A Trio of Travellers

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At first, when I was pregnant, I thought that having a baby would mean an end to my wandering days, that I wouldn’t be able to book flights to a random destination just because they were cheap and have the kinds of mini adventures I’d enjoyed previously.

Like many expecting parents we planned a baby-moon or two to make the most of our carefree coupledom before the baby ball and chain would tether us to the ground.

At some point a friend who’d already had a baby and was much more enlightened than us pointed out that actually travelling with a child was possible, not even that difficult, you just had to factor in a couple of extra details  in your planning, don’t book a room on the fifth floor of a hotel without a lift.

Being a migrant, with all our family and many of our friends based in a different country, a degree of travel has, at any rate, been essential to introduced loved ones to our loveliest one. Flying from Geneva to the UK is also not the most arduous of journeys (unlike some of our baby parents friends who’ve travelled to Canada and Australia to introduce their newborns to family).

Our munchkin was due at the start of August and we had been invited to a wedding in the UK at the start of October, we didn’t know if the babe would arrive according to schedule and weren’t sure how long it’d take to process her application, but we hoped we’d be able to sort her a passport in time and optimistically booked flights on basis that it was better to book early and not pay crazy extortionate last minute prices but potentially risk not being able to go. I think we booked flights around July and it was during the booking process that we first spelled out her name, I found the whole thing too strange so made Tom type in the characters that enabled easyjet became the first to see our baby’s name in print.

As it turned out, the little turnip arrived a few days early, the passport was processed by the end of August (sadly not quite in time to make it for another dear friend’s wedding) and we had plenty of time to prepare ourselves for our first family flight to the UK.

A neighbour recommend the use of Muellin oil to help prevent popping ears and I’d already read that breastfeeding on the plane or giving the baby a dummy or something else to suck on was supposed to help.

As it was our first UK trip and I was on maternity leave we planned to stay in the UK for a little over a week to take in as many friends and family as possible, outside of those chums we’d see at the wedding. So as it was a prolonged stay and babies necessitate so much stuff we packed a suitcase in addition to the cabin bags, baby bag and pram with removable car seat.

Navigating the airport via luggage drop-off, security and passport control was manageable if a bit of an exercise in juggling as we traversed through the terminal shifting bags and baby and accoutrements between us.

The flight itself was not terrible and aside from a bit of crying on departure the teeny one was fine, snoozing through most of the flight.

Our biggest mistake was in not realising that although you drop your buggy off at the plane you don’t get it back until you get to baggage reclaim and as the first airport we flew to was Gatwick this meant a 10/15 minute walk having to carry baby bag, two cabin bags and a bag of duty free in addition to the baby. So the Beard lugged the luggage and I managed the mini one and we vowed to pack the harness and to make the most of the pushchairs both sets of grandparents had picked up from charity shops, for future trips.

Since then we’ve travelled a lot, probably more than we did BC (Before Child) as within a year we’ve been back to the UK on six separate occasions as well as travelling to Sorrento and Split. I think our child has flown more in the first twelve months of her life than I did in the first twenty-one years of mine.

‘Tato-tots will not fondly recall the first time she flew on a plane, whereas I will always remember the first time I flew (with my parents to the Algarve when I was about 12), because by the time she’s old enough to form those kinds of lasting memories she’ll probably have already flown a distance equivalent to the circumference of the globe.

It is becoming more challenging flying with her as she has grown and become more alert and interested in what’s going on around her. We can no longer expect to have an easy flight with a child contentedly snoozing in our laps and the Beard and I have to mentally brace ourselves for what is starting to become a fairly exhausting mission (considering no flight so far has been more than 90 minutes), trying to keep a lively little one entertained in confined spaces as we move from one line to another to coop ourselves up in set seats and then repeat the line shuffling before strapping her into a car seat and making the journey back to whichever grandparents’ house is base of operations for the visit.

I am pleased that we did manage a couple of actual holidays this year too, with a break in Sorrento with just the three of us in the Spring and a trip to Split with friends at the start of the Summer. I think next year we’ll need to be a little more strategic to maximise the use of my leave, navigate the Beard’s study requirements, manage the friends and family visits and still get some actual recharge-your-battery type holidays in the mix too, all whilst the teeny one becomes less teeny and more of a terror as mobility increases and willingness to sit still decreases.

Still, I can confidently say, travelling with a baby is definitely a possibility it just requires a little more preparation to make sure the route taken and final destination are as baby-friendly as possible. I imagine travelling with a toddler will also be an option but will come with its own set of challenges that we’ll need to figure out.

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‘No, thank you, I don’t want to call my mother’

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This weekend we were back in the UK for our final wedding of the year for what has been quite a hectic couple of months, nuptials wise. We have been absolutely delighted to be a part of so many wonderful celebrations and have some fabulous memories of all the weddings we’ve attended this year. This last marriage of our wedding season was a family affair and involved our basing ourselves at the fiancé’s parents and then travelling to the venue from there the night before and returning the day after.

We set off from the fiancé’s familial homestead (and in case I’m not being clear by ‘fiancé’ I am either referring to my fiancé or the imminent groom to be, I did say it was a family shindig) and our journey took us past our old neighbourhood, the lovely London borough of Greenwich, where our two-bed flat, now rented to strangers, lies. As those in the car pointed out various local markres I decided to avert my eyes and stare fixedly at the foot-well of the back passenger seat. As my fellow travellers tried to engage my attention as we passed the turning leading to our road I quietly mumbled ‘I don’t want to look’ and fervently hoped I could avoid having to explain why. Fortunately there was enough excited pre-wedding chatter to save me from having to admit the truth.

On the post-wedding return journey on Sunday morning as we again neared the approach to our old flat, the question was innocently put ‘would you like to drive past your flat?’ At this point, as nonchalantly as possible, whilst trying to be clear and audible, I again politely declined the offer. I then decided that, to be on the safe side, I would stare fixedly at my phone, in case the driver hadn’t heard and decided a drive-by was something we should do.

The desire to avoid seeing the flat I no longer live in reminded me of when I took part in a French exchange visit arranged through school when I was 13 or 14 and on my arrival the mother of my host family asked me if I wanted to call my mum.

In my best schoolgirl French I politely declined, however my best schoolgirl French was far from fluent and I could see the host mother trying to work out if I just hadn’t understood the question. In fairness my answer was probably something like ‘no thank you, I no mother call’, which I understand could be open to interpretation. Perhaps she thought I was worried they’d charge me or that I was trying to explain I’d like to call my mother but not understanding they were offering for me to do so. She eventually ascertained that I didn’t want to but now accepting that my French was enough to understand the question, she clearly couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to call my own mother and kept asking me, every day, if I wanted to call.

After a week in to the two-week exchange I thought I’d better accept the offer so as not to raise suspicions of being some sort of wayward, sociopathic, anti-familial devil creature residing in her house and corrupting her daughter. So, unwillingly, I caved and called home. My mum was pretty surprised to hear from me and instantly wondered if everything was alright, after all why else would I be calling unless something was wrong? I reassured mum, exchanged a few words, finished the call pretty quickly and then decided to bide my time, in the room they’d suggested I use for privacy during my call. I waited until what I thought host mum would think an appropriate length of time for natural daughter-mother exchanging instincts to be satiated and returned to my French family.

The reason for not wanting to call my mother, was very much the same reason for not wanting to see my flat. It isn’t that I’m an unsentimental hard-hearted wench, who couldn’t give a rat’s behind for my family or the first home I’d bought with my fiancé. It was rather the opposite, I knew that in going to France for two weeks there would be certain things about parental home life I would miss, and I knew that leaving the country there would be certain aspects of London I’d miss. For me out of sight out of mind, is something of a survival technique, I know who I am in that respect. I also know that these partings were not forever and that my best course of action is to live in the moment, get on with the current situation and perhaps occasionally indulge in the odd pondering of possible familial or architectural reunions in the not too far distant future.

Homesickness would be a possibility only if I let it and I would prefer to choose not to especially when I knew that in a mere 14 days of French exchange I’d be back in the heart of my family, and I know (or at least tell myself I know) that when (quietening that inner voice that replaces ‘when’ with ‘if’) we return to London, our lovely flat will still be standing and ready and waiting for us. In the meantime the rent is being paid, the place is being lived in and taken care of by our tenants and any concerns on that score are relieved by six monthly reports on the property condition from the managing agents.

So thank you but no, I didn’t want to call my mum right then and no, I don’t want to drive past my house right now and just in case I’m not being clear in English ‘merci, mais non’.