Last week we logged over 1500 miles on the road: east to DC for a wedding, up to Philadelphia for a reunion visit, down to Virginia for Thanksgiving with Caroline’s parents, and finally on Saturday, 544 miles back home to Ann Arbor.
In the weeks leading up to the trip I was ready to pass on Thanksgiving all together. Getting Jay and Wally through their days is hard enough without having to worry about keeping Jay away from other people’s electronics, or the 5am wake-up that Jay always has his first morning in a new place, or the world-cursing frustration of trying to dig a spit-up cloth out of a suitcase in the middle of the night after Wally’s lost his lunch.
But from the beginning there were signs that the trip might not be that bad. We made it to DC in less than nine hours, enjoying wide-open Midwestern highways with 70mph speed limits almost right up until Beltway gridlock, while in the backseat the boys atoned for not sleeping at all on our inaugural drive to Ann Arbor in August by conking out from Central Pennsylvania all the way to Bethesda.
And then when we arrived on Tilden Street, NW, Caroline’s sister and her parents had vacated their respective bedrooms to make way for our family brigade. It was the first act in a week of generous giving from friends and family and it reinforced a lesson I’ve learned over and again since Jay was born: just how kind people are to parents of young children.
For Jay the best part of the week wasn’t the presents or the dessert, though he had his fill of both. It was the chance to spend all his waking hours with people who feel as enthusiastic about him as Caroline and I do, and have the energy to show it.
When I think back on the week I picture Jay at a full gallop: running up the main walk at the National Zoo to greet my dad; dashing among our Philadelphia friends at dinner last Monday night; sprinting after his Opa, yelling, “Wait for me to go to the dumpster.”
During intensely social periods like this past week, it often seems like Jay grows and develops at three-times his normal rate. On Wednesday night after dinner in Virginia, Jay walked across the living room towards me and asked, “Can I have a glass of milk?” Caroline, who was nearby, started to answer but Jay cut her off. “I’m talking to Daddy,” he said with a look on his face that said: “Betcha didn’t think I knew about that.”
In other ways, too, he made progress managing social situations. Whenever he’d encounter a conversation proceeding without him, he’d sidle up and demand in perfect toddler grammar, “What you just sayed?”
But what impressed me most about Jay was how well he handled the rigors of being on the road. On Tuesday night Jay was asleep in his carseat when Caroline and I pulled into her parents’ driveway after midnight at the end of the drive down from Philly. Before getting out of the car we spent five minutes plotting our next moves, mindful of all the times we’ve tried unsuccessfully to transfer a sleeping Jay from the car into his crib. But when I finally gathered him in my arms, hustled inside and laid him down in his pack-‘n-play, he turned right over and went to sleep. The next morning when he woke up he asked me, “We are at the lake house, Daddy?” Indeed we are, I told him.
Since Jay was born I’ve had this ideal of a frontier child who you can take anywhere and who understands the freedom and the responsibility that come with being at-large in the world. I wouldn’t say Jay’s there yet, but this past week was without a doubt the best seven-day stretch he’s ever had of listening to directions. One night I picked him up to bring him downstairs to bed. He started to kick his legs in protest, but then his body relaxed in one of the clearest moments of self-control I’ve seen from him yet. Maybe he realized that you just can’t afford foolish temper tantrums when you’re traveling in Apache country.
The trip was so encouraging in fact, that late on Saturday afternoon as we bombed west on the Ohio Turnpike, Caroline and I let ourselves imagine all manner of places we might take our newly mobile family. I dreamed aloud about family camping trips in western Maine or the Upper Peninsula, while Caroline ventured that maybe it would be nice to live abroad while the boys were still young.
“Europe or South America?” I asked.
“Maybe both,” Caroline said.
“What you just sayed,” Jay offered from the backseat.
“Nothing,” I replied. “Just that you’ve been a really good boy.”
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