“We are so, so close,” I reassured Maya as we rounded the last hilltop en route to the Banks Peninsula on the East coast of New Zealand’s South Island. The poor girl was starting to lose it after 27 hours of cars, airplanes and shuttles. I wasn’t doing so well myself. A raging migraine, compounded with motion sickness from endless winding roads, a hungry belly and a fairly sleepless flight the night before were making me feel like I wanted to curl up in the fetal position at the side of the road. But as we crested the top of the rolling hills that undulate their way down the peninsula, I knew we were just minutes away from our accommodations for the night in Akaroa. I switched to the driver’s seat for the rest of the journey to ease the dizziness, and promptly realized I was choosing the lesser of two evils as cars drove towards me in the lane I was accustomed to driving in.
We’re feeling a bit out of sorts, like we’ve lost our bearings – as people, parents, travellers. Snow and cold has been replaced by green grass and warmth. Our bodies are tired and hungry at strange times of day, and while as adults we can manage that by sleeping and eating on demand, the baby doesn’t quite know what to do with jetlag. So, we follow her lead, let her graze on food throughout the day, and make sure she has the chance to nap when her eyes start drooping. Apart from a few meltdowns, mainly due to over-tiredness or an inability to express her needs, Maya has coped extremely well. We still get smiles and giggles – reassurance that all is well in her little world, and we haven’t thrown anything at her she can’t handle. I am already enjoying her curiosity over the smallest of things. I tune in, let her lead me. Feel the pebbles. Admire the seagulls.
It hits us from time to time just how travel with a baby is different. This morning, I couldn’t help but think of the first episode of Breaking Bad when at 2am I looked over at Paul, who was sitting in his underwear, half-awake, cutting grapes into quarters. Given some context, it made total sense: baby, still on Mountain Time, was up for some playtime and breakfast. Otherwise, it looked like total insanity.
It will take some time to get into the travel groove. Maya requires constant attention, much more than at home where we have some baby-proof areas she can roam around in. With the baby in tow, we must take our turns showering, checking in online, and sleeping; allocate more time for getting ready; and make rough plans for the day that can be adjusted as needed.
Mostly we go with the flow. Yesterday, some of our best times happened in that flow – a roadside pullover for some playtime by the water and a much-needed caffeine boost by the harbour, where Maya combed her fingers through small rocks and smiled from ear to ear. Other times gave us opportunity to practice patience, and breathe our way through some serious crying. We knew something was up, but being in such new territory, couldn’t always figure out what it was right away. This has been the greatest challenge of travelling with a baby. The extra logistics are fine so long as she’s content, but when she’s not it makes us feel like all our years of travelling never added up to any experience at all. In those moments of unrelenting whining, it also feels like the past 11 months of parenting go flying out the window.
Yet, hope eventually returns. Two days ago I was very weary from our full day of travelling and a night spent comforting a confused baby, who couldn’t self-soothe her way to sleep. But in the wee hours of the morning I stepped outside, and looked up to the sky. It was pitch black and full of stars, the Milky Way streaking from horizon to horizon. Usually I find that stargazing grounds me and reminds me of who I am in the universe. I have stared at beautiful stars throughout Canada and around the world. But this is my first time in the Southern Hemisphere. Last night when I looked up, I took one glance at Orion and let out a laugh. Then I smiled. This very familiar constellation was upside-down, like he’d lost his bearings, too.
Orion offered a reminder, almost a tease, to let go and stop trying to find something familiar. Settle into the unknown, into the adventure that travel with a baby brings. Accept the exhaustion, the tough times, the tears. Get lost with curiosity and wonder, as Maya teaches me.
If the stars can hang upside-down and not fall out of the sky, I can hang on, too.