Poland. If I had been asked to describe Poland in a word before I left, I’d have been torn between “postwarish” and “cloudy”. After visiting it I would choose between, “charming” and “preserved”. Like they got it right a while ago and didn’t change much, at least in terms of structure, culture and lifestyle. If I could elaborate more, I would mention this sheep’s cheese they pressed into many different shapes that was very stinky and everywhere. Poland is a perfect place to make memories with friends who have always made you feel safe out of your comfort zone.
Scott, the kids and I, along with three other families we’ve known since college, were there for Basia and Phil’s wedding. Basia and Phil are Polish-Americans, born and raised in the U.S., but who met in Poland in the summer of 2005 during a study abroad program. My college friends and I had known we were going there for their wedding for almost 13 years. Despite this very advanced warning, anxiety found me anyways.
As with all trips for me, the build up was where all the angst embedded itself. Like a squatter trying to claim my body for its own.
When we first arrived to the airport I stood in the doorway of the overpacked Tom Bradly International Terminal at LAX and said calmly, “I’m not going”.
I don’t remember what Scott said, but it was something you would expect such as “Devon” or “Come on” or “Anyways…” It didn’t help that our seven minute shuttle from the parking garage to the airport involved the baby crying and crackers being hailed all over the floor while another couple reassured us that we would gain weight from the starchy food and finally recover from jet lag just in time for our return flight.
We made it through security, which to me is the second most stressful part of traveling after the actual flight. You know. You arrive with everything neatly organized. A passport wallet, maybe some snacks divided evenly, your shoes tied like Mr. Roger’s, your computer strategically separated from the hand sanitizer, only to dump it all into a series of moving buckets that disappear into a black hole while a bunch of people, who probably have the authority to arrest you, watch.
On the flight there I said two things that pretty much summed up the experience of traveling 14 hours with children:
- “I hate everything”
- “I’m so giddy!”
We arrived. We put our things down. We found alcohol. The pigeons in the square became toys for our children and our shoulders found an unfamiliar resting position.
I tried to be easier on myself abroad than I am at home. There has to be such thing as vacation for parents, for God’s sake. When that NyQuil commercial says that moms don’t get sick days I always want to say, “Fuck you!”
We were doing enough hard stuff already so I was ok with hitting the easy buttons that presented themselves: snacks, iPads, champagne, helping hands. Poland was, extremely kid friendly. We were offered balloons at breakfast, wooden toys and coloring books at dinner. Our second hotel even had a playroom complete with a ball pit!
Four main things helped over the course of almost 10 days:
- Packing light.
- Low expectations.
Before we left, I probably had the most anxiety about sleep, and this is where the melatonin and low expectations came in. I won’t go into detail about the hours each family member slept each night, but it was better than I thought. Some nights we all slept all the way through, some nights we were up doing deep squats with a ten month old in the shawdows of the bathroom light. We made up for any lost sleep during nap time and, even if we didn’t, we fed off the energy of being somewhere new with friends. Everyone told us that jet lag coming home was worse than going there, but after a long, long flight home, everyone slept the whole first night until maybe 5:30 a.m. and we fell back into our normal routine in less than three days.
Our kids are on a fairly consistent schedule at home, so we try to reestablish this when we aren’t. Our days generally take the pattern: wake, eat, nap (for baby), play, both kids nap, play, dinner, bath, bed. Getting hung up on times and lengths of naps and sleep has cost me more energy than it is ever worth while traveling, so we tried to loosely find this pattern when we could. Some naps were in laps, cars and planes. One night I woke our toddler up just so she could see fireworks. Kids can be on vacation too.
Something true is, before we left, I felt like I was a better mother closer to home and all my designed comforts. I get deceived thinking, over and over again, that I am my best self when surrounded by the illusion that I am in control. Being stripped of all of that comfort was a reckoning I was subconsciously asking for. I wanted to face the fear I have that turning our schedule on its head and leaving even diapers behind isn’t that scary. I was forced to rediscover myself as a mother without my comforts and there was such a wild release about that. I don’t know why it is always so scary to embrace the self I really want to be.
When we are home, our roots sink and cling and clench, but when we detach them we realize what we’re really capable of which is always so much more than we thought.
Safe travels, wild hearts. It will all be a beautiful memory soon.
Travel “Gadgets” (hate that word, but it might be the best to describe the following)
+ I don’t think there is a way to fly stress free, unless you happen to have already died and are, in that case, perhaps traveling in a body bag. However, since I am a first born child and delight in giving advice I’d like to mention that I love traveling with the Solly Baby Wrap and Ergo Carrier, wearing versatile, comfortable sandals, not wearing a jacket on the airplane (I am always sweating with kids in this setting), not bringing a diaper changing pad or a nursing cover or any other ‘extras’. We let The Bug (age three at the time) walk next to us without holding hands when it wasn’t too busy or dangerous. We let her watch shows on an iPad. We let her eat just about anything the flight attendants threw at us. On this trip, we gave both of our kids Benadryl for the flights. The biggest win (aside from 16 hours of Mr. Rogers and Caillou) was actually an iPad coloring app accompanied by a digital pen. We all used this at various times during the 14 hour first leg. We also opted for this MiFold Go Car Booster instead of bringing a bulky toddler seat. For the baby, we brought our own carseat.
+ Another win was the Flypal seat cushion we bought for the plane so The Bug could stick her legs all the way out and recline to sleep. It totally worked, but I can’t recommend it without passing on the guilt that I had after our purchase: it will probably biodegrade a few decades after our trip is over. The Bird (age 10 months at the time) hated the provided travel bassinet that hooked to the bulkhead and slept on my chest, changing positions every time I finally fell asleep.
+ Although our three year old sleeps in a “big girl” bed at home, she and the baby both slept in separate Pack ‘N Plays provided by the hotels we stayed in. We didn’t bring pillows or anything extra for either of them to save suitcase space and just made due, but being that the hotels were so kid friendly they provided blankets and pillows for both.
+We purchased diapers and wipes once we were there–packing only enough to get us through the first few days. It wasn’t as easy as I had hoped to find diapers in a foreign city, but we eventually did and the adventure of getting them was a story in itself.