This story originally appeared on RealSimple.com.
My daughter Audrey is two years old and she’s lived in thirty-three states, forty-seven cities, and one foreign country. She has had her feet in both oceans, hiked the Grand Canyon, and traveled in planes, trains and automobiles. Until a few weeks ago, she’s never lived in a permanent “home.” And it’s one of the best decisions we ever made.
My husband is an actor. In December 2014, when I was three months pregnant, he was cast in the national tour of the Broadway musical Matilda — a fantastic opportunity. We were elated! But we knew that if we chose to go, it would mean giving birth to our daughter on the road and traveling the country with her for the foreseeable future. We knew it was crazy, but we knew we had to say yes. What we didn’t predict was the enormous impact it would make on how we now choose to view and live life, and especially how we raise our baby. Three of the most valuable things I learned about parenting on the road:
1. Experiences Matter More Than “Stuff.”
I remember feeling overwhelmed at having to whittle down my baby registry to only the things that could fit in the back of our car. It worried me there were so many things that I wouldn’t have and I would miss. But after traveling for a few months with only a minimal amount of baby gear, I found myself purging even more! We just didn’t need that fourth baby blanket and all those baby mittens… socks worked just as well.
As Audrey got older we got creative with books and toys. We made good use of the local libraries in each city and we discovered that pots and pans make great drums, a box really is more fun than the actual toy, and blankets and pillows can be turned into the coolest fort. She may not have had every last gadget and toy, but she got to experience the sights and sounds of nature and the noises and colors of big cities. For us, too, there is something really magical that happens when you see something new for the first time through the eyes of your child. It brings a greater appreciation and wonder that, as adults, we sometimes we forget to have.
2. It’s the People and Not the Place That Make a Home.
In her two years, our daughter has called apartments, hotel rooms, large suburban houses, and everything in between “home.” I’ve wondered on more than one occasion if she will ever really understand what that word means. The truth is, she knows that it’s not the square footage, the color of the walls, or whether her backyard is directly out her back door or a few city blocks away that matters. Instead, I believe she understands that “home” is the space that we occupy together, as a family, for any amount of time. There have been many times when we were driving home from grocery shopping or taking public transportation back from a museum and she’s asked, “Are we going home?” Her next questions are always, “Go see Oscie [our dog] and Daddy?” It’s very clear to me that her understanding is that if we are all there, we are home.
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3. The Adaptability of a Child is Infinite.
I often marvel at my daughter’s capacity to experience change and take it on with serious grace and guts. I believe that, more often than not, children are always ready to adapt and to adjust — its usually us grownups who are having difficulty. The times that I felt Audrey resist, I realized, were the moments when I found myself resisting. When I was able to take a deep breath and recalibrate my own expectations, I would see her do the same in half the time. This remarkable quality is something that I hope to continue to cultivate throughout her childhood, even as we settle back into one place for the time being.
It was never an easy or uncomplicated decision we made to live the first two years of our life as a family in constant motion. It was, however, an immensely empowering and eye-opening experience. I’m so glad that we said “yes” to doing something so outside the box of what is considered normal, and I feel grateful for how it has shaped us as both a family and as parents. I hope that our daughter creates her own life with this same willingness to simply try — because when you choose that mindset, the possibilities really become endless.