Owen didn’t have any toys while we were traveling. He was 12 weeks old at the beginning of the first trip, just when he started to grab and hold things from our hands. Sometimes I imagine other babies at his age playing with colorful toys and noise makers and feel perhaps he is missing out on something. Babies acquire distinct abilities and skills through each developmental stage, such as turning head, smiling, following a moving object, holding things, sitting up, etc. They’re also known as milestones. Our pediatrician asks us whether Owen has reached all the milestones at each visit. We always nods our heads in response even though we have not gone over everything on a checklist. Some parents play an active leading roll in reaching these milestones by making little exercises and props for their babies. We take a more observational role, always surprised and excited when we see him doing something new, which is quite often. No one wants to feel their kid is behind on a developmental milestone. However, I also understand that each kid develops at its own pace and milestones don’t always happen in the same sequence. I’m not worried about when Owen can sit, crawl or stand or walk. I can see he’s working hard on those things every awaking moment and sometimes waking up during a nap just to practice them.
As for sensory developments, Owen has been exposed to so many more lush colors and settle variations on the trail. He experienced everything as they are in multiple dimensions, rather than printed on a page or simulated plush toys. He got to hear real birds sing in their habitat. He saw flowing streams and waterfalls and heard the sound of rushing water. He felt the breeze and saw leaves move in it. He experienced the rhythm of the day as it is with the sun moving through the sky and each night leading to a new day. I am amazed at how well he had adjusted to his surroundings despite the fact he literally woke up in a new environment every time he opened his eyes. If anything he might have had a sensory overload. I held him close and sang the same songs over and over again. Our presence and our voices were his constant. A baby at this age really doesn’t need much other than his mom. It’s doubtful that he will be able to recall anything from our travels. I can’t quantify how or how much, but there is no doubt that these impressions have been impactful on his developlment.
When we’re off the trail we often stayed with trail angels. It’s delightful to see him interact with strangers. Peter is not particularly talkive or expressive. So compensate for a rather subdued household, I try to expose Owen to as many social interactions as possible. I love seeing him studying people’s faces, looking for colorful clothing, shinning jewlry and listening to their unique tone and voices. Baby at a very young age can tell if someone is speaking a different language than their mother tongue. Owen’s face when he heard a group of German speakers said it all. It’s nice when people tell me he’s a cute and happy baby. To me the best complement will always be that he is a very interactive, social and alert baby, which we have often gotten as well.
Now that we are back home again I try to keep him entertained with little toys. He is less interested in playing with them with his hands than to explore them in his mouth. I took out for the first time a battery operated toy my mom got him a few months ago. I left him on the floor with it for a couple of minutes and recorded this video when I came back to him. The toy has three keys, each with a distinct color and animal noises. It activates one key by sound and light then prompts the user to locate it again by pressing on it. It didn’t occur to me until minutes later that he was actually following the cues from the toy by repeated pressing the “right” button. He probably doesn’t understand the commands from the toy. It’s more likely that he is following the visual cue of buttons being lite up. It is intriquing that his timing fell perfectly in sync the visual and verbal prompts when the commands rotated through all three buttons. This was hard to illustrate to Peter when Owen is distracted by us or other things. For a baby who has been physically attached to me most of the time up until now, I am both delighted and sad to see him developing the ability for independent play. It is something I will continue to foster for a long time to come.