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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.

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On Traveling Without Baby

We used to travel as a couple all the time - that's when we made the vacation deal in the first place.
We used to travel as a couple all the time – that’s when we made the vacation deal in the first place.

We told you about our ‘vacation deal‘ that we had made before Joey was born, and we recently tested it out. The deal was that every year when we had dependent kids, we would go on a vacation as a couple and on another with the kids. These had to be ‘real’ vacations, a bit of a vague term, but we both agreed that an overnight trip locally did not count.

When I say we tested it out, I don’t mean we went to stay at a B&B a couple of hours away for a few days. Simon & I left Joey in the excellent care of his grandparents for nearly two weeks while we traveled to the exact opposite side of the world to go scuba diving for a week. It took us four days to reach our destination (Raja Ampat, Indonesia) and three to get back.

Now we usually travel like this, which we also love.
Now we usually travel like this, which we also love.

We returned home safely and on schedule, well after Joey’s bedtime. The next morning we were eager to get up with him and spend as much time with him as possible. He was only mildly impressed that we had returned, showing more interest in his toys and the dog (possibly the best feature of the grandparents’ resort). After getting re-acquainted over the weekend, he was willing to return to Alexandria with us and get back into the groove of everyday life. Our previous nanny actually left for a full time teaching job (we got this information in Jakarta on the way home), so we got extra time with Joey last week working a split schedule. (We all like his new nanny very much!)

Now that you have the background, this is our executive summary:

The vacation deal is awesome. 

Going on an adventure as a two-some allowed Simon & I to enjoy our favorite activity together – scuba diving. This simply would not have been possible with a one-year old along. It felt very luxurious to transit through airports and go about air travel without a small child. We could talk at leisure, sleep when we wanted, eat at the same time, go to the bathroom when we wanted… More importantly, the vacation did exactly what it is supposed to – we both came home relaxed, happy, and strongly reminded of what is important to us (our family, the ocean, & exploring). The first few days were the hardest, partly because we were just sitting on airplanes. Once we realized that Joey was very happy with his grandparents, we were more relaxed about enjoying ourselves. It was a very special bonding time for the three of them too, and the grandparents’ were hesitant to relinquish him when it was time to go home.

What worked well:

  1. We had several days at the grandparents’ home with Joey before and after the trip to help him adjust. I think this helped everyone.
  2. Traveling over a holiday (New Year’s) meant that my dad had time off of work to help more with Joey and that we didn’t miss as much work.
  3. Lots of updates – my mom was amazing about sending us photos and updates every day.
  4. Do something you couldn’t do with a baby. Had we been lounging on a beach and swimming or hiking and camping I would have felt terrible, since these are activities that Joey really enjoys and participates in.

What I would have changed:

  1. Travel to a closer location. I realized as we were on day three of four getting to Raja Ampat that if Joey were in an emergency situation it would take us days to get to him. Next year we’ll go somewhere a wee bit closer to home

There you have it. As always, you have to do what is right for your family. But if a setup like this sounds fun, exciting, and relaxing to you – it probably will be. It is worth jumping over the initial hurdle to make it happen. All three members of our family are much happier as a result.