Monday, December 17, 2012

Month Ten Musings

I took a nine-month old baby on a week-long cruise and lived to tell about it… barely. There are two versions of the story of Jackson’s first cruise – one told from the perspective of Brian, and one told from the perspective of Kate. Although we pretty much spent every waking moment of the trip together, it’s interesting to see how dramatically different our stories of the trip are.

On every other vacation I’ve ever been on, there has been one singular focus – have as much fun as possible. Long in advance of the trip, I’d be reading on every possible detail of the location, planning every minute of every day in an effort to maximize fun. I’ve always been of the mindset that there are two types of vacations: ones that you go on with a goal to see and do as much as possible (such as trips to Europe or Disney World), and ones that you go on with a goal to do absolutely nothing – with the exception of maybe gaining as much weight as possible (such as trips to all-inclusive Mexican resorts). But on this trip, I learned there was a third type of vacation – a vacation with a baby, or what I’ll call a “Survival Vacation.” There is only one goal on a Survival Vacation – make it through the day alive, and live to fight another day.  

Traveling. Let’s start with the physical act of taking your baby from your home to your vacation spot. Since we are Americans, there are really only two options here – traveling by car or traveling by plane. Having now completed each with Jackson, I can say that there are pros and cons to each.

When traveling by car, you can pack as much crap as you need into the trunk and back seat without concern for weight restrictions or having to face the possibility of needing to carry ALL of it at one point in time. It’s also relatively cheap, comparatively speaking. On the other hand, Jackson absolutely hates his car seat and after about a half hour starts crying nonstop unless he’s being fed or constantly entertained (in his defense, I’m the same way on car rides).

When traveling by plane, this isn’t an issue. Apparently airplane travel is so much safer than car travel that babies don’t even have to be in car seats – or even have a seat at all! They are the equivalent of your laptop, you can just carry them on and hold on to them, or tuck them under the seat if you get bored with them. It’s great, especially when you have multiple people on the plane to pass the baby around to – like a hot potato, if the potato could erupt in tears at any moment. This freedom makes Jackson infinitely happier, and he gladly walked across our row, one lap to the next throughout the flight. He also enjoyed making eyes with the ladies in the row behind us by peeking up over the seat.

On the other hand, you spend the whole flight on full defensive alert for the first sign of unhappiness, ready to spring into action with a handful of Cheerios or shake-ball to keep him from screaming bloody murder and costing me the hundreds of dollars it would take to buy “I’m sorry” beers for everyone on the plane. Again, all pre-baby flights were just like pre-baby vacations. I was primarily concerned with how I was going to keep myself entertained for the duration of the flight. This time, my only concern was keeping Jackson happy.

Then there’s the actual act of getting onto the plane. Again, one of the nice perks is that you get to be one of the first people to board the plane (in your face “medallion members!”) and have all the overhead compartment space you could want. Unfortunately, you need approximately 20% of the total space on the plane for all of the things you need to carry on. I boarded the plane with a huge backpack on my back, a small backpack on my front, a rolling carry-on bag in one hand, and a stroller in the other. Note that this is in addition to the two 48 pound bags we checked for our week-long vacation in a warm weather client… and Jackson’s clothes fold into two-inch by two-inch squares, weighing almost nothing! It defies the laws of science.

How did the Monkey do?

Before we boarded the plane, he started crying when Kate attempted to put him down for a nap in her Maya Wrap (PS – have I ever discussed this thing on here before? Greatest invention ever for creating a pseudo-womb wherever you go which puts babies to sleep in no time… and you look like a hippie when you wear it). He cried for a solid ten minutes at first while Kate paced all over the terminal. Even among the loud hustle and bustle of the airport, I could hear his screams ten gates away (and say “Ugh – someone needs to get their child in line” out loud as much as possible). But once he fell asleep, he stayed that way until just before takeoff. On the whole, he was fine on the flight – aside from a few tense minutes of loud crying where I felt the angry stares of everyone on the plane (now I know how Muslims felt when they boarded planes post-9/11), he was his normal self – all over the place and needing constant entertainment, but relatively happy. As we walked off the plane, I breathed a sigh of relief – the first hurdle had been crossed… but we weren’t out of the woods yet.

As we arrived at the location of our shuttle to the airport (along with 50 of our closest friends, each with  multiple bags jockeying for space on a narrow sidewalk), standing in the beating sun (leading to reminders to “keep him out of the sun!” every 20 seconds from my lovely bride), Jackson decided he was tired of waiting, tired of being held, tired of everything. There was only one thing he wanted to do – sit on the ground and eat the rocks out of the flower bed next to us. After about 15 minutes of waiting, with him crying and doing his best fish out of water impression to try and squirm out of our hands, we gave up and plopped him down on the dirty ground. I’m pretty sure we kept swatting rocks away from his mouth right before he could eat them, but I can’t really be sure. All I know is that he was quiet, and rocks are “nature’s candy”, right?

But this really illustrated one of the big pitfalls of flying with a baby – there are so many variables involved – getting through security, keeping the baby’s ears okay during takeoff and landing, waiting in long lines, carrying a closet on your back – that any one thing could go wrong and lead to twenty minutes of pure misery not only for you – but for everyone within earshot. It’s risky.

But at the end of the day, we had survived the first leg of our journey relatively unscathed. It was time to board the ship.

Cruisin’. Once we finally boarded the ship (with our 250 pounds of gear), I had high hopes that things would be more under our control. We had a solid home base, fully equipped with toys and blankets for Jackson and two liters worth of booze sitting our cabin fridge for me. We also had hundreds of people sleeping within about thirty feet of us – but Jackson was a happy baby. We assumed worst case scenario, his laughter might wake some people up early in the morning (at which point they would smile and make some comment about “there’s nothing more pure than the laughter of a child”). Little did we know, Jackson was about to cry more in one week than he had in the previous three months of his life.


It’s hard to say. It was probably some combination of teething, being in a totally foreign environment, getting off his normal nap schedule, and constantly being put in scenarios and places where he couldn’t crawl around, do whatever he wanted, and put everything he found in his mouth (like he gets to do at school every day). It probably also didn’t help that his first day to the beach involved getting knocked over by a wave and getting sunscreen in his eyes. But Jackson went from a baby who slept from 7:00 pm to 7:00 am every night to a baby that woke up every two hours crying.

Don’t get me wrong – I think it would be possible to take a cruise with a baby, but only if you operate under the assumption that you are going on a Survival Vacation, not a normal one. In hindsight, we were probably over-ambitious to think that a 9 month old baby would happily sit at a two hour formal dinner every night cheerfully eating Cheerios while everyone else enjoyed polite dinner conversation. We probably shouldn’t have planned 8 hour excursions at every port and assumed that “he’ll just sleep in our arms when he’s tired”. But we were young, ambitious, and foolish.

Did we have fun on the trip? Absolutely – but it’s pretty funny when you look at when we had the most fun. It fell into one of two categories:

1. When we were not with our child (such as when we went Snuba diving and left him with Grandma).
2. When we were with our child inside our cabin, playing on the ground like we would at home.

Looking back on it, I realize that the fundamental problem was that we attempted to bring two very different worlds together as one, and assumed everything would work out. When the two worlds were kept separate, as mentioned above, things were great. When we were on a traditional vacation, we had fun. When we were acting like we had a baby, we had fun. When we tried to do both at the same time, not so much fun. In fact, I think I came back from this vacation more tired than I’ve ever been in my life.  

But live and learn. Ever since we’ve been back, I’ve said that I’m not taking Jackson on another vacation for a very long time. But this isn’t me being selfish – this is for him as well. The happiest I have ever seen my child in his entire 10 months of existence was the moment we got back home. He was crawling all over the place smiling, laughing, beside himself with happiness at getting back to his old stomping grounds. He was like Dorothy at the end of “Wizard of Oz” or George Bailey towards the end of “It’s a Wonderful Life” hugging his toys and kissing the floor with an unbridled joy that only comes from someone who has thought that everything in the world that they knew was lost, only to have it found again.

Note: if you ask Kate, she’ll tell you all sorts of stories about how great Jackson traveled, how much fun we all had, and how I am over-exaggerating the stories above. Each one of us will swear that our version of the story is the one that is most accurate. Who is right? Well, they say that history is written by the victors… but it’s also written by the Bloggers J

Or, in the words of Homer Simpson:

Christmas. The other big news this month? It’s Jackson’s first Christmas season. Unlike any other time of year, this is where traditions are made, so it’s pretty exciting to start creating these traditions for him. Jackson has already experience d his first St. Nick, where he received a stocking filled with an avocado – his favorite! This was quickly followed by his listening of the debate between Mommy and Daddy about the rules and relationship between St. Nick and Santa Claus (which will surely become an annual tradition). He also had his first encounter with a Christmas Tree, where shockingly, he did not apply Baby Chaos Theory and tear it down, but rather gently touched it, since the needles on the tree are just like grass, which he hates. Somehow, against all odds, we have two cats and a baby in our house and our Christmas tree has never been toppled. I seriously would have bet money against that five years ago.

A while back, I heard the expression that a baby’s first Christmas is for the parents, but the second Christmas is for the baby – and having lived through half of the Christmas season, I can say that this is 100% accurate. We’re building the traditions and taking the pictures to prove it, but Jackson would be just as happy pushing the boxes that the Christmas decorations came out of as looking at them. He has no concept of what’s really going on – and frankly, will probably be traumatized by his first encounter with Santa Claus. But it’s not about him – it’s about us this year. It’s about finally having an excuse to be a kid again, to have an excuse to participate in all the activities that would seem a little weird if it was just two adults doing it.

We’re going to have our first real Christmas morning in our house. There are going to be presents* under the tree and we’re going to setup the video camera to capture him opening them. These are the videos and memories that are going to last for our entire lifetimes. It’s all very exciting. It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

* and by “presents”, I mean random things around the house we’re wrapping up. Clothes Jackson already had, toys he’s already played with, food items from the pantry. I fully anticipate this kid being spoiled by others this first Christmas, so we see no need to add to the pile. Also, it’s going to be hilarious twenty years from now when he’s watching the video of his first Christmas morning and he turns to us and says “wait a minute – you got me a box of Cheerios for Christmas?!?”