In anticipation of the first long flight with my husband, Gus, and our six-month-old, Maggie, I solicited advice on Facebook, and within hours, whoosh! A deluge of commentary.
There was that which was helpful: Have a change of clothes for her and for you. Plastic bags in case you have poopy/vomity clothes.
There was that which was contradictory: Travel as light as you can versus Bring a nursing pillow, car seat, carrier, and stroller.
And then there was that which alarmed my parents: Nebutol suppositories and Benadryl=baby sleeping pills.
From New York City, where we live in the East Village, we were heading to Santa Rosa, California, Gus’s hometown located in Sonoma County, land of gorgeous vineyards within 30 minutes of epic cliff-lined ocean views and the redwood groves.
Gus owns a restaurant, The Spinster Sisters, in an up-and-coming arts neighborhood near downtown Santa Rosa, and there was an apartment above it where we could stay. The plan was to introduce Maggie to Gus’s family and friends and attend my cousin’s wedding in Berkeley, only about an hour away.
We flew American Airlines, business class, a real treat thanks to the miles Gus had accrued working on both coasts. Given that Maggie is very social, and I’m content (and grateful) with her in the arms of friendly strangers, I considered making a onesie for her that said, “Want to hold me? Just ask!”
She cried at take off. She cried several times in the middle of the flight, for long periods, the ramped up wailing of a child who wants badly to fall asleep but can’t get comfortable and/or has popped eardrums due to cabin pressure.
I could have been luxuriating with my husband over the course of six blessed uninterrupted hours of time, tucked under blankets, our seats fully extended with unlimited movies and warm nuts. So, too, could have our co-passengers.
Maggie’s crying sends a kind of electric shock current through my veins. This doesn’t happen to Gus. He doesn’t get ruffled. It was he who quelled the first storm by holding her close on his chest until she conked out.
The stewardesses were also wonderful. During a bout of crying, one of them offered to take Maggie to the area where the other flight attendants were hanging out. They entertained and were entertained by her for 20 minutes or so and returned her happy.
“You must be missing her,” the stewardess said.
“Nope,” I said.
We landed and picked up our rental car from Fox. We’d requested a car seat in advance, but they took an hour to produce one because the first had no base and the second was for a toddler, and all of their equipment was kept (it seemed) three thousand miles away from the waiting area.
An hour or so later, we arrived in Santa Rosa. Maggie crashed immediately in the Pack ’n Play I’d shipped in advance. Gus and I went downstairs for a glass of wine and a bite to eat. (Yes, I left my baby alone and without a monitor.)
A few weeks earlier, I’d posted a babysitting job on care.com. Reading responses and interviewing potentials took maybe a couple of hours, and I found a local babysitter, Michelle, a recent college grad and theater major from Austin who moved to the area after hiking the John Muir Trail.
She came for four hours a day, enough time for me to complete my work for the Wall Street Journal (I’m an arts journalist), return emails, and have a break from watching Maggie. For me, the two main pleasures of motherhood are being with her and being away from her. “Just enough childcare to take the edge off” is how a friend of mine puts it.
Michelle was fabulous: energetic, kind, and loving. Every day, she took Maggie to a nearby park, and back at the apartment, she turned kitchen instruments into toys. She found my daughter to be an uncomplicated charge who delights in kids, dogs, fans, and her feet. I worked from inside the restaurant downstairs, so I was never too far away from them.
I didn’t do all that much during the time we spent in Santa Rosa, no site seeing, no hikes, no performing arts. For hours, I sat with Maggie and Gus on the benches outside the restaurant, chit-chatting with neighbors and acquainting Maggie with their dogs.
Occasionally, parents would come in with their babies. I gave one most of Maggie’s clothes, at least those I knew she’d grow out of soon. One woman offered us figs from her tree, another a tour of her gallery. We watched afternoons and early evenings pass and soaked up a culture different than ours in the East Village.
At the end of each day we ate with family and friends at their various homes spread around wine country. Night after night after night, we put Maggie to bed in different bedrooms in strange homes, and she fell soundly asleep allowing us to hang out for hours. After transporting her back home, she slept till morning.
These are moments as a mom when my kid seems like such an adorable, adaptable champ, and every adventure imaginable seems possible. Then there are other kinds of moments.
En route to Berkeley, she cried for much of the hour-long drive. At the rehearsal dinner, in trying to catch up with family while simultaneously tending to Maggie’s diaper, I put her down on a dinner table. The second her parts hit the plein air, she produced a long fountain of urine that soaked the table cloth.
“Her pee’s actually really clean,” I found myself saying to a witness.
That night, we stayed in an adorable Airbnb one-room cottage where she made fussy noises every couple of hours and where my husband snored. I ended up grabbing seat cushions and fashioning a bed for myself in the walk-in shower.
The next morning, for the wedding ceremony, I tarted her up in an exquisite Il Gufo two piece a generous friend had gifted her on which she pooped profusely in the parking lot of Tilden Park, the site of the outdoor wedding, before anyone could see her in it. One of those over-the-top and up-the-back emissions. Her backup outfit, culled from the bottom of my diaper bag and the trunk of the car, looked like something culled from the bottom of a bag and the trunk of a car.
Hours into the event, Maggie needed a nap so badly she fell asleep on Gus’s jacket draped upon a picnic table surrounded by guests making merry. Bugs snacked on her skin. On the return trip, we ran into traffic and out of formula. The next morning, she and I woke with colds.
But there were plenty of worthwhile moments, both macro (the wedding was for one of my favorite cousins, whose mother died of pancreatic cancer at 55 and is my daughter’s namesake) and micro (there was a harpist who absolutely riveted Maggie and, together, for many minutes, we gazed at the instrument surrounded by the music and her wonderment).
Recently, I attended the memorial service for the filmmaker Albert Maysles. One of the best comments came from his wife, who said that sometimes Al ran out of gas on purpose because he enjoyed the serendipity of meeting good samaritans.
However, the world is not populated entirely by lovers of babies. The flight back was a gauntlet: a red eye, without Gus, who stayed on in Santa Rosa for business. While Maggie and I settled in, a woman came down the aisle to our row, saw Maggie, turned to her friend a few rows down and said, “I am NOT sitting with a baby.”
Then she said it again, and pivoted to find a stewardess against the tide of boarding passengers. Immediately, in the tone I use to identify fruits and animals and objects of all kinds to Maggie, I identified this woman as an expletive. It just flew out of my mouth. At that moment, between the three of us, it’s hard to say who was the least mature.
Our would-be neighbor in the sky was unsuccessful in her plight for a different seat. The flight was full, so she put her headphones on and settled in for the nightmare she anticipated.
Maggie, attached to me in the carrier, fell asleep shortly after take off on my chest. It reminded me of the first two months of her life when she slept on my chest every night. I fell asleep, too, until I felt her moving around and kicking.
I couldn’t tell if it had been five minutes or five hours that had passed, so I asked the stewardess how much longer we had, and when she said 50 minutes, I once again had that euphoria: My baby is a champ! We can do anything together! We arrived back home at 6 a.m. and she fell right asleep. Me, too.
When she was first born, in late March, this particular desire to travel with her intensified, I think in large part because I feared that she would prevent me from traveling, keep me beholden to her napping, sleeping, and feeding schedule, keep me stuck in the house exhausted and overwhelmed.
There are trips we can’t take any time soon. I have a friend with amazing connections in Bhutan, and I’d love to explore her nanny’s homeland of Ethiopia. But I don’t have the courage to be so far from a Western hospital, to be in such unpredictable territory. (I also don’t have sufficient dough.)
Still, I can save and fantasize and plan to make these trips, and others, to her father’s ancestral homeland in Sweden, to Japan, where I’ve spent a not insignificant amount of time, to all the spots on my wish list: Cuba, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Zimbabwe, Kenya, South Africa, Argentina, Peru, Chile, Haiti, Iceland, Turkey, France, Spain, Italy, Ireland, Tibet, Fiji, New Zealand.
She won’t remember any of the trips we take until she’s at least five years old, but that doesn’t mean that nothing registers. She’ll have my memories and photographs to see when she gets older and something sweeter still: the strengthened alliance, the confidence in each other, that builds with every trip.