On Tuesday evening, a little after 8pm, Jay looked out our car window and for the first time in nearly two weeks, he recognized where he was.. “This is our road!” Jay exclaimed from his car seat as we pulled to a stop at the corner of Colony and Packard. A mix of amazement and joy spread across his face. After 2237 miles, we were down to our last tenth. For a moment I thought he was going to cry.
A day earlier my feelings towards Jay had been less warm. In my previous post I wrote about some of the good qualities that vacation brings out in a kid. Among other things, Caroline and I find that Jay and Wally’s exposure to new people and new experiences on a trip leaves them seeming more sophisticated and grown-up by the time we return home.
But not every vacation-induced personality change is a positive one. On Monday night—our last in Virginia before heading home—Caroline remarked to me that Jay had turned into “Vacation Beast.” I knew immediately what she meant. He’d become increasingly whiny and demanding over the past week. “Please” had disappeared completely from his lexicon. For the first time maybe in his life, I regarded him as a bit of a brat.
There are two ways to explain the evolution of Vacation Beast.
The first, which kinder hearts might adopt, is that all the travel threw Jay off: He was acting bratty because he felt unsettled. At home we have our routines, which allow him to feel in control of his world. Absent that routine and that control, Jay felt vulnerable which made him act more erratically.
The second, which is where my mind naturally comes to rest, is that Jay had had just a little too much attention and too many cookies over the past week, and had come to feel entitled.
There’s probably truth to both explanations. Either way, Caroline and I agreed that the best redress for Vacation Beast was to get him back home where the comfort of his daily routine would help him breath a little easier and do more for himself.
We’ve been back home for two days and Vacation Beast is still on the prowl. This morning Jay spent 10 minutes screaming at us from behind his closed bedroom door over a perceived offense too trivial to recount. (Basically, Jay was yelling at us to get out of bed and put him back in his crib, which we refused to do because we were tired and because we knew his real aim was just to get our attention.)
When Jay finally piped down I went into his room and asked him if he wanted to come sit with me. He did. I told him that Daddy and Mama are very happy to do things for him as long as he doesn’t whine or cry or scream. Jay responded by tickling the top of my head. “There are ants everywhere,” he said, which I generously interpreted to be his way of saying, “I hear you.”
By the end of our trip I found myself missing Jay, which is a common feeling for me at the end of a long stretch away from home. Partly the feeling arose from a lack of time together. Over the last two weeks Jay spent a lot of time playing with his grandparents, aunts, and uncles. I was less the center of his world—and he less the center of mine—than we are to each other during our quieter days at home.
Partly, too, the feeling arose from the absence of routine itself. This is surprising, I think, given that we tend to think of routine as something that deadens relationship and vacation as something that revives relationships.
But routine also creates a kind of intimacy. At home I always know where Jay is and what he’s doing. The consistency of our surroundings makes it easier to perceive small fluctuations in his mood; routine, in a kind of counterintuitive way, provides us with the opportunity to be more aware of each other.
So in that sense I’m glad to be back home. I’m looking forward to getting to know Jay again. And I’m hoping that he’s going to get to know himself again, too.
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