Paradise, Milestones and a Reality Check in French Polynesia

If you’ve been following our journey here in the South Pacific, you’re probably wondering from a few of my posts and headlines if we’re ever having a good time. The answer is a resounding, yes! But I set a goal at the beginning of this year of being more honest in my blogging, and giving my readers a more well-rounded picture of my experiences. That means you’ll get a scoop of the bad and the ugly with the good.

I knew that travelling with a baby would have challenging moments, but I couldn’t have anticipated just how relentless some of those challenges would be. And on many fronts, it turns out that travelling with a baby in French Polynesia is a totally ridiculous idea. But some of my most memorable times in life have come from setting audacious goals, so I guess I’m right on track.

Strolling the length of the beach at Hauru Point, Moorea. Photo Meghan J. Ward.
Strolling the length of the beach at Hauru Point, Moorea. Photo Meghan J. Ward.

As if smearing sunscreen onto a wiggly toddler isn’t hard enough, try squishing that wiggly toddler into a full-body swimsuit. Getting the suit off at the end of beach time is like try to pull a rubber glove off a wet hand. Then there’s protecting all three of us from mosquitoes as Dengue Fever and Zika Virus have made an appearance in the South Pacific this year. And then there’s trying to locate food for the baby amidst aisles of expired cans, mystery fruit, and packaged foods I just can’t force myself to feed her. All this amidst our trying desperately to actually experience these islands – to absorb our surroundings, sink our feet into the sand and enjoy ourselves.

I have been reflecting a lot lately on the value of this trip for us as a family. I know deep down that our investment is worth it. It gives us the chance to bond the three of us, for Paul to have some daddy-daughter time he otherwise wouldn’t have, and to build a solid foundation for adventure as a trio. But we have days, such as one day on the island of Moorea this past week, where everything seemed to go wrong. No matter how much we adjusted, changed our plans, or spent money, the day unravelled into a tangled mess of tears for all of us. That night I just wanted to be home, to have a base, a car that didn’t cost me a fortune to rent, a high chair, a fridge stocked full of healthy food, and a play area I could baby proof for good.

I wanted to feel in control again. Maya has grown and developed so much in the past two weeks, every day we’re rubbing our eyes in disbelief. As amazing as these milestones are, they also give me mixed feelings as a mother. The fact that she is reaching them at all means I’m doing something right. But there are many times I just don’t know how to help her or what she needs. She has entered the confused world of toddlerhood without words to express herself. And amidst that confusion, we’re moving to a new island every three to five days, and the process of settling in starts over with each relocation.

Dad and daughter share a moment on the beach in Huahine, French Polynesia. We'll look back on many amazing memories from this trip. Photo Meghan J. Ward.
Dad and daughter share a moment on the beach in Huahine, French Polynesia. We’ll look back on many amazing memories from this trip. Photo Meghan J. Ward.

Here in French Polynesia we find ourselves in what many people, including me, envision as total paradise: impossibly blue lagoons full of exotic fish, hovering palm trees, white sand beaches, and rugged peaks enveloped in green. I have had to pinch myself on a number of occasions, both to jolt myself awake from another night of broken sleep and to see if my surroundings are real. I feel like the luckiest woman on the planet to have a full month here, even though I can’t completely sink into vacation mode.

Being in paradise has offered us an unforeseen, and rather humorous, challenge on this trip. It is one we were probably asking for when we planned the trip to begin with. Here we are in one of the honeymoon capitals of the world with no time to connect as a couple. All our energy goes into making things go smoothly for the three of us; making sure Maya is well fed, rested and happy; exploring and enjoying our destinations; and carving out time for our work. Occasionally in the evenings, Maya’s sleep goes uninterrupted just long enough for Paul and me to eat a meal together, sip a decaf coffee and connect with each other.

But those times are few and far between. As we watch couples walking hand-in-hand down the beach, clinking champagne glasses from their lawn chairs or biking through the quieter towns, our hearts sink just a little bit. Adventure and travel used to be our thing – something that really connected us. It’s how we met, how we dated, and how we spent our time before Maya. It still connects us, even as parents, and we have certainly bonded on this trip, but right now I just really miss Paul and Meghan.

It’s true of parenting that it has a way of pulling you to extremes, often in the same moment. The same is true of travel and adventure. Combined, the extremes are exasperated. I have never felt so depleted and so fulfilled at the same time.

A rainbow offers a great reminder that there is beauty to be found even in all situations. Photo from behind Pension Ariitere, Huahine. Photo Meghan J. Ward.
A rainbow offers a great reminder that there is beauty to be found even in all situations. Photo from behind Pension Ariitere, Huahine. Photo Meghan J. Ward.

Each day is an emotional roller coaster. But I bought the ticket, I climbed on board and didn’t get off in time before the ride started. Already things are on the upward climb again. But a new island awaits us tomorrow, and with that a new adventure. I know we can’t climb forever, and eventually we’ll plummet downward.

It’s all about accepting the whole ride – the highs and the lows, moments of glory, even the moments of downward spiral. In each up and down we learn something, and that’s what this whole journey is about.

Author: Meghan J. Ward

Meghan J. Ward is an outdoor, travel and adventure writer based in Banff, Canada, and a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. Meghan has written several books, as well as produced content for films, anthologies, blogs and some of North America’s top outdoor, fitness and adventure publications. She has a forthcoming travel memoir (Fall 2022), to published by Rocky Mountain Books.

9 thoughts

  1. Thanks for your honesty, I know this will be a time you will never forget and stories will come up for the rest of your life, especially for your daughter. and you have the pictures to prove it.

  2. you summarise the emotions perfectly. and yet…at least while travelling there are endless new things for a baby – and you – to explore…versus being at home and potentially still suffering these baby rollercoaster days?

  3. Thanks for being honest. The good news is, you will remember the good times and special moments more than the challenges, with the photos to support them.

  4. Wow, you really hit on some painful memories from our early baby days for me. I can remember taking our 1 year old son out to climb or camp or any of the old things that used to make me so happy… and getting really depressed and angry because I had to spend so much time and energy on the kiddo. I felt like I had ruined my awesome life and it made me cry a lot. But, it got better. It actually feels now like it got better so fast that my head spins just thinking about it. Just a few months later, at 22 months, the kiddo was talking and sleeping through the night, and riding his bike, and naps weren’t the end of the world any more, and he could eat hot dogs over the fire. And now, the idea of adventuring without kids seems foreign, and lonely. I love what we have, but it definitely took some time to grow into it.

  5. Meghan you are so brave, and I love your honesty. I hope you are able to find some more time to relax and enjoy with your hubby, and that you can get your hands on some suitable food for lil adorable Maya. Such a good mama! Love your posts!

  6. Hey Meghan!! I know how this feels….Just to make you smile, I used to not drink coffee on a regular basis but once my kid turned into a toddler and being pregnant with my second, I busted out the FULL caffeine coffee in the morning and a Coke Zero in the afternoon 🙂 COFFEE ALL THE TIME NOW.

  7. Great Article Meg, love your story, pics, and feeling. It’s nice to know that whether your in the paradise of Banff National Park or French Polynesia once your a parent, the adventure has a lot of commonalities. I just took Iyla to her first big AGM last night and held my breath the whole time… keeping her quiet & happily contained was a nerve racking job. Ha ha… She loved it though!

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