Travels with our daughter

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The first few months with a new baby are constantly filled with firsts, new adventures and exciting experiences. However, being a natural worrier, there was one particular ‘first’ that I was in fear of until we tackled it head-on a couple of weeks ago: Our first trip abroad as a family.

Having not had a proper holiday since I beautifully photographed our adventure in Canada last summer, my wife and I needed a break. But it’s also fair to say that, given that we’d never gone away with Baby M before, I ‘may’ have got myself a little worked up with worry about travelling with her and keeping her safe in an unknown place, where I didn’t know if teething gel, wet wipes and Calpol would be sold by the bucket-load.

There were so many things to consider: the ridiculous amount of luggage we would have to carry, how M would react to being on an airplane, what would happen if she were ill, how we would get around, whether her routine would be so disrupted that we – not to mention the other people staying in the apartment building we were booked into – would be able to get any sleep whatsoever. Would this disturbance involve us being unceremoniously ejected from the apartment and onto the streets of Seville, with nowhere to go with a crying baby to try and soothe? Like I said, I may have got a little worked up.

Waking up at an intrusively early hour to begin with didn’t help. Having been getting up for work at 6am during the preceding weeks, I was somewhat disappointed to discover that this was also the time that we ideally needed to be at the airport, which would mean having to get up at 4.45am in order to get ourselves and M ready, making sure we had everything we needed and loading the car. All of this was soundtracked by my grumbling about the fact I wished that I was still in bed, before Mrs.D pointed out that the reason we were up so early was that an 8am flight was the best option with regards to M’s routine, therefore giving better odds on a calmer journey. Having no further argument, I shut up.

The transfer to the airport once we’d parked the car was fine, except for some fellow travellers who were quite content to barge past us, despite the fact that we were carrying a baby, a pushchair, five pieces of luggage and my already strained nerves. We muttered in their vague direction but were gushingly grateful towards the kind Japanese man who helped us move our heavy luggage off the bus. This was a great example of when you’re tired, stressed and with a baby, other people tend to fall into either the ‘wonderfully good’ or ‘pure evil’ category. There is no middle ground.

Surprisingly though, the rest of the pre-flight build up was a breeze. We had already checked in online (it was actually Mrs.D who’d done this, I’d been too busy getting irrationally stressed) so, despite the fact that we had packed enough nappies to survive the end of days, our main suitcase was amazingly within the weight restrictions when we got to the bag drop. Thanks to the ‘family lane’ we were quickly through security as well. In my opinion, all airport security metal detector doorways should be in the shape of a castle turret (nice touch, Gatwick airport). Who knows, maybe this would have stopped Diana Ross getting quite so stroppy?

Having got through the gate and left our pushchair to be put in the hold, we were on the plane. Amazingly, M was absolutely fine. She didn’t complain about the pressure in her ears, slept for most of the 2.5 hours and only got a bit fidgety and wriggly towards the end of the flight (my apologies to the kind Spanish lady sitting next to me, who had a small plastic duck smack her on the nose from close range).

Despite being tired, I was considerably calmer. That was until we reached our home for the next week, unloaded our bags from the taxi and reached for the pushchair to pop M in and wheel her up the cobbled streets to the apartment entrance. That was when we realised that this had happened:

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I’ll take my cue from Rhod Gilbert’s brilliant luggage sketch and not specifically name the airline that trashed our pushchair, so I’ll just say that their logo is bright orange, making it look as though you are flying inside a giant Duplo toy. Rather than be placed with care and love inside the plane’s hold, the pushchair had clearly had a close-to-20kg suitcase (perhaps one including a decade’s supply of Pampers?) thrown onto it with enough force to snap one of the arms. The worst part was that the pushchair wasn’t even our own. A very good friend of ours had kindly loaned us the use of hers for the week.

Trying to get past this annoyance, we decided that the first day would be used for settling in and getting used to our surroundings, whilst also searching for Sellotape and superglue in a desperate bid to patch up the pushchair. As nighttime came about though, some of my worries were unfortunately realised.

The building we were staying in had 6 apartments, an incredibly heavy front door and marble floors throughout the building, which meant that even the slightest of sounds reverberated (you can see where this is going, can’t you?) Unfortunately, our hopes of M seamlessly getting to sleep were thwarted by people coming in at all hours of the night and morning, leaving the heavy door to slam behind them whilst having loud conversations in the reception area that was immediately outside our ground floor abode. Every time I heard any of this, the people upstairs apparently dancing to ‘The Macarena’ or the middle base of M’s cot smack against the hard floor (we’d had the cot provided with the apartment, but no mattress to accompany it), I would clench so tightly that I almost gave myself a hernia. Sometimes, our little daughter was oblivious to all this, but most of the time she awoke with a start. On the rare occasions when she ignored these unwelcome interruptions, Mrs.D and I couldn’t.

By Sunday morning, we were tired, grumpy and anxious about the prospect of a full week of no sleep. We clung to the desperate straw that this was due to it being Saturday night and that the rest of our holiday wouldn’t be as bad. Fortunately it did get better, although M still woke up a number of times most nights. Cue rather bizarre scenes commencing around 6pm each evening after we’d put her to bed. She would be lying in her travel cot in the living room, seemingly having the whole place to herself, whilst Mrs.D and I would be huddled in the bedroom with our bowls of pasta, desperately trying not to make the slightest sound.

On a positive note though, Seville is a beautiful and very baby-friendly city, with plenty of people walking around with pushchairs, albeit of the unbroken variety. We were fortunate enough to be staying in the heart of the old town, near to the cathedral, the royal palace and other historical buildings. However, this meant that there were a lot of narrow cobbled streets to manoeuvre M around. The subsequent reverberation from the broken pushchair on M’s more vocal days made her sound like Cher.

Finding places to change and feed M was relatively simple, apart from one awkward moment whereby Mrs.D decided to feed her by a rather picturesque fountain, a minute before a tour party approached to look at it. We tried to look as nonchalant as possible, but I’m pretty sure that there are some people out there who ended up with more than they bargained for in their holiday snaps.

But by the end of the week, we’d found that we had settled into the daily routines despite the broken sleep and that we had been able to plan the days pretty effectively with regards to sightseeing, eating and narrowly getting run over by trams. I’d been able to get to a football match one evening whilst Mrs.D went to a flamenco show on another night (with whoever stayed behind getting further practice with the pasta huddle). We’d been pretty pleased with everything that we’d seen throughout the week, but were looking forward to getting home on the following Saturday afternoon. Before that though, Friday night happened.

It was the start of the weekend. As per the first night, slamming doors, pissed-up and tapas-fuelled tourists and a baby who had clearly decided that she’d had enough of sleeping in the world’s most uncomfortable travel cot interrupted our precious, beautiful slumber. I’ve tried to banish memories of those hideous few hours from my mind, but our night’s sleep was summed up best by my wife at around 7am, after we’d re-opened our eyes for the millionth time: “Well, at least we got an hour”, she said.

In fact, it was such a bad night that, before we left for the airport that morning, I seriously considered going out into the lobby and banging two of the apartment’s saucepans together as a bitter revenge against our inconsiderate fellow apartment guests. I sometimes get a bit petty when I’m tired.

We didn’t say much during the taxi ride, check-in and waiting at the gate, it was all rather a lot of effort. M was quite chatty though and we were fortunate that she was really good on the plane again as well, despite getting rather upset towards the end of the flight because of her ears popping. So, my thanks go to the elderly gentleman sitting behind us who distracted her enough during landing to stop her crying. My apologies as well to the same person who may have been a little uncomfortable when I joked that he’d “have to come home with us now” (please blame my aforementioned lack of sleep).

But, despite the worry, the loud doors, sleepless nights and the broken pushchair, I felt rather sad that we were back in the cold, wet UK. It’s easy to remember the aspects of a holiday that didn’t go so well, but it was certainly a learning experience and the mishaps shouldn’t detract from all the good. In fact, I’m already thinking about the next break, maybe somewhere else in Europe around Easter time. What’s Italian for “how can I fix this pushchair?”

In other news…

– Baby M is really getting this whole crawling lark figured out. Well, at the moment it is more of a speedy shuffle, with some weird thrusting movements beforehand that suggest she’s warming up for a 100m-style sprint out of the blocks. The items that she currently makes a beeline for most include: Her own socks, a small tin of Vaseline ‘lip therapy’, my dinner, the TV remote and (scarily) the front door when it’s open.

– Her vocal stylings sometimes sound like she’s saying “Dadda”. Clearly, I have not been encouraging this. Honest.

– Christmas is approaching, so does anyone know where you can get a reindeer outfit for a 7-month old?

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To wrap or not to wrap?

In these first few weeks as a parent, I’ve found that I’m slowly getting used to all the baby-related logistics required when getting out of the house. Loading up the travel system, carrycot and car seat? Leave it with me. Changing a nappy anywhere at the drop of a hat? No problem. Making sure we have enough wipes and cotton wool to clean up the mother of all poo explosions? Done.

But, there is one thing I am yet to attempt: Wearing the baby wrap in public.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s incredibly useful as it keeps baby M perfectly snug in huge swathes of material, enabling the wearer to happily go about their business with the luxury of having both hands free (I didn’t intend for that to be as rude as it sounds). It’s also comfortable and designed for both mums and dads to wear. So, what’s my hesitation? Well, thanks to the wrap’s promotional material, I think it might have something to do with this guy:

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You see, I worry that the wrap somehow turns new dads into posers who stand in front of graffiti-emblazoned walls, whilst their child wears a look that says “This is really embarrassing, just let me go to sleep”.

Would I start trying to stand with my hips poised at a funky angle whilst giving the camera a slightly creepy grin?

I don’t even own a hat, but would I end up searching the internet for one like this striking example – not to mention the black fingerless gloves which give the whole outfit a look that sits somewhere between Freddy Krueger and a failed pop band from the 1980s? All in the name of living up to the high standards set here?

Alternatively, it could have absolutely nothing to do with the sophisticated devil above and more to do with the fact that I still can’t tie the bloody thing properly.

The home straight

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At the time of writing, my wife is in week 37 of her pregnancy and the due date is looming. I’m not sure if there is an unofficial  ‘home straight’ in pregnancy terms, but it feels like we are in it.

This is probably because the baby has grown so much in the last few weeks and has been visibly kicking for a while now. When my wife sits down at the end of the day, the baby decides to wake up by having some sort of disco – it’s amazing and yet totally bonkers.

Also, we’ve started the antenatal classes, which are another landmark that has made the whole thing seem much closer.  In the session last week, our group leader asked us what we had been doing in preparation for the baby’s arrival…

Birth research:

The book reading has continued in earnest, although there is one book I wish we didn’t have. It’s quite an old journal, given to my wife by her shiatsu practitioner and has one particular picture of a birth that made me instantly regret turning towards it when my wife told me to. I won’t be too descriptive, for fear of traumatising you in the same way that made me wish I could replace my eyeballs.  So, I’ll just describe the picture in two words and then quickly move on. The two words are ‘face first’.

Now let’s never speak of this again.

Thinking about the birth plan:

I was surprised at how detailed the birth plan tends to be, as it incorporates factors that I wouldn’t have thought about other than how to avoid getting the car clamped for being in the hospital car park too long. Anyway, I’m told that it has to consist of a bit more than ‘Go to hospital, lie on bed, push a bit, deliver baby, high-fives all round, go home’.

Releasing ‘Rosie’:

This is not a euphemism, but instead the name of my wife’s childhood doll that has been dragged out of the darkest reaches of hell an old suitcase in order for us to practice cradling, changing etc. Anyone who read my last blog post may have noticed that I have a bit of an issue with dolls, in that they generally terrify me. Rosie is no exception, as she has a flickering lazy eye that suggests she’s plotting some kind of psychotic revenge after being trapped in the attic for 25 years.

Practising nappy-changing:

We used Rosie, a changing mat and a disposable nappy for this process. Mrs.D’s nappy changing was superb – the nappy was fastened securely and looked comfortable. My attempt was pretty poor. Because I was evidently wary of provoking a demonic plastic doll by giving it a ‘wedgie’, I left the nappy way too loose. Apparently, leaving more space for the baby’s poo to be collected is not considered a benefit of this approach.

Using the baby sling:

Our baby sling was kindly given to us by one of my wife’s close friends. Mrs.D forced me into it after about 30 minutes of strap-tweaking and before I knew it, I had the evil doll loosely tied to my chest. I briefly pretended to be a superhero and tried to find a mask to put on Rosie in order to a) pretend she was my sidekick and b) cover up the manic lazy eye, but sadly didn’t have one to hand.

Preparing the hospital bags:

As well as the basics, our group leader suggested comfortable footwear for mums, such as flip-flops and slippers.  However, she accidentally said ‘flippers’ instead of slippers, making me think for a minute that, in order to kill some time, you could have fun by scaring anyone who was hoping to use a birthing pool.

Visiting the hospital:

We have the pre-birth tour this weekend. Is it wrong that I’m excited about the Ben & Jerry’s vending machine near the maternity ward?

Putting the cot together:

My father-in-law and I assembled it (ok, he did the majority of the work but I held the instructions and spare screws).  It now takes up 50% of the room and is so immoveable that I’m convinced it would survive in the event of a nuclear explosion hitting south east England.

Learning about swaddling:

Ok, this is one we learnt in the antenatal group. Swaddling is a technique that I had previously only heard of in biblical terms and involves wrapping the baby up ‘strait jacket’ style in order to keep them warm and hopefully send them to sleep. A lot of babies seem to like this, despite the fact that it tends to make them look like a human burrito.

Attempting to get in shape:

I should point out that his one is just for me. Looking after a baby and carrying around an array of bags, travel systems and general ‘stuff’ is hard work, so I need to get fit again. My wife may be the one carrying the baby, but I’m definitely the one who’s put on the most weight.