LEAVING ON A JET PLANE
It was a sight to behold. Every time we told someone we were planning to take a cross-country trip with our 4 month-old son, they looked at us with a pointed mix of pity and fear. I get that. I mean, I know it sounds crazy. But we didn’t really have much choice in the matter. Being exclusively breastfed, my son can’t feasibly be away from me for very long. I’m not one of those women with a freezer full of milk or a babysitter on call, and I simply wasn’t ready to leave him for that long at such a young age. So when our friends just had to go off and get married in California mere months after our son’s birth, we started planning for our grand adventure.
I will admit that I have never been what I would call an “easy” traveler. My husband, ever my opposite, is the kind of person who shows up as they’re closing the plane doors and doesn’t even break a sweat. He never checks a bag and can easily shrug off a flight delay. As long as he has a double bourbon on the rocks, he’s good.
On the other hand, airports make me even more anxious than normal and I’ve never been able to fit more than three days’ worth of clothing into a carry-on, so I always end up checking a bag. I’m glad to say, however, that motherhood has apparently made me more efficient. When looking down the barrel of exorbitant baggage fees for our multi-flight trip, I was determined to fit everything into just the bags we were allowed to take on the plane with us.
I also got to enjoy multiple TSA agents “examining” my expressed breast milk in the bottles to make sure it wasn’t some strange variety of terrorist juice.
Thankfully, when traveling with a child under the age of two, they can fly as “infant in lap,” which means you don’t have to shell out extra money for them to have their own seat. You do need to be prepared to hold them the entire time, though, which is no small thing if you have a particularly fussy or wiggly little one. Most airlines also give you the added perk of being able to gate check a stroller and a car seat for free and allow a diaper bag as the baby’s one “personal item” in addition to your own.
We left New Orleans and flew direct to Los Angeles. After a few days there, we flew from LA to Santa Rosa, with a connecting pitstop in San Francisco. When our trip came to its end, we flew out of San Francisco to New Orleans, with a layover in Dallas. That’s five flights, ten days of travel, with two adults and an infant. And yet we did not check a single bag.
My big packing secret was essentially laundry. We were staying with friends throughout our trip, so we were able to wash and re-wear all of our clothes, meaning we only had to pack a few changes. We also slimmed down baby stuff to just the essentials, including packing just enough diapers for the flight out and then buying more when we landed.
DO THE (AIRPORT) HUSTLE
Navigating the airports was its own kind of torture. Since we weren’t checking anything, we were responsible for carting every single thing we were bringing each time. I pushed the baby in the stroller while carrying the diaper bag on one shoulder, my purse on the other, and pulling my suitcase. I found a specially-made backpack carrier on Amazon to haul our car seat and base in, which my husband wore on his back like a dutiful pack mule as he carried his personal backpack in one hand and his suitcase in the other. This was working great, until we got to security.
It’s a pain in the ass to go through security in an airport when all you have is a purse, so you can imagine how much worse it was with our rolling sideshow of gear. In addition to removing our laptops from their cases, taking off our shoes, and removing everything from our pockets, we also had to completely break down our carseat and stroller and put them on the belt to be scanned, remove the (sometimes fussy) baby from said stroller, and endure “advanced screening” on the diaper bag. Our package of baby wipes was tested every single time for explosives. I also got to enjoy multiple TSA agents “examining” my expressed breast milk in the bottles to make sure it wasn’t some strange variety of terrorist juice.
An unforeseen highlight of this somewhat grueling process was the solidarity we felt with other traveling parents. At LAX, a woman gave me a silent fist pump as we walked towards the metal detectors shoeless, with our babies perched on our hips. Just past the security gate in New Orleans, a father looked over as I attempted to put my shoes back on while holding Emmett and said “Hello, fellow parent. First time?” with a warm smile. It was like joining an exclusive new club.
OH GOD, HONEY
Thankfully, most of the airport staff was really kind to us. They routed us to express security lines, helped us with gate checking our gear, and most even allowed us to board early to get settled. The real issue was, we soon found out, with the other travelers. When you walk up to a gate with an infant and people literally glare at you, that’s a fun experience.
Everyone hates a baby on a plane, I guess. And my anxiety was through the roof about nursing him on the plane. I purposefully purchased a window and center seat for us on each flight so that I could sit by the window and nurse Emmett while my husband served as a “buffer” in the center seat. Thankfully we made it almost the entire trip without comment.
Our plane from San Francisco to Santa Rosa was tiny. Like, so small that the pilot had to ask people to move from the front of the plane to the back in order to balance the weight so we could actually get airborne. Those close quarters were also quite stuffy, so Emmett didn’t care for the loosely draped cover I had been using while nursing him. He pulled and tugged at it to the point that I just moved it out of his way.
I nursed him during takeoff and landing to minimize ear pain from pressure changes and keep him from wailing, which you would think fellow passengers would understand (and appreciate). But while deplaning in Santa Rosa, I heard “Oh God, honey—she’s got it out again” from a bitter-looking woman in the row behind us. She had spent the duration of the flight fussing at her husband for forgetting her water bottle. She was wearing crisp linen pants and a silver charm bracelet and I could practically smell the Chardonnay and Xanax on her breath.
I wish I had spoken up, but I didn’t. I just sat there feeling exposed and ashamed. My husband heard her but wasn’t 100% sure she was talking about us and was trying to avoid starting a fight with a stranger on a crop duster. In hindsight, we should have told her where to shove it. I’m personally a pretty modest gal, but I also won’t apologize for needing to feed and comfort my child.
CITY OF ANGELS
Some of our best friends in the world live in Los Angeles. This doesn’t really stop us from sort of disliking the place, but we like to visit because we miss them desperately. All of our friends attending the wedding were former college classmates, but none of them have kids at this time. They don’t hate kids or anything—well, some of them might, but they at least had the good sense not to say that to our faces—but it was clear to us almost instantly that they operate on a different plane than we do now.
We try to keep Emmett flexible to a point, because we believe that rigid scheduling will just result in a kid who can’t adapt. At the same time, we try to guard his schedule whenever we can, because he’s a baby and he has some very intrinsic needs (primarily for sleep) that, if ignored, can be detrimental. But it’s difficult to find that balance when your kid is the only kid in the room.
When you’ve got a baby, being out for dinner at 8 p.m. is not a thing anymore. And staying up until 2 a.m. watching movies and drinking should be off the table. The former resulted in our kid grizzling himself into a wad until he finally fell asleep on my chest in a wrap carrier, whereas the latter resulted in me grouching at my husband as I woke at 5 a.m. to feed and change the baby while he snored drunkenly beside me.
We did our best to keep up, but it wasn’t easy. Thankfully we had a sitter for the day of the wedding. Not so thankfully, the wedding day was really long and involved a lot of travel. All told, I was away from Emmett for a whopping 10 hours—our longest separation since his birth. And while we had a great time at the wedding, it just wasn’t as carefree a venture as it would’ve been pre-kid.
The wedding location was remote and had poor cell signal, so I worried that I was missing texts from the sitter. Just after the ceremony, I told my husband I had to find a place to pump because I was getting uncomfortably full. The only private spot was a room reserved for wedding staff, where I pumped in a corner hoping to avoid awkward interactions (note: I did not—a male staffer walked in and was terribly flummoxed before overcompensating for his embarrassment by launching into a conversation with me about how he might shave his man-bun off so he could look more like Yul Brynner).
But even with all those tiny stresses, things went off well. Emmett did great with the sitter and she said he was a very happy boy. She did, however, feed him 13 ounces of expressed milk in a short five hour span. Not shockingly, he had an explosive poop just before bedtime. Maybe that’s why he had such a satisfied look on his face when we returned home to find him sweetly slumbering. The break was nice in a way, but I also really liked the feeling of coming back to my kid and being genuinely excited to see him. I think I might be getting the hang of this mom thing.
The back half of our trip was a very different affair. We flew up north of the Bay Area to visit with some other dear friends who also have a young child. Their son was born just five months before Emmett, so they’ve been where we are now and we quickly found ourselves on the same wavelength and in a groove.
Our days there consisted of structured playtime, naps (or at least attempted naps), and low key strolls to the quaint neighborhood bakery. Our evenings included quiet play, books, and bedtime for the boys, followed by a chill dinner, a glass or two of wine, and a bite of dessert. We sipped rosé and whispered across the table to each other between the sounds of dueling baby monitors. We laughed about the absurdity of children’s books (I mean, how creepy is Goodnight Moon?) and detailed all the cute things our sons do on a daily basis while also commiserating about sleep regressions and postpartum depression. Then we said our goodnights and crawled into bed at 9:30. It was divine.
Both legs of our journey were immensely fun and we loved visiting with everyone. L.A. gave us a chance to work with Emmett on a host of new experiences and practice handling curveballs, while our NorCal sojourn gave us some much-needed parent bonding time. Emmett was a total rockstar throughout the process and we would gladly do it again. It felt so nice to prove to ourselves that having a kid doesn’t have to mean giving up the things we love. It just takes a little extra planning and a hearty dash of patience.
I’ve been writing this column for almost a year now and it’s been a genuinely therapeutic experience. I’m glad to hear that so many readers have connected with my experiences, from the pregnancy to Emmett’s birth in December, which came only weeks before the death of my father. Below are some of the nicest bits of feedback I’ve gotten.
“You don’t know me but I felt compelled to tell you that your story has touched my heart and I wish you all the strength and support to get through this. I admire your honesty and ability to convey your journey into motherhood in writing. I cannot imagine how you’re feeling and hope you continue to be surrounded by those who give you strength in this difficult time.” —Nikki R.
“When those sacrificial moments come… remember, you have a choice. As the clock runs, believe me when I tell you that you will know it will be the greatest choice in your life. I do not mean this in a condescending way. I mean it in a knowing way. Welcome to “Adulthood”…for real. Nothing matters, because now, you’re Mom. Yep. Damn. Best of luck to you and your son. Even though you may not think it possible, your love will grow beyond even where it is now. P.S.: I lost my Dad four years ago and my Mother last July. I’m 62 and think of them both every single day. If you loved them, it’s just part of the gig. Good thing you’re around so that your son will know his grandfather. Who better than you? Hey… have a great life… and hold on because your son will be 30 tomorrow!” —Woody M.
“I lost my father to cancer when my girls were ages 2 and 4, they are now 25 and 27. Like you I felt it was so cruel. I have learned a few things and I wanted to pass them on to you. You will never get over the loss of your father but with each passing year your ability to cope will be better. There have been times where I dream about my dad and sometimes I feel his presence. Keep a photo of your father in your baby’s room. It’s even better if you have one of him holding you as a baby. One day you will say, guess who granddaddy (or whatever you decide to call him) is holding? Your child will say me! And you will say no, me! Your child will have a priceless look on his/her face!” —Garland N.
ERIN HALL | firstname.lastname@example.org
illustrations VICTORIA ALLEN