OUTPOUR 4 : THE SILENT TERROR BEHIND THE HAPPY HOLIDAYS …WITH A LITTLE HUMAN

My husband and I enjoy holidaying to new places but I personally dread an awful and the most basic stage it involves. PACKING. Unlike most people who get super excited about packing for a holiday, I dread the whole “process” of packing – from randomly browsing through my stuff, to deciding, to shortlisting and then finally fitting those selected items into the damn suitcase. Over the years, thanks to my husband’s pep talks enlisting the advantages of travelling light, I had gradually grown to become a light traveller. Along the way, I had to work really, REALLY hard on the shortlisting part of packing, but I had learnt to do it eventually. Although I don’t like to admit, but my husband was right. I didn’t really need most of the things I used to over-pack and it did actually turn out to be quite an efficient and a fun way to travel. BUT… that was the PRE-BABY ERA of our lives. Just the carefree him and me. But now, we have suddenly taken a significant and a permanent leap into the POST-BABY ERA of our lives. Little did I realise how much goes into holidaying with a little human .. or more specially how much goes into the process of packing for a tiny human.

Now, I happen to be a “checklist kind of person” and the items on my checklist also have to go through the tedious steps of enlisting, deciding, shortlisting and adding the final bullets. So let me take you back to the time when my little one was not even 1, and we were all taking a holiday together, as a family of 3, for the very first time. Now when I look back, as new parents we sure had to be brave enough to have survived not 1 but 2 holidays in the very first year of my little one’s life. I am not talking about those short get-a-ways, but I’m talking about holidays involving 8 hour flights and about 10-14 days away from home. So, instead of freaking out before taking those holidays, I decided to make a checklist of things to pack for my little one. There’s tonnes of reading material available on that topic. So I read, listed, customised, re-listed, decided, shortlisted and finally added the bullets. It’s laughable but this long and tiresome process actually helped me pack for my baby. Well, at least I thought it did… back then.

Once the checklist had the final bullets, next step involved getting those items to fit into the suitcase. NOT as simple as it sounds – given that its me, the psycho super mom. So for me, this step involves loading the finalised items into the bag in an organised manner. Then, the organised bag has to be reorganised in a compartmentalised manner. Then the compartmentalised bag has to be re-reorganised in a practical manner, to make accessibility of items easier. #OCDMum. Having done that, I always need to go back to the shortlisting part and get rid of some excess items that won’t fit, all the while praying that I won’t regret this decision when we are at the holiday destination. And the final step, which I dread the most, involves my husband inspecting the packed suitcase. Now usually, he would question the very presence of a lot of items in the packed suitcase but then he let it pass as it was the first time our little one was going on a holiday and she should have all that she needs. Her comfort is the priority, if not, she will let her discomfort known in ways that can completely ruin the very purpose of a holiday. Now, let’s take a stock of the things that she absolutely needed to be comfortable for the 7-14 days that she was gonna be away from home. “The absolutely needed or cannot do without” items… Or so i thought… back then.

Well, diapers, wet wipes, formula milk and milk bottles took most of the space in the suitcase. Yes ofcourse, I packed the scoopers and powder dispensers for convenience purposes. I even carried her milk bottle cleaning detergent. My husband was just thankful that I didn’t pack the bottle steriliser although I did get concerned about how I would clean the used bottles. Washing them with HOT WATER was the obvious make-do but that didn’t register in me, at that point in time. New Mommy Brain IS Real! So yeah diapers (inclusive of swimming diapers) and milk (inclusive of accessories) were packed. Our daughter was 6 months old when we took our first holiday. So she was eating food purées in her meals as well. The baby’s food purée containers and pouches was all it took to fill up the suitcase to half its capacity. I even carried her favourite snacks like crackers and biscuits just to make sure that she had enough to eat and didn’t fall sick after trying something new out there. Now that I was carrying snacks, I needed to carry her snack catcher bowls so she could munch independently, as and when she needed. And if I was carrying the snack catcher, what difference would a few spoons and forks make, right? I was crazy enough to even carry her suction plates and bowls for the next couple of our holidays. So anyways that filled up half the suitcase. Well, at least I thought it did… back then.

The other half had clothes – clothes for daily wear, night wear, extra wear, and footwear. Then came fabric based essentials like napkins, bibs, socks, swim wear, towels, and blankets. Speaking of clothes and fabrics, yes I did carry her laundry detergent too. What if she throws up or soils her clothes?! Again, my husband was glad that I was leaving the fabric softeners back home. And, if I was carrying the baby’s laundry detergent, I HAD TO carry her body wash, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, sunscreen and rash cream. Rash cream led to other sorts of medication, just in case she had a reaction to something and got under the weather. So yeah, medicines took a good amount of space and the suitcase was almost full. And I was almost done…. or, at least I thought I was…back then.

Then I moved to baby entertainment although there was very little room left for that. But baby needs entertainment… so I took her favourite toys, books, teethers and pacifiers as well. She shouldn’t get bored and cranky, right! At this point, I would like to bring it to your attention that we were already loaded with carrying her travel stroller and the baby carrier. So, we had ensured that she had EVERYTHING she needs and we didn’t have to go through any hiccups or breakdowns over trying out something new on the holiday. Now when I look back and think about it, wasn’t the very purpose of a holiday to explore? Do and try things “out of the usual”? Get a break? But back then, I was on a mission to obsessively replicate my baby’s exact every day life and routines, just at the holiday destination. Doing the exact same grind, but at a different location. I was so not ready to explore and embrace “the out of the usual” or any sort of “change”, specially when I had bent backwards to establish a settled routine that worked to comfort and suit my baby. I was so obsessive that I even carried her grooming tools like the nail cutter, hair clips, rubber bands & her hygiene stuff like face wipes, mosquito patches and sanitisers. Didn’t want her to be uncomfortable in any way and miss out on packing anything at all, however small or big. Once we packed the baby’s suitcase, we dumped our stuff into our suitcases (making our packing process so irrelevant) and we were finally ready to go – with 3 check-in suitcases (the baby’s suitcase being the biggest and heaviest), a baby in the baby carrier, baby’s essentials and entertainment as a carry-on and a folded travel stroller (which however compact, was like carrying an extra suitcase). Phew, so much for being light travellers! Let the holiday begin… Next hurdle – the baby’s first flight! Well, at least that’s what I thought… back then.

I was so so so dreading the flight because my baby didn’t even sit in the car seat for long, without whining, crying or plain simple howling (while resisting the physical restraints). I always saw other infants and wondered how they were independently sitting motionless in their car seats and strollers, doing their own thing, making it all look so at ease and so at peace. But my little human was all about challenging the usual and somehow needed to be entertained and spoken to, at most if not all times, when in the car seat or in the stroller. There was a phase when she cried each time the car stopped at a traffic light. Luckily that was not going to be a problem on the plane. The thing that had the potential of being a problem was the whole newness element, with lots of new faces (pleasant and unpleasant ones), all in an enclosed space along with the physical restraint of the being assigned to a seat with a seatbelt. However, these were problems which I was actively finding solutions to and hoping they would work onboard. All I had to do was keep her intimately close to me – entertained and distracted. That and eye contact usually worked to blend her into new social situations. Baby carrier was a boon by now, after she had resisted it for the longest time; she had completely adapted to find comfort in the baby carrier by 6 months of age. Still, easier said than done, try eating a meal with a squirmy 6 month old in your baby carrier. Anyways moving on, what I had to truly worry about was the potential problem of a more technical nature. The whole ear popping thingy that happens when flying high altitudes. The solution was as simple as “ to keep swallowing”. but I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it work. Milk, water, pacifier, teether – I carried all of these on standby hoping at least one of those would work. Or so I thought… back then.

In spite of being prepared like we were preparing for war, there is always this unknown and unexpected risk with kids. These are called TEMPER TANTRUMS – an irrational way of asserting their identity, preferences and desires, at any cost, with no room for distractions or negotiations whatsoever. I know of articles that suggest there’s always a rational explanation for every one of those tantrums and how we can better manage them as parents. I did believe in those before I became a parent, back when I was just an educator. Not anymore! In reality, those tantrum bombs might just explode, without any trigger or warning of any sort. Maybe my wild imagination, but kids might simply decide to be unconsolable and cry their lungs out, for reasons we new parents couldn’t possibly know, forget address. As new parents, we keep ticking and striking out the various possible reasons for a random tantrum, but there are times when none of that work. That’s the reality. Let’s not even get into the part where she could became a social nuisance and an annoyingly nagging source of noise pollution onboard. We have all been victims of such a situation where a stranger’s kid onboard is getting on our nerves when we are trying to have a pleasant flight, as advised by the airline. Reactions to those cries can range from tolerating to ignoring to judging to showing sympathy to visibly glaring or to even being passionate and helpful by trying to be a distraction for the poor, distressed parent and baby by making polite conversations and funny faces. What was going to happen to us onboard? How were we going to do this, with a super alert and undeceivable new infant? We were all new to this after all!

After all that over-thinking, it turned out, the flying didn’t bother her at-all. It was as if nothing had changed for her – during taking off, flying or landing. She felt no different. BORN TO FLY, I GUESS! Nevertheless, as a new, anxious mum, the whole time I was on standby with anything she would need, but as I kept this hyper vigilant eye on my baby, all of the flying motions went unnoticed by her, THANK GOD! The anxiety during turbulence bothered me more than her because I know what turbulence is. But for her, she appeared to be believing that this is all a part of flying on a plane. Nothing to complain about if she’s learning to accept turbulence as a part and parcel of air travel. Perfect in fact! She was busy and engaged as long as I held her close to me and entertained her.

Strangely and least expectedly, what bothered her, however, were the kind strangers who were trying to compliment her, sharing playful glances with her, and simply trying to make her (and us) feel comfortable. She howled every time an airline staff greeted her with a smile and each time any crew member appeared to have a polite exchange (be it verbal or nonverbal) with her or her parents. She was crying as if they were going to take her away from us. Yes, that scary! The whole time, I was trying to explain to her what the “affectionate and helpful strangers” were trying to do for us but she refused to accept or even listen to any of my pep talk. Solution was to hug her tighter while she could squeeze our arm and elbow to console herself. I am also guilty of stuffing a pacifier in her mouth to get instant relief from the noise, paranoia, embarrassment and judgement. But I soon stopped doing that. She had to be given opportunities to learn about and to manage her emotions, even if it was of inconvenience to strangers. They all had their noise cancelling headphones, didn’t they? Why should my baby have to stuff a pacifier into her mouth when everyone around could just as easily stuff those headphones into their ears. #Ontheothersideofchaos. So anyways, other than the fact that she didn’t enjoy strangers conversing with her or her parents (which to no one’s surprise, happens A LOT when travelling), my little one was doing good for a young traveller on her early expeditions. Even today as a 2 year old, she is generally the kind that, if she gets too much instant attention from strangers, she’s overwhelmed and cries her lungs out but when ignored and given some space, she’s just fine observing for a while and then gradually taking the first step to initiate contact. After that, there’s no stopping her from interacting with you. That’s very unlike toddlers, because most would probably enjoy all the unwarranted and unlimited attention and affection given to them, at any point in time. We, at times, have even considered carrying a placard stating “The best way to connect with our baby is to ignore her at first.” But we don’t, we just give a verbal disclaimer about her need for space.

So lets get back to me, who still gets possessed by the psycho mom qualities from time to time. This time, my paranoia was about whether or not my baby was eating and drinking enough on the holiday. Yep back to primitive needs, every moms paranoia. I was constantly obsessing over the fact that my baby wasn’t following her “usual” eating habits, which now when I look back, was completely unnecessary on my part. She is a human and knows how much food she needs and when. No one eats consistently the same amount of meals everyday. So yes that over-obsession of mine ruined a couple of moments which could have gone happier otherwise. She, on the other hand, turned out to be a good traveller and generally a happy kid on holidays. Touch wood!

My husband and me however realised that our holidays were never going to be like PRE BABY ERA. We, as new parents, had a tough time adjusting to the reality that holidaying in the POST BABY ERA was more or less going to be child centric. After a few cranky tantrums and outbursts about how we were never going to get to truly relax on a holiday ever again, we decided to make peace with it. Not that we had a choice. The other option was to not holiday altogether but that wasn’t going to happen. So, then on, on holidays, my husband and I had to carefully plan our activities and prioritise such that we could get to do at least some of the things that we usually enjoyed doing on holidays before the arrival of the baby. So we took turns to watch the baby… like when I went to the spa or when my husband went for some adventure sports. The difference being that my husband could switch off when doing “his activities” while being at peace with the thought that the baby was doing just fine, under the super mum’s care. However, that didn’t happen when I was doing “my activities”. I simply couldn’t switch off when doing my choice of solo activities. I was constantly worried about how it was going between the new dad and the new baby. What were they up to? Who was the one having fun? At what cost? Who was being more difficult? Who was being more harassed? Did she eat well? Did she let him eat well? Did they sleep well? Did they over sleep? Who lost their patience? Who was frustrated? How were they being consoled? Did they fight and make up? How much mess would I have to clean up? How much damage would I need to fix? The questions went on and on and on… Turns out kids behave drastically different when left alone with either parent – especially mine. This father-daughter duo can go from having a blast to getting on each other’s nerves, in no time. Never know who might snap and when. In all fairness, my husband sincerely does try his best to comply with my baby care and baby entertainment policies, but we both know, that I execute them better, in a more disciplined manner. Or rather, my baby allows me to execute the plan much better (well at most times) while she makes the most out of any opportunity to walk all over her dad – manipulating him into getting her way. Daddy’s girl after all!

Ofcourse, we did most of the other things together as a family, and our little one even got over her fear and anxiety around strangers. She started to enjoy those conversational moments when she saw her parents enjoying them too. Again HAPPY PARENTS = HAPPY BABY. Other than a few minor and major outbursts that occurred due to adjustment issues (OUR adjustment issues), the early on holidays were generally smoother than we had expected. We had prepared for the worst and we realised that she was enjoying as long as we were enjoying. As simple and yet as complicated as that! She has a curious nature, so holidays open her up to a world of new experiences which was just what she needed to feed her curiosity and have an engaging experience. Needless to say, she still cried when having a bath or changing diapers, which was a mood killer for everyone but after a few unproductive emotional outbursts, we got over that as well. The key is to monitor for comfort and safety yet ignore, fight out but choose your battles and accept the setbacks only to keep going forward as planned. I gradually learnt that if too little attention leads to attention seeking tantrums, then too much attention leads to attention hogging tantrums. I even learnt, firsthand, that most of the things that I had packed, stayed packed even after we returned home from the holiday. The baby entertainment carry-on bag came back home, untouched. That is some hard core proof of the fact that most things packed for the baby, weren’t really necessary to be packed in the first place. She could easily do without them for those few days that she was away from home. She adapted just fine, although we, as new parents, could have done better only if we were better prepared, mentally. Now, OUR POST BABY ERA of holidaying is the new normal. Yes I confess that we often think about and miss the PRE BABY ERA or even at times regret the responsibilities that come with being parents, but we have made peace with that. We accept and move on. We have accepted that things may or will go wrong. We have committed to make the most out of our family holidays, keeping everyone’s interest in mind – ofcourse its gonna be more in the baby’s interest. We have accepted that I don’t need to pack like a hoarder for the baby. #BeingAMinimalist. With the MARIE KONDO way of packing, we are all travelling light and moving forward, without stopping to look back. We don’t know how long this new mantra will work for us as I hear holidaying with preteen’s and tweens is even more stressful. But we shall get to managing that, when we get there. For now, the terror of travelling and holidaying with a kid, has subsided. I still silently dread “stuff” happening (not as per our plan) but regardless, in the process we end up making some great memories on our holidays as a family. MEMORIES, the happy as well as the not-so-happy ones, is what always make us SMILE. We couldn’t ask for more! I am told that someday, we will miss these crazy times and have trouble adapting to a life without a minor to love and care for… #DreadingEmptyNest. So we shall make the most out of this too!

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