Saturday, 25 August 2012

Travelling with a toddler

Everyone knows that traveling with a child can be tiresome. Firstly, there is the sheer amount of STUFF the kid needs - the clothes; the extra clothes for when the first set gets so thoroughly encrusted with pee, snot, cheerios and stale milk that it's like they're made of cardboard (crapboard?); the diapers; the toys; the special blankie or teddy, without which your child will LOSE HER SHIT; not to mention a pair of shoes (*cough* managed to forgot those on a recent trip to Toronto). 

Assembling all the stuff and thinking through all the permutations of eventualities - rain? swimming? fancy tea where an adorable dress is required? Band aids? Kids' Tylenol? - requires more logistical planning than D-Day (small exaggeration?)

Apart from the stuff, there's the actually moving from point A to point B. Strapping a toddler into a car or plane seat seat is akin to wrestling a greased orangutan into a thimble.If you're on public transit you have to contend with your fellow travelers' falling faces as they realize that yes, the woman laden with fourteen carry ons, a filthy dolly and a wriggling 3-year old with a suspiciously brown looking bum, is going to sit next to/behind them. 

As someone who used to sanctimoniously glare and eye roll about about being within a 12-row radius of any person under 21, I feel these people's pain. Nothing kills your seat-back TV and Chardonnay buzz like listening to a child yowling or a desperate parent pleading/threatening. 

Despite all that, though, there is something great about traveling with the little ones. When we lived in Belgium we got to go to Paris a lot. We saw and did all sorts of amazing things and felt that we had a good grasp of the city, its geography and its general vibe. When we returned last summer with the kidlet, our experience of the city was totally different. For one thing, people were friendly and helpful and even smiled at us. Given our previous 2.5 years with the Belgians/French and the contemptuous sneering they regularly subjected us to, seeing smiles on Parisians' faces was disconcerting... Like coming out of the house and discovering that grass was now Monopoly money or cars were made of cheese.

I didn't quite grasp what was happening at first -- old ladies held the door open for us, rather than sniffing haughtily, teenagers smiled sympathetically as I struggled to haul the stroller down the Metro steps, rather than angrily ignoring me. When the security guard at the Musée D'Orsay came up to us in the gigantor line, I was sure it was because we had committed some infraction and were going to be asked to leave, instead he ushered us to the "Priorité" line, as if we were Jerry Lewis, or something. By the time the taxi-stand dude waved us to the front of the line and the crepe lady gave us an extra dollop of Nutella, I began to believe that miracles do happen and all it takes to melt a Parisian's stony, stony heart is the innocent smile of a child. 

In addition to the magical attitude-melting-effect of the sprog, there's also the fun of discovering new sides to a place because your activities change when you are en-childed. I can't pretend that the man and I were partyin' hard pre-baby, but back in the day when we were on a trip I would force myself to stay up past my ten pm bedtime to go out for a nice dinner or stroll. We'd shop, eat lingering meals, drink too much, go to museums and stare at stuff... Activities that aren't particularly fun with a little one.

With a child we're discovering new things, like that there's a really fantastic play area at the Jardin du Luxembourg featuring an old timey carousel,  that Toronto's Parkdale library has a fun kids' section and even if you're not a city resident, you can get a day pass ticket to use the library facilities (don't tell Rob Ford) whilst engaging in primo people-watching; that along with being a total tourist trap, Montpellier Vermont's Morse Farm Sugarworks has insanely beautiful views, enormous ice creams and a "petting zoo" consisting of a sheep and a goat that you can't actually touch, but about whom your kid will then remember and discuss for the entire 20 hours of your trip. 

That's the thing about traveling with kids, you might not be skinny dipping in the Mediterranean or drinking Sangria 'til dawn, but you're eliciting different reactions form the locals and seeing new parts of the cities and places you're in. Not a bad tradeoff for the three hours of "Wheels on the Bus" you had to sing in order to get there.

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