I just returned from my first solo cross-country trip with my baby. It was her sixth trip since she was born ten months ago, and my second time flying with her by myself.
People tell me I'm "brave" or "impressive" for traveling with her, and ask me how I do it. I decided to blog about it when a mom friend asked me for advice, pending a big trip of her own.
I should begin by saying I don't aim to demonstrate courage or impress anyone by traveling with Alicia, first at 5 weeks old, again at 3 months old, and as she gets bigger from there.
My husband and I travel. He is from a different country; I am from a different coast. Our people are primarily elsewhere, and so we go, to see them, and introduce our sweet baby to them.
It isn't a choice as much as a necessity, and I was incredibly nervous the first time. Alicia was tiny, hadn't had any vaccines yet and we were experiencing postpartum anxiety in a big way.
We covered her while she slept on the plane, to ward away germs; we crowded into the airplane bathroom together for a diaper change, since we were both too nervous on our own.
Experienced traveler parents told us then, and they were right, that it's simpler to travel with a tiny baby who sleeps all the time than a mobile one. Now Alicia is up and ready for action!
I have a few tips for parents traveling for the first time (see below), but mostly encouragement: You will all survive. You will get there, you will get through it, you will come back home.
I am remembering why I was such a late smartphone adopter.
I lost my phone on our recent trip to South America. I thought my husband had it, and he thought I had it, as we hastily exited a plane in Buenos Aires. We were both wrong.
I had some immediate realizations: I’m not that upset; I bet someone will find it and hand it in soon; and, neat! This is cool, that I’m feeling pretty indifferent, and calm!
I thought the airport security officer’s face was priceless, when I explained to her that I really did think someone was going to hand in my phone. I told her I assume best intentions in others.
She nodded, half-smiled, and told me not to hold my breath.
No one handed it in. I would like to think because it was never found and simply vanished into the synthetic airplane seats forever. I spent the last week of our trip phone-less.
It felt very different. I was more present to my family. I borrowed my husband’s phone to check email once a day. I used our nice camera to take pictures when it was worth it. I relaxed.
When we got home, a new phone ($100 on eBay) was waiting in the mail. After we were back a week, I finally went to get a new SIM card and download all my content onto it.
I felt ambivalent about getting my new phone set up, because it had been so nice to not have one. I hadn't been totally MIA; I used my laptop to send iMessages and FaceTime.
What I didn’t have was a palm-size distraction in my back pocket every minute of the day, tempting me to pull it out: take a picture of this, shoot a video, look at texts, check Instagram.
Here’s what didn't happen when I didn’t have my phone:
On our first day in Buenos Aires, my husband and I were walking down a crowded pedestrian mall. Vendors promoting bus tours murmured in English and thrust fliers at us as we passed.
“You’re such a magnet,” my husband said to me in Spanish, rolling his eyes; my light hair and eyes sound the tourist alarm, as we know from many previous strolls in South America together.
This was his first time in Buenos Aires, though (my fifth) and we were more open than usual to guided tours and events. We only had three days to take in a large, beautiful city.
I chatted to Carlos about tango shows I had seen on previous visits here. A young woman immediately appeared at his left elbow. “Tango?” she offered with a smile, holding up a poster.
We stopped and listened as she explained: it was dinner and a show, with an optional free dance class beforehand. Typical for Argentina eating schedules, dinner was served at 10 p.m.
I watched as Carlos’ face registered interest, and thought of how we would normally jump at the offer (and prepare to haggle down the price). We love dancing, eating, and watching shows.
He looked at me; I steeled myself and said, “It would be too late for the baby.” Alicia looked up, big-cheeked and content, from the stroller. “Right,” responded Carlos.
“No, gracias,” I told the woman… and we kept walking.
Two nights later, we find ourselves, for the third night in a row, in a darkened Airbnb studio apartment in Buenos Aires, trying to soothe our baby to sleep.
Theories of why she is currently taking between 2.5-3 hours to get down at night abound: the white noise machine broke; our first night here we got in late; it’s a new place; she is teething.
Regardless of the reason, which we will never know, anyway, she is exhausted and so are we. We take turns rocking her and talking to her; she is distraught every time we put her back down.
My tireless husband lies on the bed with his hand in the crib, talking to Alicia. I perch in the bathroom, laptop balanced on the sink, trying to get through emails and tasks for my textbook.
The next time I poke my head out, wondering why it’s quiet and if Carlos has acquiesced and taken her out again, I see that he is in the crib with her, rubbing her back and reassuring her.
I stand there watching, resting my head on the doorframe for a moment. I knew my husband would be a dedicated and sweet father; let’s add this to the (ample) evidence that I was right.
It’s past midnight. I walk over to remind him we are due to give her another chance to soothe herself to sleep. Turning off the lights and getting into bed, we hear Alicia start to cry again.
Her cries turn to screams. The calm resignation that has characterized the last few hours is gone. We are impatient and frustrated; Carlos heads to the bathroom without saying a word.
I sit on the edge of the bed, my back, neck and arm aching as I cradle Alicia for another feed. I wonder if time this will do it. I see the glimmer of light from under the bathroom door and sigh.
This winter, when I was talking to my spiritual director about how different things felt in my marriage after having a baby, she responded by saying, “Well, you are grieving.”
Somehow, it is Sunday, and we are enjoying an asado (Argentine cookout) with dear friends.
Travel is disorienting, in such a lovely way. Last weekend at home in California; now, we are here.
Mi familia argentina, as I like to call them, are very good at being together.
We are staying in a house with the abuela; on the same property live her daughter, with her family.
The other three children live nearby, with their respective families. They all gather every weekend. It's relaxed and casual.
Today we gather for an asado, the typical array of cuts of meat accompanied by diverse salads.
This first international trip with baby Alicia coincides with a stage of unpredictable napping, nighttime waking, teething and biting instead of nursing, separation anxiety.
It's all the aspects of our unfolding life together, manifesting in another place. None of that was left at home.
And yes, a time difference, new environment, and overnight flights complicated all of the above.
But I'm not yearning for home, the routine and familiarity of it.
My mindfulness teacher and I are currently working on distinguishing feeling tones. There are three: we instantly perceive anything that happens as pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral.
From that initial perception, we usually react by judging the experience as good (because we found it pleasant) and want it to happen again, or bad (because it was unpleasant or painful) and wish it wouldn't happen again.
I thought about this today as my baby had trouble sleeping. She alternated between fussy, crying, and screaming for almost three hours. I couldn't figure out what to do for her, and while I was mostly calm, at one point I started to despair and cried a bit myself.
When I tried to feed her, she started to nibble. This has happened a few times recently, that she will start to bite down instead of latch on and nurse. It might be because she's teething.
I could always able to nurse her to get her to calm down. Now this happened instead. It made me sick to my stomach, as well as concerned: now you won't sleep OR eat?
I stopped trying to nurse and sat rocking her in her room, hoping she would calm down. She yelled and fought to get out of my arms, her face puffy from exhaustion and crying.
I gave up and went out to the brightly lit living room. I sat down on the couch to call for help.
My mom, sister, and husband didn't pick up. I put my phone away and when I looked down, baby girl had collapsed in my arms and was sleeping.
I stayed there for over an hour, afraid to put her down in case she would wake up again.
Yesterday, the same mysterious child went down easily for three naps and was rested and happy all day.
It's really tempting to call yesterday a good day and today a bad day. It's tempting to label her behavior as good or bad.
That causes me an extra layer of difficulty, though, if I label today as "bad." It sets me up for frustration and self-pity and annoyance at my daughter. What if today just was what it was?
When I am out with Alicia in public, people frequently tell me I have a "good" baby, an "easy" baby. They say that because they see that she is chill and relaxed and smiling.
In that moment, she is helping us share a nice, calm, "good" moment - but I've always hesitated when people say she is good. Does that mean if she was crying, that would make her bad?