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Different. Not better or worse, but traveling with baby is definitely different.
We trudged from the airport weighted down with all of our bags, the baby in his pouch on my chest because the stroller was being used to portage our caravan of accouterments, extra suitcases of baby food and other supplies and a car seat.
Instead of being at leisure to stop at will for lunch at a sidewalk cafe, or for an evening drink in a bar, we were intricately tied up in a web of seemingly endless nap and feeding times and the inevitability of bed time.
Instead of being able to enjoy our trips to the market with my usual gleeful abandon, my full focus on the flavors, sights and smells around me, much of my attention was taken up with making sure that our little guy was comfortable, dry, had his sunhat on, had enough sunscreen on, had drunken enough water, and a hundred other minuscule details that all needed to be kept in a perfect and endlessly changing balance.
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The freedom that we had experienced on our previous worldwide adventures was slipping away from us like the last swirls of water disappearing down a drain.
The first few days were tough. I am not going to sugar coat it for you. In addition to coping with diminished freedom, the change in time zones was profoundly affecting our little guy, making him tired and cranky and hard to put down to sleep.
Slowly, though, as we got used to the rhythm of the needs and wants of the little person who was now sharing our travel space, things got… better.
We had lost our freedom, but after we got our baby travel bearings and were able to stop and take a breath, we realized that we had been given a precious and irreplaceable gift in return.
We got to see the joy and pride in his eyes as he taught himself to walk in the park in Nice, and eventually figured out how to push his own stroller around. We got to see the slightly perplexed, but happy look on his face as he tried various new and exciting foods.
Our daily joy came not from doing things and visiting unknown places, but from watching him interact with the French children in the park. We got to be a part of the dance of normal daily life for a French family, enjoying the cool of evening as the heat from the day dissipated and all of the moms and the babies emerged from the hiding place of afternoon siesta.
We got to witness a thousand amazing moments that together became a bigger part of the intricate tapestry of vacation memories than the sights and activities that normally encompassed our travel experience.
We discovered a new type of freedom and joy in travel. We discovered the secret joy of anticipating nap time just right so that we got some time to ourselves to enjoy the streets of old Nice as he napped happily in his stroller. Time that would have been taken for granted before and possibly squandered became valuable like the last drop of water in a desert.
We discovered that we could still eat lunch in a cute little cafe as he sat happily next to us eating bits from our plates and we found a different kind of joy in watching him enjoying the attention lavished on him from the waiters and other diners around us.
When I think back years from now, I will only have a dim memory of the beautiful hilltop villages that we visited around Nice, but I will always remember the precious looks on my little guys’ face as he tried, saw and experienced all of those new things.
Our freedom to roam at leisure will return someday, and I like to think that when it does, it will be all that much more sweet. Right now, I have decided that I would not trade this time spent traveling with baby for anything, even freedom.