On our recent trip to Cuba my gold standard of parenting became protecting baby J from the sun at all costs.
Sure, she might have posed with empty cervesa cans, inhaled second hand cigar smoke and traveled around the country in the back seat of cars (sans carseat) but she wasn’t sun burnt, and that counts for something, right? Some part of my brain had been dedicated to responsible parent, yes?
Jokes aside, the entirety of my brain, over the entirety of our trip, was concerned with Juniper’s welfare. Except for two hours. For two hours in the valley of Vinales, I rented a horse (and a teenage boy) and ventured solo with farms and vistas as my companions, my escort trotting 30 ft behind yelling ‘left’ or ‘right’ in Spanish whenever the road forked. I knew Juniper was at our casa with Neil and our host family, entertained and safe and, most importantly, protected from the sun – they had a very shady yard. So for 120 sacred minutes, I was just myself; a foreigner on a horse passing smiles to locals, clucking my tongue at my lazy mare, watching vultures pick up the wind and hang perfectly still in the sky, caught between currents. It was glorious.
My point: travel changes with a baby.
Yes because of the ‘stuff’ (half a suitcase of diapers? Ugh). It changes what you do, where you go and how you get there, of course. This is the expected. The unexpected was my own mental anxiety. It was the opposite of relaxing. This doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy the trip – on the contrary I think it was so necessary – but there was always another persons needs before my own and that coloured everything entirely.
A few friends, also with babies and young toddlers, inquired, “So, traveling with a baby, do you recommend it?”
I’m stuck on this. Yes and no? Maybe, yet certainly? Depends on the baby? Depends on the destination?
Neil and I have been blessed with our baby, Nothing to do with us or what little parenting we’ve done so far, we rolled the dice and hit the jackpot. J is the most tranquilo of babes. She didn’t even blink at our location change, long hours of travel or the drastic rise in temperature. Instead, she set her charms loose on the local Cubans, mastering ‘hola’ and ‘chao’ within days – delighting herself with her new vocabulary and it’s swooning effects.If J was a different baby we might have never traveled with her in the first place. And if we had, our opinion of traveling with a baby could be drastically different.
Our friends with kids have been kind enough to warn us not to have a second. You don’t hit the jackpot twice.
Even though this trip was different than most – we wore a baby instead of backpacks, we chose 3 locations instead of 5+, we did not rent scooters and bikes or go splunking and we skipped the late night dancing to Cuban music – the heart of travel was still there, maybe even bolded by the little person we brought with us.
One night we sat with our host family for a couple hours after J had gone to sleep. Drinking cuba libres from glass tumblers, growing redder in the cheeks and louder in the conversation. The explained what life was like in Cuba for them and asked about Canada. They were patient with our (my) poor Spanish and acted out when necessary. They liberally handed out high fives and hugs.
The heart of travel to me has always been connection – connecting to a place and the people who make it what it is.
Traveling with a baby was the ultimate way to connect with children-loving-Cubans. J was constantly gifted free bananas, waved at, picked up and given kisses. I joked that I could create an entire photo album titled “Random Cubans holding my Child”. We became regulars at certain restaurants – the ones that didn’t seem to mind the rice confetti.
I didn’t want to go on this trip. Not when Neil suggested it, not when he booked it, not when I was packing or frantically googling ‘traveling to Cuba with a baby‘ the night before our flight. I was cheap, tired and content with a staycation. I resented being put in the position of packing and planning even though I understood the logic of traveling now – it was the last spring break J flies free, and quick! Get to Cuba before the Americans infiltrate! – I knew it would be work and I, did not feel up for more work.
But! I can say now, this trip was a very good idea. Not because I now feel rested and restored, (I don’t) but because my life in Vancouver had quickly become smaller than I realized – work demanding, money tight, time even tighter. What traveling has always done for me is break up the work/life cycle, shake out the routines, hand over some perspective. As a mom, I needed this even more but was completely unwilling to give it to myself.
But it was different and hard and at the end of our trip, in the Vancouver airport, Neil (my previously very gung-ho let’s travel with a baby husband) looked at me and said “Let’s not do this again. Let’s go to an all inclusive next time”.
So, to travel with a baby/toddler or not to travel with a baby/toddler?
I have no idea.