Most of our family and friends understand that our careers in international development dictate that my husband and I will be gone traveling out of the country most of the time, packing up baby and all. When we decided to continue bringing our baby with us for the journey, we of course contemplated how this might affect her security and connections to other people in the world.
At eighteen months, after spending more time in South Africa and Jordan than any other place combined (including the U.S., Paraguay, Lebanon, and India), Veda is remarkably secure in the world. We learned quickly that what provides her with the most security is the stability of her parents. We try our best to provide her with a loving and nurturing environment, wherever we are in the world. We are her constants- not the living room or a nursery. Her home is mom– and dad, but to be honest to a lesser extent, because he doesn’t have breasts.
She is confident and outgoing, offering toys to babies younger than her, toddlers and big kids older than her, in a gesture of friendship to commence playing. She’s been doing that since she could walk at twelve months, too. She is weary of strangers, especially ones she has never seen that want to swoop in and “hold the baby,” but warms up quickly to those that are warm and engaging. We’ve let go of the notion that she might somehow be less “adjusted” because of our constant state of moving, especially after seeing her dive into the center of activities with other kids on playgrounds and in classes I have her enrolled in now back in Chicago.
But will she remember her family? we wondered, especially considering her grandparents in Wisconsin that she would only see a day or two at a time every few months or so, not to mention her aunt and two young cousins in India that she only sees about twice a year.
Even more remarkable than her emotional security that she has developed on the go is her apparent ability to remember people she has a strong bond with. I really didn’t think that such a little thing was capable of remembering people that have not been present for such long periods of time. But, whether family or friends, Veda shows signs of remembering those that have made a mark on her, even if we spend brief periods of time with them.
For example, she really connects with my husband’s sister in India. Veda spent one month with her when she was six months old, and another month with her when we were all India when she was fourteen months old. “Aunt” in Malayalam (my husband’s dialect in Kerala) is “Amay.” Sometimes she randomly will ask for “Amay” here in Chicago, something triggering her memory. After a brief warm-up period after the eight month lag between seeing her, Veda warmed up instantly to “Amay,” going to her readily from my arms and waving good-bye to me.
We also keep in close touch with “Amay” over Skype, to the point that Veda now associates the Skype ringing or binging sounds with her aunt. Every time there is any sound from either of our lap tops anywhere in the house, Veda smiles and looks at us, asking, “Amay?” And to Skype’s credit, the ability to video chat overseas makes it easier to maintain those connections with family far away, and to keep the interactions (as two dimensional as they are) fresh in her head.
Just today my husband called us on Skype from Pakistan where he is working. We have Skype set up on our television in the living room, so his head was quite large- like the Wizard of Oz. “Hi, Daddy,” Veda squealed, running around the room, stopping to wave at her father’s gigantic head. She performed a few somersaults for him and when it was time to hang up smiled and waved good-bye, exclaiming, “Bye-bye, daddy!” and blew a few kisses.
And what about my parents? Veda gets to see them whenever we are back in Chicago, but they still both live four hours north of us in Wisconsin, so it’s a drive either way. This past May over four months had passed since she had seen my dad, but as soon as she did, her eyes lit up and she went to him. It was clear that she recognized him, trusted him, and connected with him. She doesn’t go to just anyone, after all. In fact, she generally stays close to me when meeting “new” people. So clearly grandpa after four or five months wasn’t new to her at all.
And the next morning when she was settled in my lap contentedly reading a book, as soon as grandpa emerged into the living room she was squealing and wriggling from my arms to go to him. “Bye-bye, mama” she said with a smile and wave. She rarely ever does that with anyone. Not to mention that when she was as young as six and nine months old she would happily go to my dad, at a time when she had some serious stranger anxiety.
My mom is another intermittent constant in Veda’s life. She has numerous times come to Chicago to help care for Veda, and is here now as my husband is out of the country for work. It is a huge help so I can get some work done, too! I contemplated hiring someone to help care for Veda, but I know that a new strange person would fall short of my mom, whom Veda adores and also connects with instantly, regardless of the amount of time that has passed between visits. If I hired someone I know it would take a long time for Veda to warm-up, whereas with my mom I know that Veda doesn’t need much re-acquainting, and is happy to spend a whole day out and about with my mom without missing me too much.
I’m pretty convinced based on these experiences and observing Veda’s interactions with people she clearly loves but spends little time with that there is some memory of love and trust between her and these people. There are some other people who she might see just as often, if not more, that she doesn’t connect with in the same way. I think the difference is how those people interact with her– the more engaging and loving people are, the more she is with them, and the more likely she is to want more and to remember that.
I still haven’t been able to get to the point to leave Veda for more than a day, though. Part of the security I provide her with is always being with her to nurse her to sleep at night (yes, I still nurse my eighteen month old to sleep). She could be ready for that leap– to be without mommy for a night, or even a few days– but I’m not sure I’m ready. The only time that was forced to happen was when I was in the hospital for a few nights, but my husband was at least home with her then. That was very difficult for both Veda and I.
Maybe in six months or so we’ll both feel differently about our night time ritual of reading and feeding and falling happily to sleep (in her own big girl bed now). I wouldn’t mind the chance to leave Veda with someone she loves or trusts for a few nights and have a quiet getaway with my husband. We know plenty of people that have enjoyed doing that, and much earlier on with their baby than eighteen months.
But at the same time, I know right now that both my husband and I would probably just spend the time away missing Veda, anyway. We even miss her now that she’s sleeping in her own bed. Usually when she rouses in the early morning hours now my husband or I will just grab her and bring her into our bed where I nurse her back to sleep and we get some quality morning family cuddle time in before the day begins. It’s a nice way to start the day.
This is all to say that in our experience traveling the world with our baby, she’s certainly not any worse off for it in terms of her security in the world. And yes, grandparents, family, and friends of any traveling baby out there– baby will probably remember that feeling of love and trust you give her, if that is what you’re giving her. That doesn’t necessarily translate into mom or baby being ready to part quite yet for too long, though :).
I was inspired to write about this topic when I received an email from a blog reader, Linea, who is a fellow traveling momma. She’s traveled all over the States and has taken her trips to Europe with her now thirteen month old son. She is traveling with her son and partner to England this fall to visit her partner’s parents, and they are contemplating a short three day getaway to Scotland, leaving baby in the care of his grandparents. She’s not sure, though, if he’ll remember them since the last time he saw them was six months ago, or if she’ll be comfortable enough leaving him for that long to enjoy the trip.
Linea has graciously agreed to write two guest posts about her experience to share with our traveling parents. The first one is upcoming that will discuss her anxieties and deliberations over whether or not to take the trip to Scotland sans baby, and the second she will write after the trip is complete so we can hear from her how it actually went- for her and baby! It will be lovely to hear about Linea’s experience with re-acquainting her traveling baby-turning-toddler with family.