A long road trip gives a measure of how the boys are changing

We’re one week into a 12-day trip east that has featured stops in upstate New York, Philadelphia, and now Washington, DC where we’re spending time with Caroline’s parents and going to a wedding this weekend.

The boys are here, of course.  The defining moment of our trip so far comes from Tuesday night, 10pm, Philadelphia.  We’d eaten dinner with a group of friends and Caroline and I had decided to walk back to the house where we were staying in order to have a little extra time to soak in the atmosphere of our old neighborhood.  The walk was going well.  Wally was asleep in the carrier on Caroline’s chest and Jay was still full-steam ahead despite being up several hours past his bedtime.

But then three blocks from our destination, Jay tripped on a crack in the sidewalk.  I heard him cry out and turned to look.  There he was in the dim yellow glow of the overhead street light, lying on his back, limbs splayed on the concrete, looking every bit like a very small murder victim.

In truth he had only a skinned knee, but at that hour of the day there is no recovering from even the most minor calamity.  With a pack ‘n play in one arm (we’d put Wally to bed in it halfway through dinner) and a paralytically upset Jay in the other, I hustled towards home, laughing all the way at how pleased I’d felt just 10 minutes earlier about our seize-the-night decision to walk instead of indulging in an easy, spiritless cab ride to bed.

One of my favorite parts about traveling with Jay and Wally is that I find getting out of our routine affords a fresh perspective on the boys’ development.

For example, last year we made this same trip.  And Jay was terrified of the water when we were at the small pond on my dad’s farm and terrified of the water again when we visited Caroline’s parents who live on a lake.  But this year he’s jumping right in.  Family vacations, especially when you go to the same places every year, provide a neat little index for how kids change.

This is also the first family trip where sharing a room with Jay feels like no big thing.  On past trips we’ve segregated him in bathrooms, closets, hallways- anywhere we could put him so that we wouldn’t get in the way of his sleep and he wouldn’t get in the way of ours.  But on this trip we’ve discovered that sharing a room with him isn’t really any different than sharing a room with another grown-up.  Except he sleeps more soundly and never snores.

Traveling with Jay this time has felt very freeing, in the sense that it’s easy, all of a sudden, to imagine taking him just about anywhere.

Wally, however, is a different story.  He’s two weeks shy of a year which I think is just about the worst age to travel with a kid. I should preface that comment by saying he’s been an absolute delight to have with us.  He’s beginning to talk and gesture and he’s been incredibly excited by all the new sensations we’ve encountered on the trip.  Plus he’s just unbearably cute basically all the time.

But…he’s not very flexible as far as his needs go.  Like, when he’s tired he’s tired, and when he wants to get down and crawl he wants to get down in crawl, and when he absolutely cannot stand to be in his car seat a moment longer there’s nothing to do but get off the highway or let him wail.

Whereas with Jay, who’s almost three, I feel like we can wring an extra hour of energy out of him when we need to (provided no skinned knees).

And he’s demonstrated on this trip a surprising capacity to absorb boredom.

The drive to my dad’s is 600 miles. In the first hour of the trip we told Jay we’d be there by dinner time, after which he asked, over and again, “Is it almost dinner?” knowing full well, of course, that it wasn’t.  Several times during the drive I glanced in the rearview mirror to see him slumped in his car seat, head turned to one side looking out the window, a combination of resignation and misery plastered on his face.

And I was proud of him.  He knew that being in the car sucked, and that it wasn’t going to end anytime soon, but he just kind of put his head down and dealt with it, which is maybe one of the most undervalued qualities a parent could hope for in a kid.