Regular readers of this column have probably observed that in addition to my husband, Oggi, another family member has begun to make an appearance: our baby daughter, Zelda.
As often happens, this year I was part of a baby boom in which most of my friends — at times it seemed like half the people I knew in the world — had children. I thought about the eager audience I’d have for advice on traveling with little ones.
I envisioned applying for Zelda’s passports (lucky girl, she already has two) and whisking her around the globe with me. As it turned out, parenthood brought out the neurosis in my husband, and he fretted for months about taking her outside our apartment.
So we have yet to schlep her along overseas. But by her eighth month, Zelda had already road-tripped Southern California, visited San Francisco and Boston, and gotten comfortable with hotel rooms, airplane restrooms and the rocking of ferry boats. (Oggi is always right there with an extra sweater. Who would have thought that of the two of us, he’d be the Jewish mother?)
Even given all the mileage she’s logged, as Zelda approaches her first birthday, I have little advice to offer. That’s because — as every parent must already know — Zelda changes so much every month of her life that what was true in June is obsolete in October, and probably not applicable to anyone else’s baby anyhow.
Zelda’s not the only one changing. JetBlue, long a favorite airline of parents for its extra legroom, free snacks and complimentary checked suitcase, recently announced that it will scrunch away that extra space with more seats per plane and start charging for checked luggage. (If I were Santa Claus, I’d put coal in JetBlue’s stocking.) Zelda and I have enjoyed comfortable, economical cross-country jaunts on JetBlue in 2014, but we’ll obviously have to change strategies in 2015.
So far, the biggest surprise for me as a traveling parent is this: Going anywhere with a baby is like traveling with a rock star.
Nobody ever tells you that. People dramatize the horrors of sleepless nights, the tedium of naps and feedings, and the frustration of giving up child-free pleasures. But they fail to mention that carrying a grinning, toothless, bright-eyed baby girl through Logan Airport crowds will inspire so much random affection — and enthusiastic kicking from said infant — that you may miss your flight amid the adulation.
“And if you think that’s a lot of attention,” commented a male friend, a single Jewish father of two, “try doing that as a man. You can’t believe the fawning.”
The scene was like a wedding receiving line after Zelda’s first cross-country flight, as passengers congratulated us, one after the other, as they filed out past where we waited for the checked stroller. “Your daughter was just great!” they crowed. “How marvelous!”
I beamed, then checked myself. It’s not like I did anything to deserve it.
In many ways, I suspect this will be the easiest age for travel. Zelda is not yet old enough to be confused by foreign languages — so far, they’re all foreign — or turned off by esoteric cultural fare. She is too young to express strong opinions or preferences. If the museum is boring, she’ll sleep through it.
At the same time, Zelda notices things I never would. Touring farms on a rural excursion, she focused not on the animals but on the texture of a gate, the vines curling around a tree, a butterfly flitting by. What could have been a prosaic farm visit became magical in its detail.
At Zelda’s first trip to the beach, I scanned the endless horizon for ships; surveyed the shimmer of sun on water; and considered the texture of the sand, all in anticipation of how she might perceive it. The cliché is true: seeing the world through a child’s eyes is extraordinary, and it has made me a far more thoughtful and observant traveler.
On a recent flight, I even had the radical thought that traveling is more fun with a baby. Virtually everyone has assumed that Zelda would cramp our style, imposing restrictions and distracting us with her fussing. While we do have to plan our days around nap times — and evening outings require more strategy — those negatives are far outweighed by the thrill of introducing Zelda to the deep rumble of a pipe organ, the proprietor of a seaside café or the landscape of a new park.
So as Zelda toddles, wobbly but determined, out of babyhood and toward that terrible day when she will no longer fly free on my lap, I can only think of one piece of advice to give thus far. And that is that everyone should have a baby as terrific as mine.