When I told people my plan for winter break was to take a week-long trip to France with my husband and our 5-month-old baby girl, the facial expressions I received from them in response were complex. They were a mix of envy (after all, who doesn’t want to go to France?), skepticism (but who would want to go to France–or even to get on an airplane–with a 5-month-old baby?), and something I’d characterize as a raised eyebrow, “Huh! Well, good luck with that.”
Well, not only did I return to tell the tale, but also, I am here to recount that we had an amazing time–even better than we expected. Baby G, aka Wonder Baby, really knocked our socks off with her general awesomeness. And France wasn’t bad either. This vacation worked beautifully for a few simple reasons, listed below.
1. French People Love Babies.
I suppose that people all over the world love babies. But the French have a particular baby-fetish going on. Perhaps it’s their aesthetic sense of everything being perfect and “just so,” or the fact that their adorable clothes look even cuter in small sizes. Who knows?
The point is that a baby is apparently the accoutrement of choice this season in France. Any snooty anti-Americanism that might have been there otherwise flew out the window when the locals caught sight of our daughter’s gummy smile. Everywhere we went, people smiled, cooed, and fluttered all over our baby… and were genuinely thoughtful. Air France’s baby bassinet let her sleep the whole night–and though I was a little bitter that the baby got the flatbed arrangement rather than me, the entire plane and I appreciated it. A waiter at breakfast saw her attempting to play with my coffee cup, and dashed over to provide a little box of cereal as a makeshift rattle.
In an extreme example, in one small restaurant outside a medieval chateau in Chinon, a multi-generational family a few tables over kept waving at my daughter. They were so conspicuous that I made an obviously comical gesture toward them, as if to say, “You like her so much, come on over and take her!” So the grandmother-type almost knocked her chair over as she rushed to come to our table. She took the baby right out of my arms and brought her back to her own table, where my daughter apparently decided to forget all about me, choosing to live a new life as an adorable French baby, prattling in baby talk to the family now chatting with her in French. When we liberated her (something Americans just do naturally in France), I swear the baby gave her would be famille a longing backwards glance. Too bad, pauvre bebe. You’re stuck with us.
2. A Good Plan: Know Your Limits.
We were in a fancy, Michelin-starred-esque restaurant in Amboise for dinner. Our hotel had happily booked our table (party of two and a half), but I wasn’t so sure it had been the right decision. Sure, the baby was happily asleep in her stroller next to our table… for the moment. But what if she woke up? What if she cried, or whined, and bothered other patrons of the candlelit establishment or the tuxedo-clad staff? “Stop worrying,” my husband said (for the record, this is one of the top ten most frequently uttered sentences in our marriage). But I couldn’t. Not until the door opened, and in came a group of people for dinner…pushing a Bugaboo.
The evening happened to be great, but you can bet that if Baby G stepped an inch out of line, I’d have taken her back to the hotel. While I may worry too much, I’d rather err on that side than not at all. An example of the opposite would be the way-too-nonchalant couple across the aisle from us on the flight home, who were traveling with their 1-year-old child. The kid screamed for easily half the flight (garnering bemused, “What’s HIS problem?” glances from my baby), perhaps in no small part because this kid’s parents were completely ignoring him. And when I say “completely,” I mean “completely.” Mom was happily reading the Steve Jobs biography and Dad was watching movies, and apparently neither felt that they had any responsibility whatsoever for their child or his behavior. Be conscious of your child and of your responsibilities not only to them, but to the people around you. In a nutshell, be a good parent.
3. Go With the Flow.
Being in a new place comes with its own stresses as well as joys. Where will you change your kid’s diaper? Where are you going to get warm water to prepare formula? Traveling with a baby in certain ways is easier than traveling with an older kid–after all, a baby doesn’t have any comprehensible opinions, unlike a 4-year-old–but the logistics can take a little effort.
Now, I’m not going to say that looking up at the Eiffel Tower or the ramparts of a beautiful chateau make these things less important–feeding your kid and taking care of her is still the most important thing there is. If anything, sometimes the tour of the museum will have to wait, because the diaper change comes first. But travel will make you realize how to make these things work out by planning well (bringing the right number of diapers for the day, etc.). Just doing all this will give you renewed confidence in your ability to anticipate your kid’s needs. It will make you learn your child’s likes and dislikes in high relief.
You’ll sweat the small stuff, true, but the new context will help you savor it as well. Sometimes the kid may eat a little less than usual–and that’s okay. Sometimes the kid will have to be in the sling rather than the stroller–and maybe she’ll like it better. Who knows what the day will bring? Just enjoy it.
4. Most Important: Take Pictures Until the Digital Card Wears Out.
True, my daughter will not remember this trip. Many might argue it was, therefore, a waste of time and effort to bring her. “Take lots of pictures in case she never gets back to Paris,” one person told me. Of course, I hope that’s not the case. I hope a life full of travel adventures awaits my daughter, and that she not only will go back to Paris, but will also explore places I’ve never been. But even if she doesn’t remember a single thing about this trip, I always will.
This trip was all the more special because it was our first with just her. It was bittersweet for me, because my two sons were with their father and I missed them dearly. But when I think back on this trip, I will remember so much more than the beauty of Paris and the Loire Valley. I’ll remember the joy of how my daughter exceeded any of my expectations with her patience and her sweetness. I’ll remember the joy of sitting in bistros with her on my lap or my husband’s lap, laughing. I’ll remember feeling not burdened by having a baby with us, but rather, grateful that such a beautiful and terrific kid is in our lives, and grateful to be in an incredible place with two of my favorite people in the world. I’ll always remember this trip as an unadulterated love-fest between the three of us. And when she’s older and sees the pictures, she’ll probably be able to see that too.