Of the many terrifying truths nobody tells you about having a baby, a recent one gave me pause: one day I would travel long-haul (really, really long-haul) and not watch a single movie.
Last month my husband and I took our busy, sleep-resistant 16-month-old baby to Europe. We'd booked the holiday months ago, buying cheap flights on a whim (a crucial sidenote: before the baby had started walking) because we had always said we weren't going to stop travelling and experiencing things just because we'd had a baby.
Anyway, how hard could it be? I sure as heck wasn't going to be one of those parents giving out goodie bags to fellow passengers in apology for my baby and her noise. We had a right to be there! Mothers shouldn't be invisible in the world!
If only I could tell my younger, noise-cancelling headphones wearing, sleeping pill popping, travel obsessed self that she had no right to complain about flying. Flying without a baby, even with an armrest hog and an unidentifiable meal and all the interminable waiting, is bliss.
There were hours (hours) of wiggly baby wrangling and houdini like escape from her infant seatbelt. She screamed with exhaustion. We walked up and down the aisles with our love, feeling the prickling heat of judgement and accusation (perhaps it was imagined, perhaps not) from fellow passengers. We watched endless episodes of Peppa Pig, then felt guilty about letting her watch so much Peppa ("No, daddy!" she now says crisply, just like Peppa). I caught vomit in my hands, an elbow to the eye, smears all over my clothes. We barely slept.
"She was very well behaved," one kindly grandmotherly type blatantly lied to me when we reached the halfway point, and I nearly wept. Another blokey type slapped my husband in a comradely fashion on the back and said it's definitely the worst age to fly with kids. Small kindnesses are not to be underestimated.
But the flight and the baby's subsequent holiday highlights: the germ-riddled ballpit on the cruise ship we took from Copenhagen to Oslo, the saucepan drawer in our AirBnB, trying icecream for the first time, the excellent slide in one of the many playgrounds we frequented in Copenhagen (for travelling with children is, mostly, doing the same things you do at home just in more exciting locales), served as a potent reminder that perhaps we had forgotten what mattered in our desire to remain unchanged by parenthood.
You don't get everything you want, or at least, not all at the same time. Accepting that is hard, but it will probably make you happier.
The holiday wasn't for the baby, she won't remember a thing, it was for us. The first thing to do was to manage our own expectations.
And then, the best parts were the time we spent together as a trio. Hearing our fearless, sweet, funny girl roar with laughter as she jumped waves and watched her make friends with children in the playground who spoke a different language than she did. I delighted in the Portuguese grandmothers pinching the baby's cheeks and cooing.
"Too," she calls out to us to sit with her on a stoop in Portugal, and to share her icecream and to lie next to her as she tries with all her might to not fall asleep.
We pointed historical things of interest out to her, we walked through galleries at the clip well known to parents with a limited time window, we ate dinner at 5pm in Europe with the other tourists and baby wranglers.
I felt present in a way I hadn't in recent months when life had gotten busy and priorities a little out of whack. Maybe because I didn't have data roaming on my phone or a deadline to meet or more washing to do. Hopefully because I remembered that these small moments are the ones that really matter. Not the glamorous holidays, not how everything looked on Instagram (you make it look so easy! says one friend and I feel guilty for that, too).
I don't plan to shelve big international family travel dreams entirely. It will all come back in time. Maybe even when the baby's jet lag finally wears off. But I might question why I want to go. In any case, it was all worth it.
I believe that you need to do things for yourself that aren't all about children and that life shouldn't always be easy or comfortable (and what a privilege to complain about overseas travel!). But this busy, imperfect, tiring, stressful, wonderful holiday was an apt reminder that parenthood, and its multitudes and responsibilities and sheer heft, will and should change your priorities. And that icecream is the best thing ever, anywhere.
But all that really matters is that you share it.