Travels with Toddler
As we passed through the White Mountains and came across one particularly dramatic drop where the road seemed to fully disappear beneath us and we felt in line with the points of every pine tree as we soared along, we chatted about how happy we were that Leo didn’t seem affected by the serpentine route nor the “butterfly hills” as I had called them when I was a few years older than he at this point.
We emerged from the rocky passes and, just as we took a sigh of relief that the Canadian border was only one more state away, Leo erupted in spit-up. Seeing him cough out wave after wave of barely digested snack crackers I thought to myself, this is it. This is the tragic death of my child that I had imagined on our car ride exactly a year ago when we fool heartedly traveled 400 miles with a less-than-two-month-old-baby who was breastfeeding every two hours. In that instant I remembered running through the morbid logistics of what we would do on our long journey, just Joe, myself and our tiny baby, should he get sick or begin to choke or some other emergency should occur on these desolate roads with no cell service.
Thankfully on this trip we had extra hands. My mother who, hearing my shout to pull over, turned the wheel into the parking lot of a gas station that may have appeared from nowhere, and my cousin who spoke calming words as we safely cruised the car to a stop and extracted Leo from his now vomit-covered seat. An innocent case of carsickness was the consensus, seeing as his symptoms disappeared as quickly as they came about. My heart rate slowed as we began to march through the practical next steps of cleaning, disinfecting and air-freshening the car and ourselves. The image of my naked baby in the middle of a gravel-paved parking lot somewhere on the Vermont border being cleaned off with a jug of gas station drinking water and paper towels did a funny thing to me; it confirmed why I choose to travel with him.
I choose to travel with him because I want it all. I know that “having it all” takes on many different faces for many different people but for me it has been finding an equilibrium between family, travel, work and creative endeavors. Im sure people are happy when they create their compartmentalized lives with ample time for rest, work, adventures, passions, workouts and cooking. And I am happy for them. But for me it has always been the pursuit of this crazy human experience of everything all at once: the messes and the magic and the milestones. Traveling with a toddler means that, no matter where we are, life is still a jumble of work, responsibility and relaxation. It is the actualization of my dreams with the perfect number of diapers and tiny pairs of pants packed away in the suitcase that used to hold my designer shoes and stacks of magazines. I still bring the magazines along but don’t always get to read them.
When the unexpected 4:30am wake up call comes wherever we are in the world we handle it. We’re not always happy about it, but we handle it and we learn and grow and become better because of it. When the tantrum comes from an overtired toddler we pause, no matter what once-in-a-lifetime activity was planned for our afternoon away from home, we pause. This is our once-in-a-lifetime experience: to have a baby and share the world with him as we chase our other passions. Patience is a lesson that pays in dividends. This is the life I have carved out for myself. It is a life that I wanted, a life of joy and privilege. No matter the frustrations and the never actually being rested and the tears that sometimes fall, this is the life I get to live and I am so very thankful for it.
Lovingly cleaning our son off in a parking lot somewhere in the mountains near the Canadian border was just one of many examples of how becoming a mother has created the space for me to find humor in the most inopportune moments of life. I remember when long car rides were more about the perfect playlist and finding the roadside burger with a view. Naps, too. There used to be a lot more naps. Now long car rides are about distracting a young human with penguin shaped crackers so that the seemingly endless hours of road wash away with every cheesy, crunchy swallow.
We’ll remember to not feed so many crackers next time though, especially not when traveling through such dramatic mountain passes.