Traveling with Crowded Hands

May 28, 2014

Last week, Mike had a four day training conference in Hawaii. In my mind, this work trip summed up to one complementary plane ticket + one complementary rental car + one complementary hotel=  WE ARE GOING TO Hawaaaaaiiiiiiiiiii.

Travel is particularly fun when the Navy pays for it.

It’s particularly interesting when you have a three month old.

When we traveled before the baby , Mike and I scoffed at checked baggage. We folded underwear into pocket sized pieces and stuffed socks inside tennis shoes. We prioritized toiletries, packing a tube of face wash at the cost of shampoo. We were the people that carried on. We always carried on. For our 22-day trip to Africa and 11-day trip to Europe, Mike and I each traveled with a backpack. Simplicity was a strict family value. It still is

So for Hawaii 2014, we were optimistic. I assumed we would fold baby clothes into pocket sized pieces and bring exactly one pair of flip flops each. The hotel could provide a pack-and-play; I bought a collapsible bouncy chair; and I was completely fine sacrificing a whole week of unwashed hair for a tube of toothpaste.

But very soon, simplicity got a little complicated.

Mike had to bring uniforms for the “work” he had to do in Hawaii. And since his combat boots are the size of two Mollys, the uniforms soon had their very own suitcase.

Then it dawned on us that work trips require work accessories, so the two of us filled a whole bag with our combined work laptops, chargers, and notepads.

Then we remembered that we have a baby, a baby that pukes a lot, a baby that drools a lot, and a baby that views the confines of her diaper as a challenge to be overcome. Between the spit up and the slobber and the spontaneous poop-ageddon that occurs every 12-36 hours, baby girl needs to travel with as many outfit changes as Beyoncé.

So on the eve of our Hawaiian adventure, Mike and I  evaluated  the island cargo and realized we were facing an inevitable nightmare. We were going to have to check bags.

Parenthood robbed us of our cool, slim travel agenda, but instead of looting our necessary goods, it added awkwardly sized paraphernalia, a baby syringe, and five different liquids each over three ounces. Then it brainwashed us into “going to Target one last time.”

The travel day came and when we checked in at the airline desk, the friendly flight attendant took our ID’s, assigned us some seats, and cheerfully asked “How many bags?”

We paused.

We stared at the baby.

We stared at each other.


Four checked bags.

Car seat. Stroller. Suitcase. Suitcase.

We hung our head our heads in shame.

But the real awakening of parenthood arrived on the grueling pilgrimage down the narrow boarding aisle of the airplane. Before babydom, Mike and I had many times cruised down the airplane aisle with our compact backpacks and leisure reading material, arrogantly boarding as the very last passengers, making the flight by a margin of moments as the aircraft door closed behind us.

We thought we were really cool back then. We napped on airplanes, left untouched beverages on the tray table, and took advantage of all the free space by flipping through a magazine or talking with our hands.

This time we boarded the six hour flight from San Francisco to Honolulu with a different perspective altogether. As we traversed the narrow flight aisle, fellow passengers’ eyes met mine and relayed this desperate plea: “Please God let this young family pass. Send them, their drooling baby, and their diaper bag to the deep bowels of the plane. Please.”

I could hear deep exhales from every row I passed as I inadvertently clobbered several aisle-seated passengers with the diaper bag.

Mike and I boarded with apologetic eyes, hoping there was an open seat near us, silently interceding that our three month old would blackout from the altitude.

We boarded early. We sat down. We waited and prophesied over Molly: “You are getting very sleepy…”

Soon a couple joined us in our row. They were nice and seemed vaguely familiar. They were a young married couple, a blonde woman and a brunette man in their twenties without any kids. They were traveling the world together, going on adventures with leisure reading material in hand. They were among the last to board the plane.

They were our throwback doppelgangers.

And as I sat in that narrow row with a beautiful baby in my crowded hands, I realized that life is exactly as wonderful now as it was then. No vacancy, no loss, no regret. Just more love, more drool, more luggage, more wonder.

The big, booming adventure lives on, and now we just fight harder to chase it, to plan a little more strategically, to remember to pack baby sunscreen, to silence the relentless tide of self-doubt that shuns the adventure before it begins.

We must grow stronger arms, because now we have more cargo to carry. We have more to offer the world we explore.

The wise Brené Brown writes:

Who we are and how we engage with the world are much stronger predictors of how our children will do than what we know about parenting. In terms of teaching our children to dare greatly in the “never enough” culture, the question isn’t so much ‘Are you parenting the right way?’ as it is ‘Are you the adult that you want your child to grow up to be?

So perhaps the Hawaiian adventure was as much for Molly’s benefit as it was for ours. If I want Molly to be self-assured and curious and brave, I must give her opportunities to be those things. I must embody those things. I must occasionally choose adventure over simplicity. I must be willing to travel with crowded hands.

The greatest irony of all is that Molly didn’t experience any stress at all on the flight, both coming and going. She didn’t cry. She slept, sucked on her thumb, and slobbered into her intensely saturated clothing. Mike and I stayed awake and alert the whole time, driven to exhaustion by six straight hours of hyper vigilance.It is the new cost of adventure. It is worth it.

And that handsome couple that sat next to us on the flight? The blonde and brunette adventurers? They adored Molly. In fact, they leaned over at the end of the flight and whispered, “If we can have a baby like that, maybe we will have kids after all.”

Another one bites the dust.

And the adventure carries on.





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