“Car seat” was on the list of things to investigate during our last visit to the Baby Show back in February. I had a vague idea that Group 0 got too small at around 9 months old and you were then supposed to move to a forward-facing seat, so although Pip was only 7 months it seemed like a good plan to see what was out there. As it happened, we were encouraged by two separate experts (at Maxi-Cosi and Britax) to use our current car seat (which as it turns out is actually Group 0+, so lasts a bit longer – till around 15 months) as long as we possibly could. The reasons for this seemed to be twofold:
- Rear-facing infant car seats are safer in general;
- New safety regulations are currently being phased in, so we should wait and buy one of the new, safer seats which are rear-facing until age 4.
As you do, we then forgot about the car seat thing for a while. We don’t really drive much and I have in fact only ever driven twice since having Pip; both of these were 10-minute hops to the garage down the road and one of them didn’t even involve him at all as my parents were coincidentally staying so babysat him. This hasn’t been a conscious decision (as in, “OMG now I am a mother I am incapable of getting behind a wheel”). It is more a combination of several things, such as our daily activities involving 90% walking and 10% public transport, and the fact that Mr Cath prefers to drive so unless we are going on a particularly long road trip, which we haven’t done since becoming parents, he does it all.
I promise we will one day get off the topic of holidaying with babies – I assume that day will come when we fail to find an excuse to go on holiday again and / or run out of money. But bear with me on this one as I have many words of wisdom to impart on the subject of flying transatlantic alone with a baby – some might sum this up by saying “don’t”, I might provide additional enlightenment on this frankly pessimistic outlook and instead say “maybe don’t risk American”.
A single 10 hour flight across the Atlantic would be too easy, no, Elphie and I had to add another short haul 1.5 hour flight to make sure we had covered all bases for flying alone with an infant. The incentive for this insanity was an opportunity to spend quality time with my matron of honour, Julia, who hoping for a chilled out few days with me last summer as I started maternity leave was instead treated to unanticipated week 0 chaos. This was too good an opportunity to miss to get to hang out with her for ten whole days, something we hadn’t had a chance to do for a decade!
I was a bit nervous before heading, my first flight being during the day and hence likely to involve a lot of Elphie entertainment as we all know she ain’t a great napper. But she’s been pretty much fine on all her other flights so was confident it wouldn’t be that bad. My concern was about the seating arrangements – I had rung up American Airlines before flying and been told I could not book a bassinet in advance and would have to do it at the airport. This made me more nervous as being by myself in a bulkhead with a bassinet or equivalent to put madam down in was one thing – sitting with her on my lap for ten hours was entirely another!
Our first proper long haul flight as a family was surprisingly ok – we arrived in Mauritius feeling quite relieved that it hadn’t been a disaster. After the usual confusion over time zones (was it three or four hours’ difference? Had the plane landed an hour early?) we managed to navigate the shiny new airport and Pip got to experience his first forward-facing car seat on the way to the hotel. However, the flight was rather different to Elphie’s in several ways…
Pip is at the stage of trying very hard to be mobile, which means he gets quite squirmy after a while sitting in your lap or strapped into a seat. No matter, we thought: he will be able to happily roll around on the floor of the plane with his toys.
Thwarted! The minute we set him down, the flight attendant scurried over to inform us that this wasn’t allowed as the oxygen masks didn’t stretch down that far. Apparently this is BA rules for all planes and all routes. “But my friend’s baby sat on the floor all the way to Rio…?” “Pah!” he replied and that was that. We then put Pip in his reclining seat for a bit, then after an hour or so of handing him toys and picking up said toys from the floor he seemed quite happy to sit in my seat while I stood up and Mr Cath supervised. Which will all probably be a nightmare on the day flight home, but in this case our plane took off at 3pm which meant it was only a few hours until…
Fred has been visiting Rio for a few years now and always suggested I find a way to come along. When I was working it seemed crazy to give up my limited holiday allowance to explore Rio by myself while he worked, but while on maternity leave this is no longer an issue as I have all the time in the world and a companion (we are ignoring my unhealthy bank balance for the purposes of this post). But I had been avoiding it – Rio in my mind was a dangerous city full of druglords and thievery around every corner; how could I put myself and my baby into that environment? With four days of Fred working, I was worried we wouldn’t leave the hotel room. How wrong I was.
So how did we get on in Paris avec bebe?
When I booked our Eurostar tickets, they pretty much dismissed the fact we were bringing a baby and I didn’t have to provide his passport details or anything. I was therefore fully expecting to be seated amidst businesspeople and canoodling couples who would not take kindly to little ‘uns (I’d read this article recommending the family carriage too late – our seats had already been assigned). As we entered the train, Mr Cath immediately saw a French ex-colleague of his who was sat awkwardly by himself in a bay of four seats, with a family of four. Yes, four people between three seats. As it happened, he appeared to have the wrong carriage rather than us as it was absolutely chocabloc with young families, watching videos on iPads, marching up and down the aisle and strewing crumbs everywhere. So I’m unsure whether the man who booked our tickets did register our family status after all, or whether it was just good luck that we were amongst our own kind.
You may be beginning to wonder if this is a travel blog rather than a baby blog, but maternity leave is too good an opportunity to go travelling (limited funds allowing) since when else can you travel for weeks on end without worrying about whether you’ll have enough annual leave left to cover Christmas? So when Fred declared that he wanted to visit his clients in Rio de Janeiro and asked if we wanted to tag along and extend the trip to have a few days holiday, there didn’t seem much sense in declining.
Brazil would give Elphie a third continent before her first birthday. It would also continue to provide material, to traumatise her with in later life, of photos of her living it up in exotic locations that she can’t remember while staycationing in Bognor for the rest of her childhood to avoid paying full price airfares once she hits two. So Fred booked the flights and hotel on Tuesday night and we were on the aeroplane by midday on Thursday.
It was only once on the aeroplane that it really hit me what we’d signed up for – the flight direct to Rio was 11.5 hours and we were doing it in the middle of the day with little miss never-nap. This could be a long flight.
By the time you read this, we will be concluding a weekend away in Paris with Pip. Hopefully it will have been more oh la la than oh no.
We had a wonderful trip to the City of Love last Spring which you can read about here and here. Luckily I had my bump and a ridiculous woolly poncho to keep me warm as it even snowed at one point (at the end of March!) but the forecast seems a lot more reasonable this time around. Apart from the weather, there is one other aspect of our 2014 trip that will make a significant difference: the addition of a third holiday companion who while much smaller than his parents is infinitely more demanding!
We are only there for three nights this time, over Easter weekend, and in order to ensure we get the most out of our trip as possible a bit of forward thinking is required. For Christmas Mr Cath gave me the book Paris with Children, and the following has been gleaned from that and from some helpful websites. Most tips I found can apply to any city break, and there is also a bit of overlap with Elly’s New York pointers. As with last year we are renting an apartment – this time with a proper separate bedroom rather than just a partition. This way we can put Pip to bed in one room then have dinner in the other.
Paris seems a particular challenge for many families, and I found reams of off-putting articles such as this Telegraph one entitled “Paris with children: a city that is terrible for ‘les enfants'” and another warning “Paris, France – not so baby friendly”. I’m grateful that others have shared their experiences, however bad they were, as it means that hopefully our break can be less stressful. There are recurring themes such as a lack of baby-friendly places and transport nightmares that we can try and be as prepared as possible for.
Without further ado, here are my pre-Paris-preparations:
1. BYO high chair
Elphie finally has a stamp in her passport, ironically (for anyone who gets the film reference) it doesn’t say Italy on it, despite that being her first international destination, as the grumpy customs officer in Sardinia refused to stamp it as we were travelling within the EU. So the United States of America gets the privilege.
Photo credit: Tim Dodd
New York is one of my favourite cities. A city that never sleeps has a certain appeal to a night owl and with its towering skyscrapers, amazing architecture and history, there is no truer monument to what man (and woman) can achieve. So I was thrilled to be sharing it with Elphie – although I am not sure she grasped the significance.
So it has been over a week since we returned from holiday and it is high time I shared the story of Elphie’s adventures.
It was really a holiday of two halves. The first half was hard going, Elphie never being the best at going to sleep at night (wonder where she gets that from), shockingly did not seem to realise there was a time difference and so would not settle till 3am or one night even 4am, and then would feed again at 7 or 8am which then meant it was hard to get ourselves up and at ’em much before 11am, which wasn’t that conducive to a day’s excursion. Indeed the first day was the worst – I don’t know if it was the heat or the change, but she was feeding constantly. I fed her for a total of 6.5 hours that first day, which is over 50% more than the time taken to feed her on an average day. Luckily that was just the first day or I would never have left the villa!
Elphie has survived her first plane trip and made it to the lovely Italian island of Sardinia! Despite the miserable passport control woman being unwilling to stamp her passport as we were from within the EU, Elphie has made her first foray abroad. Benvenuto in Italia!
So, having made it here – what are my top tips for travelling with a two month old?