Marc is now five months old. He is a delight. The changes in him are amazing. He is sitting, rolling on his back, interacting with the people around him and learning new skills every single day. I feel so confident with my abilities that I am planning to travel abroad: in fact, a visit to England. My enthusiasm about the project is boundless as well as my energy. Sam shares my confidence in theory. With Marc I have gone through sleepless nights, colicky stomachs and immunization shots and survived. I feel up to the challenge. We will be traveling to London!! First things first! How do I pack the nursery in a suitcase? Let’s see. I will make a list of things to take and then I’ll start packing. Hmm. Better still, let me get everything out of the closet and drawers. I should have enough clothes to last me a week. I don’t want to spend my time in England doing laundry. We are going sightseeing after all. Marc is playing in the playpen. I watch him. he plays with one toy then throws it out of the playpen, then picks the next one and does the same thing. Soon he will be out of toys and will want my attention. I’d better start laying everything out and arranging them by category:
First the clothes: pajamas, shirts, bibs, pants…
Next his favorite toys: Teddy, plastic rings…
Then his toiletries: baby shampoo and soap, yellow ducky….
On the kitchen counter, I neatly arrange his bottles, baby formula, vitamins and finger food, in straight rows. The next step is to fit them all in a suitcase. Foe the next hour, under Marc’s watchful eyes, I fold, squeeze and tuck everything in four suitcases and then give myself a pat on the back. My hard work deserves a treat. How about some ice cream?
“How about it?” I say to Marc. “After toiling so hard we deserve a treat.”
Sam comes home and finds us both smeared with rocky road ice cream. He looks at us with a raised eyebrow.
“Desert before Dinner? This is a first for you. What about your theories on eating right and in rational sequence?”
“We deserve a break. We worked very hard. Didn’t we, sweetie?” I smile at Marc.
“We packed Marc’s suitcase.”
“His suitcase? Where is he going?”
“How can you be so tiresome,” I answer in my most convincing British accent. “We’re going to London of course.”
Sam stares at me with a look that clearly questions my sanity.
“Haven’t you forgotten some important facts?” he finally says.
“Like airplane tickets, finding coverage for my practice, small details like that.”
“Well! I’ll buy the tickets and you ask your friend to cover for you while we’re gone.”
D-day has arrived. We are packed and ready to go. To put the record straight, the packing had to be redone FOUR TIMES. After the first packing, I did realize that four suitcases are a bit too much. With meticulous rearranging and reshuffling I brought it down to three. But one look and one raised eyebrow from Sam sent me back to repacking.
I am at a loss about what to take out. I look carefully at the three open suitcases and go over their content. Marc will need all his clothes. I’ll need to change him often. I check his toys. Hmm. Two toys are enough. I can take out the other eight. No need for his crib mobile, I will sing him a lullaby. He loves my off-tune humming.
“Sofie!” Sam shouts from our bedroom, “do you need any help with the packing?”
“NO! Everything is under control.”
Hastily, I streamline to two suitcases and feel very proud of myself. Wearily, I stand up and go to our room. At the door, I stop aghast. On the bed, Sam has piled all the clothes he wants to take with him.
“Are you crazy!” I finally say. “We need a cargo plane for all this. Please eliminate half. I did it with Marc’s clothes and I still have to pack mine.”
After many arguments, negotiations and compromises, the suitcases are packed and we find ourselves driving to the airport. I AM SO TIRED! All I want to do is put my head back and sleep. Marc, on the other hand, is full of energy and wants to play. Sam is driving and going over the list of things we have to do before leaving. No matter how many times I tell him that everything is taken care of, he goes over each item in detail. Was this my idea? I must have been crazy to even think I could do it. I don’t think I’ll survive this trip. We are not even in the plane yet and I am already exhausted.
Going through security is easier than I thought. Having a baby in tow does have its advantages. Although Marc is behaving and does not unleash the full power of his lungs, just 40 percent of it, it is enough for the authorities to give us priority. We zoom through the lines and find ourselves sitting in the first row and are the first ones to board. The hostesses are nice and helpful. They arrange the bassinette on the hooks of the dividing screen. I place Marc in it, tummy down, to test it. He raises his head above the rim of the bassinette and searches for me. All I can see of him is his beautiful curly hair and big brown eyes. He smiles at me and I smile back. In that instant our trip becomes once more an exciting adventure.
We have landed and are now in Heathrow airport. It was by any standard an uneventful flight. It was smooth with no turbulence. How come I am so frazzled? Marc stayed awake the whole time. He was curious and inquisitive. He didn’t stay in the bassinette for more than a minute of course. He wanted to explore every inch of the plane that was within his reach. He kept climbing on my lap and gazing at the passengers in the row behind us. They found him of course so cute that they kept cooing at him and encouraging him to interact with them. As for Marc, charming passengers and crew alike was as easy as breathing. He is honing his P.R. skills on a captive audience. During the flight, he behaved like a delightful model five-month-old. He smiled, laughed, clapped hands and wiggled every part of his body to the delight of his very appreciative audience. He did not rest and sleep a wink. I guess the oxygen rich air makes one happy and alert. I wish it worked on me too. When the plane started its descent, he became fussy. The change in the cabin pressure hurt his ears. I had his bottle ready. He sucked on it and it helped. Dr. Thomas had warned me about the depressurization and told me that sucking on the nipple of the bottle would help alleviate the pressure in Marc’s ear canals and reduce the pain. As for the rest of the trip, all my careful planning was for naught. He did not play with any of his favorite toys or glance at his favorite picture book. The little red caboose and Big Bird cannot compare with a real airplane. Once in the terminal Marc decided he was tired and started to fidget. This was not a good sign since we were still waiting to pass through customs. No red carpet treatment for him here in the UK! Marc took umbrage at the wait and started crying; every parent’s nightmare, a temper tantrum in front of an immigration officer. We were in a foreign country, Marc was screaming at the top of his lungs and I had no energy left. I was tired, sleepless and ready to collapse. It is at moments like these that I thank God I was not on my own. Once outside the terminal, Sam took control. He placed Marc on his shoulders. Distracted by the novelty of being perched high, Marc stopped crying immediately. Securing Marc’s legs to his chest with one hand, Sam held my hand with the other and squeezed it gently. I don’t remember what happened next. I was so tired; I was functioning on automatic mode. It is a relief to know that I didn’t have a fit nor was I crying hysterically or we would have been on our way to the London Tower in shackles and bolts. Instead, we took a taxi.
The visit to England passed in a blur of activity and exhaustion. It was a walk down memory lane for Sam and me. We revisited all the places we had been together. We were seeing everything as if for the first time because Marc was with us. I know it’s silly to even think that Marc will remember any part of the trip, but for Sam and me having him with us made it a memorable trip. Being a family turned it into a new experience. Overall, Marc was an exemplary traveler. He had his eyes wide open as if trying to memorize every new place he saw, every new sound he heard, every new smell and taste he experienced. Of course, he didn’t want to sleep. Miss out on all the exciting sights and sounds? Never! It meant that we hardly slept either. We were in a constant state of alertness. The first few days, the jet lag hit me pretty hard. I couldn’t sleep at night, which delighted Marc. He wanted to play all the time. By the time my circadian rhythm went back to normal, it was time to go home.
STRATFORD UPON AVON; OXFORD AND WARWICK CASTLE
I am not comfortable about driving in the UK. Sam on the other hand feels up to the challenge. After two days in London he wants to see the countryside and get some fresh air. We plan the trip carefully and pack as carefully, ready for any eventuality. Sam wants to see Shakespeare’s birthplace, I want to visit Oxford University and on the way back stop at Warwick Castle.
We arrive at Stratford-upon-Avon in the early after-noon and check into a quaint hotel. The room has a large poster bed. I place Marc in the middle of the bed surrounded by fluffy white pillows. He watches me while I unpack. He is very comfortable and looks like a prince sitting on a throne. We are eager to explore the village. The atmosphere is mellow, polished by the passage of time. Main Street is full of people, tourists or locals, strolling casually or hurrying on their way to work. If I close my eyes I can see ladies in large crinoline dresses walking on the cobbled street. Time has stood still, or rather it seems that I have traveled back in time. This feeling of timelessness hangs in the air. I marvel at the buildings that have stood for hundreds of years and at the history they represent. We visit Shakespeare’s house and wonder at how small everything is and how low the ceilings are. Marc is wide-eyed, looking around him with curiosity. We stroll in the streets, explore the alleys, visit the shops and admire the river. After spending the night in Stratford, we drive to Warwick Castle, an impressive eleventh century fortress. We admire the thick walls, the beautiful tapestries and the impressive collection of arms. We have lunch there and then drive to Oxford and tour the university. We return to London pleasantly tired. We have one more day remaining. We spend it enjoying strolling through Hyde Park and relaxing at home. Then it is time to pack again and return home.
The journey back home is uneventful. Marc and I slept during most of the flight. It is good to go home. Now that I look back at this crazy odyssey, I am amazed at the energy we possessed to undertake such a journey. When I think of out time in London, it is not the sightseeing or the different places we visited that come to my mind. The feelings that remain are those of contentment and happiness, and of the knowledge that we did it together, the three of us. A precious shared experience as a family. But I still say it was a crazy thing to do: Take a five-month-old baby on an overseas trip.