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He was just 2 days old, but already the little prince had pulled off his first road trip. Safely buckled into a rear car seat, with his adoring mum sitting beside him and his proud dad in the front, Prince George Alexander Louis made the 54-mile journey from London to his mother's hometown of Bucklebury with such little fanfare that locals didn't even realize he'd arrived. "No one was out on the street to cheer or wave a flag," says one observer, noting that beefed-up security was the only sign that not one but two future kings were in their midst. "Everyone in Bucklebury assumed they would spend a couple of days at Kensington Palace and then come home," says the observer. "They caught the whole village by surprise."

Welcome to Royal Parenting, the William and Kate Way. From the moment His Royal Highness Prince George of Cambridge arrived at 4:24 p.m. on July 22, his parents signaled their intention to forge a path that is both respectful of tradition and "totally modern," a close friend tells PEOPLE. That meant remaining in London long enough for little George's royal grandparents to visit - including his great-grandmother the Queen - before decamping to the Bucklebury home of Kate's parents, Carole and Michael Middleton. It's a move that would have been unthinkable for a future King of England just one generation ago: no palace, no nannies - for now - and no rigid royal rules, but instead a familiar and loving refuge in which to spend the sweet first days with his parents. "For them to go back to Bucklebury shows that Kate wants the security and comfort of her family," says Sarah Dixon, a maternity nurse whose clients have included foreign royals and friends of the royal couple's, "instead of a huge team of staff."

Of course, with 7 bedrooms and 18 acres, "the Manor," as it is known in the village, is hardly an ordinary home, but compared to Kensington Palace - where renovations on a 20 - plus room spread for the new family are still underway- the Middletons' estate is "a more convivial atmosphere," says John Tennant, warden of St. Mary's Church in Bucklebury. What's more, "going to stay with the Middletons allows William and Kate to put their stamp on things," says Marcia Moody, author of Kate: A Biography, "in a way that makes them both feel comfortable."

The move to Bucklebury also offers precious privacy at a time when Kate, 31, needs it most. From the postpartum bump visible under her Jenny Packham polka dots worn while introducing George outside St. Mary's Hospital July 23 to her reported decisions on heavy painkillers during labor (no) and breast-feeding (yes), Kate joined Club Mom with instant icon status (see box, page 82). As she has since she first debuted as a young princess-in-waiting, she is relying on help from her two most trusted supporters: her husband of two years and her mother, Carole, 58. While palace staffers handle the work of logging the thousands of gifts that have poured in - "Thank-yous are sent for all of them," says a source - Carole's priority is her daughter. "Carole will be like a tigress protecting her daughter from everybody," says Majesty editor-in-chief Ingrid Seward. "She will be telling Kate, 'It's time for your sleep, and I will look after the baby' and so on."

Look for Kate to take her parenting cues from her own parents. Carole -a hands-on mom who opted to start the family's lucrative party-planning business in part to afford her more time at home with her three children - was "a disciplinarian as well as being a cooking, baking, arts-and-crafts kind of mom," says Moody. Known to sew her children's names into their clothing, she also drew upon her previous training as a flight attendant to teach her kids "the importance of looking someone in the eye when you speak to them and being a good listener," says Moody. Friends say the more reserved Michael - who popped into a small village grocery on July 25, telling a store employee that Kate and the baby were both doing well - is an even-keeled counterbalance to his bubbly wife of 33 years. "He is very calm," says local pub owner John Haley, who has known the Middletons for 17 years. "He loves his beer and will still have a pint of West Berkshire bitter. He's a lovely fella."

Kate will also seek advice from British baby guru Christine Hill, with whom she and Will attended private classes. In her book A Perfect Start, Hill espouses a less-is-more approach to the newborn days. "The last thing [babies] want at this stage is to be passed around a circle of admirers," she writes. "They need some space for themselves, and so do you."

For his part, William, 31 - whose parents, Princess Diana and Prince Charles, split when he was 10 - has long found in the Middletons the tight-knit family lacking in his own childhood. "He has a normal life when he is with them," says Haley. "They will all wake up and have a cup of tea and watch TV on the sofa in the evening."

Of course, the new parents can only remain in the cocoon of Bucklebury for so long. William will resume his duties with the Royal Air Force as early as next week, while Kate is expected to pick up her public engagements in the fall, albeit on a more part-time basis. "Kate has a role to play, and William is a prince and an army officer - like it or not, his life is really full," says Seward. Yes, the time will come for the little prince to venture out further into the big world, but for now his parents are simply treasuring their first special days together. "Prince George is being well looked after in a very loving, caring environment," says Daniel Nicholls, a Bucklebury local and former Middleton family piano teacher. "This is a wonderful start to his life."

  • Contributors:
  • With Monique Jessen/London,
  • Philip Boucher/Bucklebury,
  • Moira Bailey,
  • Alicia Dennis.