Adjusting to change

untitledYou will be surprised at how adventurous your child/ren can be.  I thought I was being adventurous until my eldest son happily ate snails in France, or would try a different flavour gelati whenever we treated ourselves to one…(I always go for boring strawberry…), or when asked what  he would like to do next (we had to leave the EU), he said camping (not home!).

But it’s not always smooth sailing.  Our first week in Santiago, and my son would tell us “taxi’s” are bad …our 3 years of repeating our safety first motto regarding travel in our  car, had worked…but it worked against us in Santiago, as he didn’t have his special car seat nor would we always find seatbelts… It wasn’t a bad thing… we looked out for seatbelts when we could, and only used a taxi for special need trips.. e.g. with luggage or hard to get to places… Even so, after a little while my son was sticking out his finger too when needed…  Kids are good that way, they don’t carry the same “baggage” adults do….  It might take a couple of hours, a day, two weeks but kids can and do adjust their reality… It might take a day or two to figure out which language to speak – is it Hola or hello here?   My son might start talking to another kid in English in the playground before he realises they speak French…. or vice versa….

paris donkey walk may13 347So what sort of routine/ norms are you creating for your children?

If having chocolate eclairs for breakfast is the norm (and believe me it wouldn’t be so hard  in France), then so  be it, if having a siesta and 10pm bedtime is the norm in your child’s life than so it will be and  if walking for 8 kms a day is your family’s  reality, then so it is.  Will it go pear shaped if your kids don’t have a bath every night before bed?.. no not really…  In fact, when they do get to have a  bath they will love it, and will even ask for it!

Thankfully, some routines or habits can be  changed if you want to, and it is much easier to do this if you are no longer living in that environment….  For instance, we were very glad to move onto our boat and change our habit of morning tv in our London apartment.  So nothing needs to be set in concrete.  Some things will change as you change environments and as your children change too.  Celebrate the differences your children are experiencing – its not everyday they get to be in a different country and when you need to, help them find the connection and familiarity in their experiences.

watching dora in French...kids aren't so different!
watching dora in French…kids aren’t so different!

Finding the familiar in the unfamiliar

It is not as difficult as you think to find or create the familiar in an unfamiliar environment…  For example: conversation with my eldest son when we first arrived in an apartment overseas:

“what do you know, the landlady’s name is peppa (the name of my son’s favourite show peppa pig) and our apartment number is 7 (my son’s favourite number!).  In Santiago, we rented the same apartment a number of times  (for the familiarity), rather than change each time we returned to Santiago to buy/sell our car and fly in and out of the capital.  So each time we returned to Santiago it was exciting and nice to be back in a familiar space.  Not just  for the apartment, but for the location and building itself also.   We could wander out and my son knew when we were back in our street and which one was our apartment block.

In London, we stayed in the same apartment for 3 months (thanks to a family member’s generosity) and again it helped when  my eldest son was able to identify familiar surroundings and locate where he was.  It probably takes about 1-2 weeks for my kids to familiarise themselves in a new environment.

Flying to London was  exciting not just for the plane journey but because he would see his “zia”.    I could talk to him about the time I had spent in London when I was younger.    We got excited about seeing double decker buses, seeing a real palace, dinosaur museums,  the home of  Peppa pig and some of his favourite shows.

Now that we are in a boat, my son loves his boat bed and “room” (its an 8m boat, but its a room as he knows it…).  I have covered the  walls with  postcards he received for his birthday, drawings he has made, and his beloved treasure box is above his bed.

When your overseas and out in the parks/town remind your children that the kids they are seeing in the playground aren’t so different to them, help them strike a conversation or start a conversation yourself with their mothers, notice the fire hydrants in this country are yellow instead of red (Chile), but they still have them!!  Most importantly, even if you learn a few words in another language use them so  it becomes familiar to your children.

Count in French/Italian/Spanish etc. when you play hide and seek.   Even my not yet two year old understands ‘besito’ (kiss) and ‘vamos’ (lets go) in Spanish and can say “bon jour, au revoir and bon nuit” (French) so that its understandable.   Local people will love it…!!   Your kids will make you look incompetent!!!  In each country there are a few words that we then take as our own – and we use these with each other even if its just a morning or a night greeting.

Just like for adults,  home can seem a lifetime away, and what happened 3 months ago can seem a lifetime ago for kids too.  3 months of grey London spring and  my son on our first sunny day in London complained “its too sunny….!!”  (this is after spending 6 months in hot South America).  When we experienced a few cold days in autumn time in France, my son again complained its too cold when on our boat… I had to gently remind him that only 6 months ago, he was in a tent in southern Patagonia!!   So routine and normality are whatever you make it, and you will be surprised by the things your kids do or don’t remember. One year on into our travels, and one of  my eldest son’s fonder memories from Chile is of a homeless man giving him a dragon key ring…he still treasures it.

My son  has told me he wants to be an explorer….would he still choose this, if we weren’t travelling?  Maybe…. he also wants to be astronaut, own a toy store etc….many kids whether travelling or not, dream of adventures to be had….  My children will have a lifetime of experiences, which will shape who they are, as well as other factors such as personality, family, external relationships, etc.  This time away, will not be the be all and end all of who they are, or who they will become.  But it will hopefully, give them wonderful memories of not just travel, visiting other countries, but most importantly of us and our time together.  If that’s all that remains for them of our time away, I will be happy, if not a little broke….

 

Are kids really adaptable?

We have been overseas for almost one year now.  We have flown across two oceans, travelled in two continents and had various homes during this time.    What I have  learnt very quickly is that children are adaptable, accepting and able to cope and deal with change.  Some changes they will cope with  better than others.  We have good days and bad days, much like life at home.  We cannot control everything in our sons’ environment nor would we wish too, for us, that isn’t what life is about…  We do however, make sure that both our sons safety, health and well-being are our top priority, along with ours, no matter where we are.

paris donkey walk may13 207
adjusting to our new travel companions

Familiar routines and consistency can exist anywhere, even when in a different country and even when on the move  (e.g. we eat, sleep, read bedtime stories, brush teeth before bed, have morning cuddles,  etc)  and  a “home” can be created and exist in different forms – whether it be a tent, car, boat etc.  Most importantly as a family we are the stable unit in both our sons’ lives, and we would have to agree wholeheartedly, with whoever said, “home is where the heart is’.

Before leaving Australia, I thought it was imperative that we travel in a mobile home e.g. thinking motor home.  I felt that we needed to have a mini home away from home, not necessarily because we needed all the conveniences but because I thought my children wouldn’t cope otherwise and I thought it was the only way we could really travel as a family of four.

 

Our tent became our new home for 4 months
Our tent became our new home for 4 months

What I discovered once we were on the road in South America was that a tent can suffice as a home, and my kids loved the car we travelled in just as much as the tent.  While we predominately camped in the tent we did use other accommodation when in cities/towns, when it rained and when we just wanted a little piece of luxury – like a good hot bath….  My kids coped well with moving into different accommodation, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend staying in hotels/accommodation if  moving every day – that becomes tiresome for everyone…!!

While my 14 month old son sometimes got overexcited when in a new bed and by the new surroundings, my 3.5 year old coped surprisingly well.    He had gone from sleeping in our room in Australia to being quite happy sleeping in all sorts of beds – bunk beds, sofa beds, a mattress on the floor bed etc…  This was the biggest adjustment and yet one which he coped the best with, and that surprised us the most..    We were impressed with his ability to cope with this change, and his level of comfort and readiness for his own space wherever that might be.

When we are about to undertake a new change we do our best to prepare our kids, whether its catching a plane somewhere, leaving a city, buying/selling our car that has been our home for the past 4 months etc.    Kids are pretty good at experiencing their emotion in the  present time and  then having experienced it they are also better at letting go and accepting the “new” reality more easily than adults sometimes.  By the time we had spoken to our kids about selling our car, they were  already excited about the plane trip we were about to  undertake and arriving in London.  Often its  perspective and how things are presented that  helps the most.   It doesn’t have to be frightening if you don’t make it so.

How will travel change your child’s behaviour?

Has travel dramatically altered our sons behaviour?  While we travel, one of my son’s has grown from a crawling 12 month old to a full blown toddler.  My eldest son has grown  from a 3  to a 4 year old.  These changes in themselves bring their own sets of behaviours and personality developments.   Sometimes it can  be hard to separate which is what – would my son be having this tantrum/meltdown if we were at home?   Who knows.  If your child had a complete personality change while overseas than yes, it would probably be a worry/indicator…

Yes our eldest son,   has moments where he gets angry, sad, frustrated etc., but nothing more than what we think he would experience at home or what we know his temperament to be… All children are different, and different kids will react/respond/behave in different ways to new situations.

Definitely    things like jet-lag and tiredness, or a new  change  can mean he is more susceptible to grumpiness but this usually takes about a week or two of adjustment with parental understanding and sensitivity ( if you can manage it, in your jet-lag state too).

Yes, there  will be times when your children will tell you – they miss home, family members/friends, that they don’t like something or somewhere they’ve been.   And that’s okay.  It doesn’t happen often and when it does we tell him we miss our friends too, that they will be there when we get home, and we make opportunities to write/ Skype/ etc.  Sometimes what they miss is not even about home any more, but part of what they have experienced during their travels (my son really took a liking to London).

parque quelat
Seeing some natural wonders – Parque quelat in Chile

Sometimes just as you may be feeling that all this travel is way too hard, your son comes up with gold – he talks about the new friend he met, he tells you “I want to go to German so I can speak  German” (after meeting German travellers),  he play acts with his toys using Spanish words, he makes volcanoes and mountains out of sand, castles out of rocks, he tells someone who asks him what he thinks of camping/country/ city he is in, and as you wait with abated breath, he smiles and his eyes light up and he tells them, he loves it.

I remember being in a Chile National park and turning to my son and saying this is why I love to travel, to come and see this, pointing to the awesome view of a natural wonder (the siete tazas).  My son got excited saying   “I want to go to all the lived places in the world”

Recently, he started asking us to go to other places – “can we go to Africa/Asia”…or  he has told us that he wants to be an explorer when he grows up.  This is when  you realise that this journey may not end any time soon and suddenly your not sure whose driving this adventure any more………!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making the decision to go – is it the best or worst decision you could make?

Packing up home, leaving your city/country, saying goodbye to family and friends to head off for an indefinite period of travel….. is this really the best or the worst decision you could make for your family??  Will it be something that your kids will  love, hate,  hold against you forever, or never want to return home from??

Will they grow up to be scared of change, or embrace new situations and opportunities?  Will they never want to leave home again (e.g. not even when they’re 40!) or will they be on a new world adventure before they hit puberty??    Will it make them smarter, brighter, the next Nobel peace prize winner,  or will it completely confuse them…    And most importantly, will there be more or less tantrums…!!!!

What about the impact on your family as a whole?  Will it turn into a nightmare holiday or the cherished experiences of a lifetime?  Will you want to kill each other or grow closer as a family?  Will you leave only to return in a week, a month or never??  Will your kids adjust, enjoy, find playmates, rekindle old family ties and friendships when you return or will these special relationships be lost forever??   Will it be the best of the worst time of your life??    And most importantly will your relationship survive??

All these questions and more have entered my mind at some point.   My biggest concern was losing those familial connections…  I grew up without cousins, aunty’s uncles etc. because my parents migrated from Italy to Australia and a big expanse of ocean filled that gap. Having said that, I have spent lots of time visiting family in Italy and I know that these relationships can still exist – living in the same street or even country doesn’t  necessarily equate to  great family relationships.

I don’t know the answers to any of these questions and that’s okay because it may be that we will experience some of all of the above…

What I do know, is that whatever  experiences my children have, whether positive or negative, these will  all be life experiences that we are undergoing  together as a family… I also know that we can contribute positively to those experiences by the way we as parents deal with any of the challenges and learnings we face….I also know from travelling overseas previously that relationships especially important ones can last the distance, and we have a lifetime to nurture these.

Don’t fool yourself, the primary reason your travelling is for you.  This is yours and hopefully your partners desire – it doesn’t mean it may not become your children’s though..  Ask your kids initially – before leaving home, and they’ll probably say that they are quite happy thank you very much, hanging out at their local park/playground/home with friends and playing with their toys etc….

So why do it??  Exactly, my son’s question “Why?”

When faced with this question, I paused for a moment… how to  explain that this is our choice….  not one forced upon us through circumstance, hardship (as my parents had done), a new job or re-location.  We are  actively choosing this even though we have no idea what’s in store…crazy when I stop and think about it sometimes!

As simply as we could we spoke to him about wanting to spend time together as a family, sharing something we both enjoy with our boys, seeing and experiencing the things that we often only read about in a book and  giving examples from our past travels such as meeting people that are our good friends today.   Travelling  gives us family time, helps us to teach our son about the world by experiencing it first hand, and who better to do that then us his parents.. So, be prepared for THE question…. WHY??   What possible playground, park, friend, toys etc. could be overseas that aren’t at home (and please don’t use Disneyland!).

octobernovemberSantiago2012 046
what was left of our furniture

We thought we had considered both the emotional and practical needs of this big life transition for our kids.  While we had not booked tickets until a month before departure (all dependent on the sale of my husband’s sole trader business), we did begin to prepare about 6-8 months earlier.   We organised  a big house clean up, a garage sale, charity donations, ebay sales  etc…..  Although we  spoke lots about it part of me was probably still unsure whether this would actually ever eventuate….

My son had coped well with this process so far,  better than we thought – he chose what toys to take, what toys to sell, what toys we could pass onto family and friends, what to pack.  He was better at letting go of our “stuff” than I was… He went with his dad to take his special packed boxes to storage to see where our things would live while we were away.   Even when the house was mostly empty except for some kitchen wares, our bed, and a few last boxes, my son still seemed okay.

What we didn’t quite anticipate was his reaction when the last bit of furniture left the house and we were leaving to live at our granddad’s house….. Suddenly seeing the house empty and having to leave, was  very emotional and overwhelming for him…..   We could’ve kicked ourselves for not giving more thought to this “finality”  as for the two of us it was just the last of the practicalities.

We returned a few more times to the empty house and our son soon lost interest in coming back to the house.  It meant that when we were overseas the return to home or his room, (which was now occupied with other people), didn’t quite have the same appeal.

The best thing we did was not go straight from leaving our house to the airport and on a plane!!  That would’ve been utterly disastrous…. We spent a week at  our granddad’s house so that we were still in a familiar space even after saying goodbye to our home.   A week later, after our last goodbye’s to family and friends, we boarded our flight with our two young boys, headed for Santiago Chile.  Tired, excited, nervous and barely believing that we had made it this far….

chile-london apr 13 100