We had decided not to return to our home in Somerville at the end of our first year of travel. Could we just keep traveling?
PART 3: WHY NOT TRAVEL?
In January, Oliver's preschool had asked us whether we wanted a slot for him and Vera this September (Oliver has one more year of pre-school before kindergarten). Around the same time, my former employer reached out to ask about my plans for the summer and fall since they were in hiring mode.
We knew we would have to make this decision sooner that we wanted. We ran through the same budget numbers and came to the same conclusion. Even if Oliver could get into the half-day free public preschool in Somerville, the combined childcare costs for him and Vera including after-school, summers, and vacations were comparable to what they would have been this past year. The numbers hadn't changed, nor had the logic.
told them we weren't coming back.
I was committing to being a stay-at-home dad for one more year. In order to afford this, we would have to rent our house out again, which would leave us homeless in September.
But where else could we go? Could we just keep traveling?
While traveling, we were demonstrably doing better in every aspect of our life - our time, our money, our stress, our health, our family, our creativity - than we would have been if I had kept working.
One concern of mine, which has been a concern from the beginning, was Oliver's lack of socialization with kids his age who spoke English during our travels. During this past year, I had considered this to be a temporary sacrifice for the richness of his worldly experience and strengthening of our familial relationships.
But if we spent another year traveling, this would not be temporary. Oliver had been a three and a half year old toddler when we left. After another year, he would be a five and a half year old boy. I couldn't shake a sense of self-indulgent guilt that for two of the most formative years of his life, he would have no friends.
This was further complicated by Vera. When we left, she was fourteen months old. She was portable, took two long naps a day, and was happy to follow along with whatever Oliver was doing. During her naps I had plenty of time to engage with Oliver on crafts, reading, music, or imaginative play, in some synergistic combination of a preschool teacher, best buddy, and dad. When Vera was awake I could corral the two of them into the same activity and keep the party rolling.
That naturally began to change. Vera's stroller became a liability rather than an asset as she insisted on pushing it around rather than being pushed in it. She dropped her morning nap in December after we returned from Europe. She became increasingly independent and competitive with Oliver for toys and attention from Daddy.
Now two years old, Vera is a force of nature, a destroyer of worlds, a whirlwind of perpetual motion, righteously self-determined and devilishly defiant to authority, to the extent I ever had any. She is the absence of ambiguity, white hot with sunshine or bitter cold as ice. She is radiant joy or darkest rage.
These are all qualities I greatly admire in other people's children. But, holy crap, do they wear me out. I might be able to build up a reserve of strength to last through the day if she would ever just let me sleep past six o'clock. This morning it was 4:56.
Gone are those halcyon days of extended engagement with Oliver. Now my morning is a marathon of appeasement, juggling each of their demands while trying to keep things in the house tidy and not broken. One minute they're thick as thieves and the next they're at each others' throats. My only hope of preserving any of our sanity is to get them out the door by 9 AM.
This is the best part of the day. I take them to the playground, beach, hiking trail, library, or even just the grocery store. I can imagine this getting tedious for parents stuck in one place, but since we've been traveling there has always been someplace new to explore every day. I love finding new places with them and seeing the sense of discovery on their faces.
When Vera's nap time finally comes after lunch, I give Oliver his iPad and set to work picking up toys and cleaning the kitchen from breakfast and lunch. By the time I sit down with Oliver my eyes are rolling back in my head from utter exhaustion.
"Don't sleep Daddy, play with me!" Oliver insists.
"OK, I'm not sleeping," I lie. "What are you working on?"
He has a number of great games on his iPad, and I try to make his screen time a social activity for as long as I can stay awake. He builds 3D worlds, records music, creates artwork, and teaches himself Spanish, and we talk about everything he's doing. His favorite activity is dictating and typing emails to his cousins and grandparents.
As enriching as this afternoon iPad time is for him, it's no substitute for the conversation, cooking, science experiments, hands-on play, and crafts we used to do when Vera took two naps. When I finally sit down with him in the afternoon I don't have the energy to engage with him the way I used to.
I am the core of his social world, and even I can't be a good friend to him anymore.
Oliver needed some structured activities, where he could play with other kids, learn from other adults, and focus on creative projects without Vera turning them into confetti.
This summer we enrolled him in a series of week-long half-day camps and other activities with his cousins in New Hampshire and New Jersey: Fairy Tale Camp, Bible Camp (not the same thing), Olympic Sports Camp, a gymnastics class, and swim lessons. He has been thriving in these activities.
The highlight was his group performance at the end of Bible Camp, a youth revival complete with theatrical lighting and video screens. Oliver has seen all of his cousins performing in dance recitals and talent shows over the years, but has never performed himself.
When the chorus came, he screamed the lyrics and leapt dancing into the air, easily the most animated kid on the stage. He was a star.
These are the kinds of experiences I can't give him while we're traveling. This is what he would be missing out on if we were to continue traveling around various foreign destinations month to month. I didn't think we could keep doing it. It wasn't fair to Oliver.
Did this mean we would just have to rent a house somewhere near home for the year?
If this past year has taught us anything, it's that there's always another way, and it's usually a better way.
accepted a generous offer from Erin's parents to live in their second home in Cambridge, England for six months during the next year.
This will allow us to settle down for a while while still satisfying our insatiable travel bug. We'll have a base of operations to continue exploring the UK and Europe, but also be able to get Oliver involved in activities with kids his age that he can get to know over several months.
To be continued...