Travel Mom vs. the Toddler

I love traveling, particularly international travel. In my early 20s the travel bug bit me hard and I have been finding ways and means to get myself to locales around the world ever since. After living three years in Japan teaching English, I made the decision to take a year off before graduate school and backpack solo through central, Eastern, and Southern Europe, a little of north Africa, and then parts of Asia. I had the time of my life and easily reached fifty countries visited before the age of 30. At present I could qualify for membership in the Traveler’s Century Club.

When I became pregnant more than a few people implied I would need to cut back on the travel. One friend even said she guessed I would not be making any trips for the next five years. Why, I thought, would I want to stop traveling?

I will admit it; I was a little concerned about traveling with a baby. I thought perhaps those people who had said I could not travel with baby C may have been right. Yet, I did not want to just throw in the towel without giving it a try. So when C was five months old I booked a trip over the Memorial Day weekend from Washington, DC to New Orleans. It was a direct flight, there on a regional jet, back on a larger jet. I brought three bottles, plenty of formula, and all the diapers I we would need for the trip. I brought only the baby carrier – no stroller. I cannot tell you the sense of relief and accomplishment I felt when we returned – I had done it! There was no stopping me now!

Our second trip by plane came five months later after arriving in Ciudad Juarez. This time the trip was to Northern Ireland. This required three flights (El Paso to Houston; Houston to Newark; Newark to Belfast) there and back. This time I added the stroller. Not only did I survive the flights, but I even took C on an all day tour bus from Belfast along the coast to the Giant’s Causeway and another day we took a public bus to Derry. I was doing it, really doing it! Baby C and I were officially travel buddies!

My daughter C is now 2 years and 8 months old. She holds two passports, tourist and diplomatic, and has had them since she was four months old. She has visited six countries other than the United States (Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, the United Arab Emirates, Panama, Ireland and the United Kingdom. In the UK she has been to Northern Ireland, Manchester, Liverpool, and the Isle of Man) and at least 19 U.S. states. For her second birthday I enrolled her in the United Airlines Mileage Plus program and within five months she had earned silver status. C has got travel creds.

I do not write this to show off. It is more for me. It is a reminder that I could once do all that.

Of course I was never quite sure how things were going to go. Every time I got on a plane for the next trip, it was like traveling with a different child and/or we needed different gear. She went from needing only formula to needing snacks. She went from being content with just a few books and a single stuffie to requiring more books and stuffies and toys. I bought an iPod Touch. I admit it. I bought a one year old an iPod Touch so I could fill it with baby apps to keep her busy and me sane on our long trip to Dubai. Let me tell you C was a champ on every. single. flight.

However, you know, all good things come to an end, right? I thought it might come when she turned 2 and she could no longer travel as a lap child. Suddenly C has own seat and her own luggage allowance, but for some reason she does not as suddenly start carrying her own suitcase and walking through the airport on her own. Yet, the first several trips went pretty well, even when I had to lug the child seat to check in so we could use it while renting a car in Ireland.

But my wake-up call was coming.

So in May of this year we flew from El Paso, Texas to Manchester, England. We then caught a train to Liverpool, spent a few days there, and then took a ferry over to the Isle of Man. Are you with me so far? It is okay to think I am crazy, but stay with me because it is soon afterwards that I too realize that perhaps I am a tad too travel bold for my current status. We stayed in Douglas, the port town and capital of the Isle of Man. I take C on a bus from Douglas to Peel, on the other side of the island. We walk up the isthmus at the end of the beach to tour the incredible Peel castle (I have the stroller) and then stop for a bite to eat at a small, family-run diner. C gobbles up her fried egg and a few veggies. Then she looks at me oddly and throws it up all over me, the chair, the floor. That was unfortunate. Luckily the woman who runs the place hardly blinks and eye and shows me the ladies room where I can clean C and myself up.

C falls asleep in the stroller as I head down to the House of Manannan, a museum focusing on the maritime history and culture of the Isle. I figure the time to visit is while C is fast asleep in the stroller. I have already put the lunch incident behind me. Kids get sick, no worries. The first 30 minutes are fine as C sleeps soundly. Then she wakes up and wants out of the stroller to walk. She promptly throws up again. And again. Luckily a helpful museum employee wanders by and helps find me some paper towels to clean things up. Good thing I have some extra towels for when C throws up yet again 10 minutes later. Time to make our exit.

On the way to the bus station we have another incident. Then at the bus station. Then on the bus. Then once off the bus in Douglas. I cannot fathom how my daughter has anything left in her little stomach. I am trying to stay off my own rising panic. I feel incredibly ill-equipped to handle this. I can navigate bus and train and boat schedules in foreign countries, but throw in my own sick child and I feel exposed as a fraud, and even worse, a terrible, no-good, very bad mother.

I get C back to the hotel so she can throw up a few more times in the comfort of our room (are you kidding me?!). I think of the following day when we will wake up early to take a taxi to the ferry terminal, a ferry to Liverpool, a bus to the train station, a train to Manchester, and then some form of transport to our hotel. I appreciate that I may not have thought this through all that well.

But the travel gods smile upon me and C recovers. I am given a reprieve. We take the taxi, ferry, bus, train, and taxi the next day, check into our hotel and then head to the National Football Museum. For the next, and last, two days of our trip though we stay at the hotel. It is cold and wet; I have come down with my own stomach bug. I feel an itty bitty bit glum that we will not be able to visit the Manchester United museum, but I also sense that this rest time is not only needed but has been imposed by the travel gods. It is my comeuppance.

These days I find it tiring just to go to the supermarket with my daughter. If we have to stop at more than one store then I probably need a nap afterwards. I look ahead to our flight to Shanghai, China in January and wonder how I will survive it. I shake my head. A rueful chuckle escapes my lips.

I have not yet conceded. I am calling this merely a travel hiatus. This is a slowdown, a drawback, but not an end. It helps that I am in language training now where taking leave is generally prohibited. I can circle my wagons, consider my options, and make some adjustments. It will be some time before I attempt another “Isle of Man” but we will travel again. I promise myself.

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