Tag Archives: adventure toddler

Family Fieldwork V2.0: Notes from the Field

The last three weeks zoomed by on this little island, and we are wrapping up data collections and switching over to conference mode for our last week in Hawaii.

So how is it going? The short answer is fairly well. We (I) spent a huge amount of time prior to arriving carefully selecting a house that was suitable for kids and grandparents, planning travel to arrive a few days early so we could adjust & set up, finding local stores and restaurants, sussing out activities for them, and packing items like power outlet covers and night lights so we could quickly “baby-proof” the beach house. These efforts paid off, as the children made a fairly smooth transition to life in Hawaii. We had a very long day of travel and arrived after their bedtime, so thankfully they were tired enough to sleep until 5am local time the first morning (that’s 10am in Virginia- they usually would wake up at 7:30). Joey was good to go after that. Blake had a few tough nights and we had a little more trouble getting his nap schedule on track, but we are now cruising along with a good routine for everyone. The team agreed that the most crucial piece of planning to everyone’s happiness was the house – easy walk to the beach, bedrooms for everyone plus a lab, and a spacious backyard safe for the kids to play in.

We got into work relatively quickly, sorting out instruments, unpacking gear, and connecting with local colleagues. We had tank experiments up and running within days. Weather kept us off of the water longer than we had hoped, but we managed to start collecting in-water data within a week of arrival and are now on track. Our first week was very busy and the boys started asking for more time with us. Thankfully we crossed off a few big hurdles early on (tank experiments!) and were able to adjust our schedule so that we had a fun family activity with them every few days. We are living in Kailua on the windward side of Oahu, so grand adventures like kayaking, hiking, and swimming are easily within reach for morning play before nap.

The boys love spending time with their grandparents, and the beach is a few minutes walk from our front door, so in general their days are spent playing in the sand, swimming in the surf, and enjoying our luxurious backyard complete with banana trees while Simon & I work. When the weather keeps us off the water and/or we are able to schedule half a day off, we take them further afield to different parts of Oahu for hiking, beaches, tide pool exploration, and a couple of memorable boat & kayak excursions.

We have almost completed our data collections, both in water and in tanks with collaborators at the University of Hawaii. We have a few instruments still taking data that we need to pick up early next week before we ship our equipment back to NRL on Thursday, but otherwise we are starting to clean and pack gear. In terms of work, we have shifted to preparing our presentations for the ASLO Meeting this week. My talk is tomorrow morning, so I’m finalizing the details of my powerpoint presentation today while Simon takes the kids on a rock pool adventure (apparently the sea urchins were their favorite animal). We are also taking care to back up data, start running codes for quality control, and organize our notes and photos from the trip.

A few highlights from our time here include Joey’s growing knowledge of sea animals. After reading a couple of books about sea turtles ingesting trash by mistake, he has led us on quite a few beach clean-ups. Blake is now walking confidently on grass, sand, and rocks. Both boys love to play in the ocean, and scramble around on dark black lava rocks in bare feet with smiles on their faces. We are very happy with our decision to bring them along, and are immensely grateful to the spoilers (Grammy & Papa) for caring for the boys so well and on an ever-changing schedule while we take care of our fieldwork requirements and juggle work needs with family time.

Baby & Toddler Swim

I could swim before I could walk. Never in my memory have I approached water without feeling confident in my ability to paddle around, navigate, or jump in. This was something that I very much wanted for my children.

Our first concern was safety – we are on the water often, and hope that our boys will not panic in an emergency if they are unexpectedly submerged. However, we also wanted to give them a true sense of confidence and understanding that would help them enjoy the ocean (and pools, lakes, and rivers) more as they grow. Finally, Simon really wanted to replicate the Nirvana Nevermind album cover.

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Joey loves jumping in – we always (try to) keep it fun for them

In the 2010s, teaching your infant or toddler to swim freely is not a straightforward task. The baby swim classes that my mom had taken me to don’t seem to exist anymore, at least not where we live. The premise that very young babies (less than six months) have an innate reflex to hold their breathe underwater, and will retain this with practice, seems to have been buried under concern of frightening children. It is our opinion that not knowing how to swim is a far more frightening option, but getting to the task at hand, there were no public or private lessons we could sign up for. We had to do swim school ourselves. For those that would like to try something similar, we found the following three resources immensely helpful. However, the most important thing was consistency and lots of time in the water. Experience is invaluable – I was far more successful with Blake than Joey at a young age.*

Little gear is needed – we used bath toys that we already had and let Joey pick out goggles at Target. One item that was immensely helpful in winter and spring was small wetsuits – both of our boys get cold quickly at an indoor pool. We like this one for infants and this one for toddlers.

Joey & Blake will now go underwater happily and hold their breath. They kick and paddle their arms to propel themselves, but don’t go far without adult help. I have let them lead the way for lessons in terms of what they are comfortable with. There are days when they don’t want to submerge, so we don’t. There are days when they enthusiastically ask for more, so we do. I had imagined far grander things, but for now I’m glad that we have been able to get them both comfortable in the water and solid on breath-holding.

As for the Nirvana photo – it’s a lot harder to replicate than we thought!

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*We are not swim instructors – just enthusiastic parents sharing what worked for our kids.

Travel With Babies & Toddlers – Sleep & Food

We’ve been (happily!) receiving more family travel FAQs since we returned from Japan. At least half are about how to deal with basic baby necessities while on the road, in the air, or overseas. Here are some pro tips we’ve built up over the last few years. Bear in mind that every child is different, and its always important to find the right groove for your family. Our strategy has generally been to be adaptable and teach our kids to do the same, whilst being one step ahead to ensure that they get the nutrition and rest that they need. There is a lot of patience and planning ahead, and we are also more lenient than we would be at home. It is ultimately most important that they eat or sleep – happy baby happy life!

Sleep

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Whatever it takes – an hour of slow laps around the aquarium with two sleeping boys and one tuna.

We have always prioritized our kids’ sleep more than anything else, because we have found that a well rested baby is a happy baby. We knew that there would be lots of trips and outings long before our first was born, so we made an effort to teach him to be somewhat flexible in terms of where he sleeps. In other words, anything goes as long as the kid sleeps – walks in the baby carrier, car rides, co-sleeping, etc. We are more strict at home about keeping them in their beds (at least, the older one 🙂

We always plan ahead so that we have some means to help the boys nap during the day, which is often in a baby carrier or stroller. While this isn’t as great as napping in a bed as they get older, it works for us. The biggest key is to identify when they are starting to get tired and get them comfortable in their napping spot before they pass the threshold to overtired and cranky.

Jet lag is tough for adults and tougher for littles. The same rules that apply to us do them – hydrate well, go outside in daylight hours, and try to force your schedule to local time as quickly as possible. However, between jet lag and activities while traveling, we often wind up with an earlier waking time and earlier bed time while traveling.

Both boys have a bedtime routine that includes certain items. Blake is swaddled every night after receiving his last feeding and PJs. Joey reads stories with his stuffed toys, and brings a stuffed toy into his bed. We maintain these routines on the road, and always bring key items with us (swaddle blanket, a couple of stories, 1-2 stuffed toys of Joey’s choosing).

Even so, it doesn’t always go to plan – which is why we fall back to “anything goes as long as they sleep.” If they will only sleep in the bed with me for the first few nights in a new place, then they can sleep in the bed with me. Trust me when I say that the less tired the kids are, the more enjoyable everyone’s trip is!

Also – me and Simon always come home tired. We no longer ‘vacation’ in the restful sense. (Actually we never did, but it used to be because we spent all of our time diving and exploring!)

Food

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Joey takes apart his sushi at an expensive sushi bar (the chef cut all of his sushi pieces in half!), eating first the fish and then the rice.

This advice also depends on age, but the short story here is that our kids eat what we eat (or some part of it).

For the first year, we combo feed. Breastmilk comes everywhere with me, and we always brought our own formula and bottles to avoid any issues with switching brands/types on them. We usually buy bottled water to mix it with unless we can get access to filtered water.

Once on solids, the children eat what we do, and that continues overseas. Our rule is that they have to try the food, after which it is OK if they don’t like it. Since the rule is the same wherever we go, J has never really questioned it. Like me, he likes some foods and dislikes others when introduced to new things. I will never forget Joey slurping soba noodles with delight in Japan or demanding more sashimi. At the same time, he wasn’t really into gyoza (dumplings) and other items we thought he would like.

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In general bottled water is one of my most hated products, and you will never see it in our house. I’ve had to bend on this too because its more important to me that the children have clean drinking water.

As with sleep, we are more lenient with food when we are away from home. Processed/packaged foods that are normally not around our house are provided at opportune moments. Joey still calls Oreos “Peru Biscuits” since he first received them there, and he only gets them when we are traveling. It’s more important to me that they eat something to avoid hanger. There are also inevitable long, boring, waits associated with travel and having special treats/snacks helps mitigate that.

I’m used to carrying around a wide array of snacks wherever we go, and I usually stock up on favorites before any trip (fruit/veggie pouches, clif kids bars, goldfish or other little crackers, raisins and other dried fruits). I don’t try to bring enough for the duration of the trip, though, since I’ve always been able to find new and interesting snacks on site. Almost everywhere has some variation on bread, rice, or pasta and fruit – staples of the toddler diet.

J does have food allergies so I always learn how to say and write the offending foods ahead of time, and check labels/ask at restaurants as I would at home.

It can be a whirlwind with a lot of trial and error. We always say we will not plan anything during our first day at a destination, and we almost always wind up doing stuff anyway with catastrophic results. Dinner in particular has been disastrous several times with slow service, new food, and very tired parents and children. I’ve taken a tearful Joey out of restaurants in several countries to go to bed before the food actually arrived, and had Simon bring me leftovers later. Hang in there – it gets better!

Success! Inca Trail & Machu Picchu

We have all three returned home safely from our trip to Peru, after having successfully navigated planes, cars, trains, and four days of trekking the Inca Trail to visit Machu Picchu. I think that overall we can easily say that this trip went well.

The beginning of the Inca Trail
The beginning of the Inca Trail
First day of hiking
First day of hiking

I’ll start with the good stuff. Joey loved hiking in the Poco and camping, and Simon was a champion about carrying him the whole way – including two serious climbs to nearly 14,000 feet! Everyone in our group handled the hike very well, and although it was significantly harder to breath at altitude no one had any serious problems. The tour company, Llama Path, was absolutely

Joey's bed time in the tent
Joey’s bed time in the tent

amazing in terms of service and accommodating all of our needs. This was a case where the journey beat the destination. The hike was extraordinary, traveling through an astonishing number of biomes over four days (near desert, cloud forest, rain forest, high alpine, and more).

Joey makes friends
Joey makes friends

We saw nearly every kind of livestock imaginable, much to Joey’s delight, along with native hummingbirds that squawked and later butterflies that littered the trail. During the first two days we passed several local villages, and the villagers out and about on the trail (their main highway) with donkeys carrying goods. The views were extraordinary, and we were able to visit many Inca sites along the trail. None were quite as magnificent as Machu Picchu, but we had them all to ourselves. After listening to our guide Coco describe the site and give another installment of his on-going history story, we were allowed to explore at our leisure.

Checking out a donkey on the Inca Trail
Checking out a donkey on the Inca Trail

I will never forget the site of Joey playing with his toy Prius on a 500 year old terrace that drops off to extraordinary mountain views, few other people around for miles. The stonework and masonry of the ruins and the trail was quite impressive. While some had been restored, other buildings and parts of the track have been left untouched for over 500 years and appear in near mint condition.

Joey feeds a baby llama
Joey feeds a baby llama

The views from our third campsite (Phuyupatamarca), which is not used by trekkers on the classic 4-day itinerary, were the best of the trip and simply breathtaking. But most of all, climbing the final stone staircase through cool, dark jungle to emerge at the sun gate and gaze over Machu Picchu was an unforgettable experience. After that, taking the bus in the following day for our tour, surrounded by hundreds of people for the first time in days, just didn’t seem nearly as good.

Our favorite campsite
Our favorite campsite

We took the 5 day/4 night itinerary with Llama Path on the Inca Trail. Day 1 was quite easy, nearly flat with one small climb over dusty even track to our campsite adjacent to a very small village/house. We were basically camping in a Peruvian family’s yard, and our group were the only ones in attendance. We stopped at our first Inca site, Llactapacta, and enjoyed impressive views along with extensive hide and seek amongst the many rooms. Day 2 was the most physically demanding, as we moved ahead of schedule to climb over Dead Woman Pass (13,780

Our group at the highest point - Dead Woman Pass
Our group at the highest point – Dead Woman Pass
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Joey practices jumping off of rocks at an ancient Inca site

ft) and then camped between the two mountains in the saddle. The most challenging part of the climb was not our muscular strength or endurance, but our lung capacity. Despite spending two days in Cusco (12,000 ft) to acclimatize we all felt short of breath during the climb. On Day 3, we started off with our last big climb over the second mountain pass then descended to our favorite campsite, Phuyupatamarca. Not only were the views extraordinary, we were visited several times by a group of llamas. Awesome. Day 4 was another early start (we woke at 6am and started walking at 7am most days) as we descended past many Inca sites. We spent so much time at each that we wound up a bit behind schedule at lunch for the first time, and at our guide’s suggestion we walked quickly towards the Sun Gate. Not realizing where we were, we powered ahead and were suddenly faced with several steep staircases. I put my hiking pole away and climbed up with my hands. The forest was cool and dark, but as we neared the top we could see light streaming through. On the other side was the Inca city of Machu Picchu, perfectly illuminated in the late afternoon light.

Made it - Machu Picchu!
Made it – Machu Picchu!

We spent lots of time admiring Machu Picchu as we wound down the trail closer to the city. It was near dusk when we walked past the entrance gate. Then came the only part of the trail I really didn’t like that much – about 1.5 hours of steep downhill stairs to our campsite near the town of Aguas Calientes.

Yoga doesn't stop for hikes
Yoga doesn’t stop for hikes

It was a bit of a buzz kill after thinking we had reached our destination at the Sun Gate! No matter, we made it to the campsite intact and had a last impressive meal with our porters. They head chef even made us a cake! The next day we were up before dawn (3:30) to walk into town and catch the bus to Machu Picchu for the day.

If you are thinking about doing the hike – do it. It is 100% worth it. Simon completed the entire trail with a 50lb bag of toddler and accoutrements (at the front of our group!). I was three months pregnant. Along the way we saw young (10 years old) kids, old (> 65 years old) adults, and individuals that were clearly not fit and/or did not exercise much. Everyone made it. Everyone in our group made it with smiles on their faces.

Joey with his Uncle Peter
Joey with Uncle Peter

The not-so-good. Our first days in Cusco were rough, despite staying in a really nice hotel. Joey was tired, cranky, and not feeling great from altitude. He refused to eat anything, and he refused to sleep unless I was lying next to him (not Simon or anyone else – it had to be me). After being blessed with a fairly chill kid for 1.75 years, we didn’t know what to do with this behavior. We decided to ride it out and gamble on the hike anyway, knowing that Joey loves outside time, his Poco, and tents. Taking a toddler on a group tour has its pros (we didn’t have to cook) and its cons.

Joey also brought Pikachu to Machu Picchu
Joey also brought Pikachu to Machu Picchu

The biggest con was that we had to mold his schedule to the fairly strict schedule set by our guide, which was not designed for small children. We finally had to start putting J to sleep before dinner to avoid extreme crankiness. We often had to duck out of meals or history lessons to take J elsewhere and tend to his needs. Some of our group members and some of our porters took great interest in Joey and would play with him while we set up our tent or got changed, which was a huge blessing. Some of the places we stayed for lunch or to camp were fine for him to wander around, but many were terraces on the side of a mountain, meaning that J required constant attention. While Simon & I had a blast, we were definitely not well-rested!

Was it still worth it? Totally. Would we do it again? Already planning our next trip.

For the finer details on how to take your toddler on the Inca Trail, read Part 2 from Simon. For tips on hiking the Inca Trail while pregnant, read Part 3 from Lauren.

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