I have always aspired to write a travel blog post with superb tips on how to travel well with a toddler but it wasn’t meant to be! I think now, after so many holidays, BabyA is better prepared to compose a baby blog on how to keep your parents on a tight leash through a holiday, since she is the one with the reigns in her hands, while we stumble through foreign landscapes with her. If only her friends could read, what a hit she’d be!
Traveling with kids is a completely different ball game from what it was when you didn’t have any. From the first flight that I took with her since she was four months old, I could sense the looks that I got as I walked in, being treated like a leper- each passenger looking at me with unmasked fear flickering in his eyes, praying under his breath that I wouldn’t sit next to him. You’d think I was holding an AK 47 in my hands rather than a little cherubic infant.
I can’t say BabyA is a bad traveler. No one can accuse her of being the cranky child on the flight whose shrieks paralyze fellow passengers into an auditory coma, where they can no longer sleep, eat or hear themselves think. She’s a happy traveler- also better know as “Happy Singh” by her cousins who have gotten used to traveling with her overly joyful personality. But is she easy on the parents? No way! She’s in fact too happy on a flight, and thus, her hyper nature is manifested in her incessantly jabbing the traveler in front of her with her kicks (paralyzingly him into a real coma), and jumping from seat to seat, shrieking in laughter. It’s like trying to control an over-excited pup on drugs! She’s all over the place!
I remember how courageous (and mostly naïve) I was on that November day when I bravely decided to travel with her, sans husband, to Pattaya and Bangkok when she was merely a year and a half old. It was my Mama’s* 70th birthday and in all honesty, I was going to have half the Punjabi Bania population of Mumbai (all being my family: parents, siblings, first cousins, nieces and nephews) on the flight with me so what could really go wrong? 50 family members could surely compensate for 1 missing husband and 1 missing maid. But I was wrong!
My “toofanmail”** woke up at 5 am to head to the airport, fairly easily and excitedly, but from that moment to the time we reached Pattaya, 15 hours later, she didn’t sleep more than a half hour. Even after making her chug sleep-including anti-histamines, all she did was run from one end of the airport to the other. I imagined she would be fenced in during the flight and that would force her to sleep, but in the air, for 4 hours, she stood on my thighs and jumped up and down continuously, peeking at the sleeping body behind, tugging at a cousin’s remaining strands of hair in front.
She also made up an innovative “Maathi-lah” game to entertain herself. Aranya had picked up (in advance) the Southeast Asian habit of adding “lah”as a suffix after words/sentences and had started calling her Masi “Maathi-lah”! At first very endearing, my sister didn’t know that this name would be her undoing. The game was that whenever she suspected her tired Masi, on the other side of the aisle, had finally caught some shut-eye, she would go and shake her up screaming “Maathila!” till she was shocked out of slumber, only to give her a sweet, million dollar smile, and run back to me. Once she was sure that my sister had managed to lull herself back to sleep, she would do it over and over, for the next hour.
The bus ride to Pattaya was similar- more jumping on my thighs till I had to explain to her that when I said, “Be friendly and play with the Thais”, I hadn’t meant MY thighs! Then she started running up and down the aisle of the bus (while all other children slept peacefully), giving mini heart attacks to my big, fat Punju family, because at every brake, she threatened to fall down the bus-stairs.
It got so frustrating and tiring that at one point, I was ready to smack her, and finally started sobbing out of exhaustion and anger. It was the perfect place to have a mental and physical breakdown, as my mom, masis, mamis and cousins surrounded me, commiserating: first trying to restrain this mental toddler (who seemed to have gotten her hands on illegal stimulants before we reached the shady parts of Pattaya) but later reassuring me that the first day would be the hardest but it would get easier. And it did.
As my niece pointed out, with BabyA’s chubby cheeks, chinky eyes and poker straight hair, she had anyway emulated the adorable Asian baby look, making us look like child traffickers trying to smuggle a Thai baby out of their country, as the Immigration officer assaulted me with suspicious looks when we were leaving. This helped her blend in and the cuteness factor helped me buy some bubble tea and rest my bubble butt for a moment while some or the other local engaged in pulling her cheeks and cooing melodious, foreign words to her!
I had decided that since she was over a year, I wasn’t going to indulge her by being a “khichdi mom”***, armed with my pressure cooker, rice-dal and killer cooking attitude. I was going to be the lazy mom that I am who wants her daughter to adapt to her surroundings, even if it meant making her eat egg fried rice mixed with strawberry yoghurt on some occasions. And BabyA went along, dahi (yoghurt) in her Pad Thai, et al. She was as easy as her BabyA-ness allowed her to be! Everything in life is relative, and after the flight from hell on that first day I ever traveled abroad with her, all other travel days have seemed easier.
In retrospect, since I can’t blame BabyA of being a bad traveler, let’s just say that Nandy and I, over many holidays, came to realise that after every trip with her, we need a holiday to rest from the stress of the earlier one. We understood that we aren’t ideal “parent-travelers” and are better off just taking off on our own, at least once a year. So I have to say I love planning baby getaways (getting away from the baby) to exotic locales and sipping on a Mai Tai, while BabyA bonds with Dadi, Nani and SakuBai. It’s fun being me for ten days in a year, and leaving Mom-Bai back in Mumbai- where she belongs!
From Mom-on-leash to Mommy Unleashed!
*Mama- maternal uncle
***Khichdi- a dish made of lentils and rice, easy on digestion that usually serves as comfort food for babies.