so it’s less than ideal.

There are a few options out there to deal with this. Although I always say “let’s just go walk around the mall” or “let’s just go to McDonald’s and toss him in the ball pit” (read: both free activities!), apparently Kate is more concerned about doing more enriching activities – which all cost money. There are dedicated indoor kids activity centers, museums, and aquariums. Needless to say, the last time it was a gross Saturday, we found ourselves determining that even though we had both only been there once in our lives before, we needed to buy a season pass to the local aquarium to have a place to go whenever it rained. That’s right, we are now card-carrying members of both the zoo and the aquarium (along with what appears to be 90% of the local population who have kids. On any given nice day, the zoo is PACKED with parents and kids. On any given crappy day, the aquarium is PACKED with parents and kids.) I suppose that is one good thing about having kids – it really does help support the local cultural activities.

The funny thing is what Jackson likes most at each place. His favorite things to do at the zoo are play in the mulch of the flower beds that surround the entrance, play in the jungle gym inside the zoo, or watch the waterfalls… none of which involve animals. His favorite things to do at the aquarium are to run up and down the tunnels of the exhibits and splash his hands in the water of the area where you can pet aquatic life… neither of which involve him actually looking at or caring about fish. Someday, when he is old and owns his own house, Jackson is totally going to have a small pond with a waterfall in his backyard, surrounded by rocks and flowerbeds, and he’s going to love it more than anything in the world – and it’s going to make perfect sense to me.