In an effort to describe rather than prescribe here for a change, I’m going to do our trip report as a letter to my 16-month old daughter.
You are such a wonderful traveler in our family. I don’t mean just that you’re good on the airplanes, which you are, but that you are resilient, patient, curious, and fun to be with. You’re also helpful with ingratiating us to other travelers because you’re just so interesting.
This June, you took 6 flights! That’s a lot for a toddler who is all about moving. Any chance you have to climb, run, jump, you take, so being confined is a challenge we try to prepare for. The logistics are: board the plane at the last possible moment, don’t pre-board because that’s more time confined to the tiny seats, find activities that will keep you entertained, let you get away with stuff that keeps you calm and distracted, and let you walk around in the aisles beauty-pageant style, waving at the other passengers.
We left for Fort Myers, Florida, on a Friday morning. You enjoyed the play area in the Admiral’s Club, then happily rode on your dad’s lap for the 2.5 hour flight. You were entertained by the same old crayons, finger puppets, and 6 Duplos left in your travel bag from the trip to Austin. Landing was tough because, well, you seem to poop on the landings. Your ears don’t seem to bother you. Lucky.
We had to stop on the way to the hotel at Target, where we bought you a ball that you chased around the near-empty store with your dad while I found peanut butter, jelly, and a few other supplies to keep us from spending hundreds on hotel food during the week. (He still had to run back to Target once while in Florida.) It was so hot and I was really worried we’d made a horrible mistake bringing you here just so we could have a relaxing beach vacation. It worked out to our advantage in that department that you still take two naps per day; we were able to avoid the hottest hours mostly because we were back in the hotel napping and relaxing with you.
It was just what we were looking for this time around. I would have preferred a more interesting location. Sure, the island and Ft. Myers are pretty enough, and relaxed, but we wanted to go somewhere neither of us have been. When we looked at the challenges of our other itineraries, though, it was just too much time in the car for you to have any fun and for us to relax. We wanted to enjoy nature, swim, nap, be able to talk to each other.
Most mornings in Sanibel, your dad woke with you. (He kept you on central time, which was perfect because we could sleep in by an hour.) He took care of breakfast and, honestly, almost every single need you had all week because he wanted to be with you after a long bit of travel. I slept and rested and watched you like I normally can’t when I’m caring for you 100%. I’d wake up and maybe we’d get ready for the pool. We’d try to get to the pool before your first nap, then while you napped, we could relax or shower, ready for lunch by the time you woke. Then we’d try lunch or another activity.
We went to a beach on Sanibel Island after that first nap one day, but it was so hot we didn’t even spend an hour out there. It was enough time to introduce you to the ocean (Gulf) and find some beautiful shells Sanibel is known for. From there, we went to the Lighthouse Cafe on the island, where you ate your favorite: scrambled eggs and banana slices.
It’s been my dream to see your face when you first saw the ocean. But I don’t remember what you looked like, if you noticed it. You’re so easygoing that we all just kind of walk along and sometimes I forget that you’re doing something new for the first time. But it doesn’t mean you don’t wonder at the world. Several times this week, I saw a slight look on your face, knowing that you were just coming to see something for the first time, and I was moved.
Also? You relied on your dad’s strength so much this week, taking cues from him to be confident and brave in new situations. You’re pretty brave on your own, but with him, you are a daredevil. I love this and watched you dive into the pool with him countless times because you knew he had your hands. You knew he was watching out for you, which is what I told you when you were born: “That is a good guy to have on your side.”
You aren’t adventurous with food right now, but you ate what we ate all week. You shoveled down breakfasts at the resort, nibbled at fish and quinoa at Doc Ford’s, and asked for more ketchup everywhere. People love to watch you eat, like they’ve never seen a toddler who loves food, enjoys being at a table, and we credit that to realizing that you are best left to your own devices when eating. Whenever there was a “food disaster” it was because we were trying to interfere with your plan. Sorry about that.
We tried to hike at the wildlife preserve on Sanibel during your naptime. Maybe if we’d traveled with a stroller instead of our ubiquitous Ergo carrier, you would have slept. We tried, you tried, but sleep didn’t come and it was too hot to be snuggled against your dad’s body for a 4 mile hike. Sorry about that, but at least we saw some birds and some crabs. After that we went to the Island Cow cafe, where you pointed out all. the. cows.
One night we went to Dairy Queen on the beach in Ft. Myers and you had ice cream for maybe the third time. I made your dad take your top off for this because there was no way a bib would stand in the way of the mess to come. So fun! Thanks for letting me run through the shops in the area, too. I don’t get to putter around like I used to now that you are here, and mostly I’m OK with that. Sometimes, I like to wander and let my fingers graze the shelves of souvenirs, though. Again, though, most of the credit goes to your dad for being the primary parent, on his toes to keep you in check.
You mostly slept well, but I think you naturally wake up just a little bit at about 5:30 usually, and when you realized we were in the same room with you, you wanted to engage with us. We tried to take you into our bed to go back to sleep, but no such luck for a baby who has never co-slept/bedshared in her life.
We spent a half day at the Imaginarium in Ft. Myers. where we let you loose among other toddlers and kids. We stood back so you could interact with other kids playing with a plain old train set, climb stairs, or throw a ball around an exhibit trying to illustrate Newton’s laws of motion. This visit helped you tons. It relaxed you from the stress of trying to behave well at restaurants and in other grownup situations. It was an okay children’s museum, but it was just what our family needed. You checked out real sharks and snakes and alligators. You played with a boy and some trains. There were puzzles and it was all just right for you. Plus, it was air-conditioned for us and a nice drive through Ft. Myers. Next time I am there for work, I will visit the Ford & Edison winter estates for myself and putter around.
On the last day, we stayed close to home so we could do laundry and pack. We took our shells back down to the beach at the resort so we could return them to the ocean, built a sandcastle, and were ready to leave. It rained for the first time that last night, while we were out to dinner, revisiting Doc Ford’s, where I really liked the food. The next day we left for the next leg of our trip in Minnesota, visiting family for the long weekend.
This whole month of travel with you is something I’ll treasure. First, I felt so empowered by flying to Austin alone with you. Then, I watched you flourish more in new surroundings. The trip to Sanibel made our family closer than we have been in a while. Rob and I complete each other’s sentences again. He let me step back from the stress of sometimes being a single mom. And I watched you just… see.
It’s different, this travel-with-baby. It’s slower, but also we have to be ready to get out the door immediately after you wake from your nap if we want to do something like get to a particular restaurant or go to the beach. We probably missed some cool places. I don’t care. You were there.
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