When I first moved away from Santa Rosa to live with my husband for his job with the Air Force, I decided that I would visit as often as possible. Before parenthood, traveling home to visit was generally easy and relaxing. I controlled my schedule. I was able to see everyone at least once. Last-minute plans were easy to make.
Now don’t get me wrong – I love my daughter more than life itself. I would do anything in the world to make her feel safe, happy, and fiercely loved. She renews my faith in humanity daily and compels me to be not just a better father, but a better person. That being said, having a toddler has altered the routine of traveling home in multiple ways, which I (foolishly) did not expect.
Traveling Home Starts at the Airport
If you’re like me and live far away from home, you’re often a participant in everyone’s favorite mode of transportation – air travel. As a solo airplane passenger, the trip isn’t that bad. You arrive at the airport, check your bag, breeze through security, board the plane quickly, read a book or play games on your phone during the flight, and then collect your bag at baggage claim before heading home.
With a toddler, the plane ride home now feels like a viewing of the movie Titanic. Everyone is hopeful (for some reason) that this time, everything will go smoothly and that tears will not be shed. You’re able to leave on time for the drive to the airport. Miraculously, there is parking close to the terminal. The attendant at the check-in counter is super nice and engages in friendly conversation with you while pretending not to see the baggage scale flashing “Over weight.” Things are looking up, baby!
However, all hopes and dreams of a pleasant experience are promptly crushed once you arrive at the security checkpoint. Your child tries to run away while you’re putting bags and shoes on the conveyer belt. The stroller gets caught in the x-ray machine. Their sippy cup is still full of water, so the diaper bag is flagged for chemical testing. The rest of the trip continues in much the same way, which ultimately leaves everyone involved sobbing uncontrollably while desperately trying to maintain a shred of dignity and self-control.
Everything is different.
On your own, it’s easy to adjust to the differences that come with travel – time zone, sleeping accommodations, daily schedule, and people. For a toddler, everything is new and different. They recognize some faces, but many are foreign to them. It seems logical to go to bed at 7 p.m. because to them it’s really 9 p.m. However, you can’t let your toddler go to sleep yet or they’ll be up at 5 a.m. and ready for the day. They still get to sleep in a bed, but it’s not their bed so it’s hard to stay asleep. And why are we getting ready to go somewhere at 8 a.m. when we normally stay in our pajamas until 10 a.m.?!!!
Their schedule is your schedule.
This is probably the most glaring disparity between traveling home alone and traveling home with a toddler, and likely the hardest for friends and family to understand. When you travel alone, you are in complete control of the schedule – when you wake, who you see, where you eat, what you do, when you go to sleep. Even if you’re sick, it’s feasible to drive over to a friend’s house to see them for a bit.
When traveling home with a toddler, they run the show. Wine tasting sounds perfect, but you know they won’t have any fun in a noisy winery for an hour. You therefore persuade your friends to meet up at the park where your child can run around and go down a slide repeatedly. You can plan to get together with a friend before 1 p.m. or after 3 p.m., but for those two hours you need to be at home for nap time. However, even the nap may start earlier and/or run longer than usual. So you warn your friends to not take it personally if plans change at the last minute. Oh, and you need to be eating dinner by 6:15 p.m. (unless your friends want to become an active participant in a hunger-induced tantrum), so make your dinner reservations for 5:45 p.m. at the latest.
The new normal
Traveling home with a toddler is stressful, but it’s also wonderful in many ways. Your child gets to spend time with your family each day, which is a rare occurrence. Your friends get to play and laugh with them, which causes your heart to overflow with gratitude. You’re able to go places that you went as a kid (for me, it’s Howarth Park and Mary’s Pizza Shack) with your child. Trips back home fill our souls with joy and our lives with adventure. In spite of the challenges and exhaustion that inevitably accompany traveling with a toddler, it is something to be grateful for. This is the new normal, and I don’t know about you, but I absolutely love it!