What I packed in my airplane carry-on for flying with my baby

Intrigued as always with other people’s experiences of some of the things I’ve done with Littlest, I’ve been reading articles for a while about flying with a baby. And there seems to be one over-riding theme: pack SO MUCH STUFF OMG DON’T DARE FORGET ANY OF THIS.

Well, some of them aren’t so much like that. But still, when traveling alone, surely you want to be able to carry all your luggage yourself. I knew I was going to have to be able to traipse our carry-ons, pick up our luggage, and push the stroller through the Munich airport, so a gigantic carry-on for him and for me was not really in the program.

I found a deal on Amazon.com for a diaper back-pack before we left, though my original plan was to take my North Face backpack as my carry-on. The diaper back-pack is genius though and we’ve switched to it since for everyday use as well. (In full disclosure, I ordered it on Amazon.com and had my parents bring it—it doesn’t seem to be available on Amazon.fr.)

Here’s what went in it:

  • diaper changing pad (the one that comes with the bag)
  • baby towel (we usually put this on top of the pad to change him)
  • cotton pads (we buy the cheap ones sold in all French pharmacies)
  • wipes
  • 6 to 8 diapers (this was a long-haul flight, and I think we only used 4)
  • 2 pacifiers
  • small water bottle (we always wipe down with water after changes, but babies who don’t have sensitive skin probably don’t need this)
  • burp cloth
  • Sophie the giraffe (she bends up easily to pack in tight spaces)
  • Another fancy toy that could get strapped on the side of the bag
  • a very little board book
  • two clean onesies
  • a clean t-shirt for me just in case
  • all our passports, plane itinerary, and signed note from J in a special compact pocket
  • his lunch and snack (in those pouches made for bottles) with bibs and a spoon
  • a thin blanket we acquired on our first United flight (rolled up and strapped on the outside of the bag)
  • a tiny bottle of diaper rash cream (this took up no space but if you’re tight for space and your baby isn’t prone to rash, I’d leave it out)
  • plastic bag for dirty diapers (though we were almost always close to a trash can)

And in my purse:

  • normal purse stuff (wallet, glasses, contact stuff…)
  • my Kindle (not sure I read it though)
  • a crossword puzzle book (don’t think I used this either)
  • a bag of trail mix

It does look like a lot now that I’ve listed it all out, but it all fit in one diaper backpack and one normal-sized handbag.

As for luggage, I packed soft things into a canvas duffel bag with a shoulder strap, and everything else in my big roller suitcase. So I was able to stack the duffel bag on top of the suitcase and roll it behind me while pushing the stroller in front. I was light as a feather. (Well not quite, but it worked pretty well.)

And I think the only thing I forgot was headphones.

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August 15th weekend

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A street in Collioure

This past weekend J and I packed up Littlest and all of his many belongings and headed down south to the departement of Pyrénées-Orientales for a couple days on the beach.

Having just come back from Germany last Sunday, Littlest had only spent five nights in his own bed before we dragged him out again. He does seem to enjoy going places and discovering new things, though I think next time we do a four-day weekend with him, we’ll probably go someone a couple hours closer.

It was a 6h20m drive according to Google maps, and of course it was a Saturday in August, so we encountered about 1h40m of traffic jams on the autoroute. Littlest has taken to taking very short naps in the car, so it’s not as easy as it used to be to take him long distances. At some point one of us has to move to the back and sit with him and hand him his toys back when he pushes them out of the carseat with his constantly moving legs.

One of the advantages of the autoroute over the routes nationales, in spite of the expense, is that the aires are always equipped with a microwave to warm up baby food. This wasn’t an issue when he was tiny but it’s a fairly important concern now since most baby food is gross cold. It’s encouraging to see how many other people are traveling with babies in these places.

Anyway we had found a rental back in June which was fairly last-minute. We felt lucky because most places rent from Saturday to Saturday in France and finding something for just four days felt pretty unlikely. This was an apartment attached to the owners’ house (presumably a garage before they redid it) so when we finally arrived at 5 pm on Saturday (after leaving Poitiers at 8:30 am), the lovely owners were there to greet us. It had a pretty spacious bedroom and bathroom upstairs as well as a fold-out couch downstairs, which is what J and I slept on since Littlest only sleeps well if he’s in his own room.

We took it pretty easy due to Littlest’s naps, letting him get his first one in in the morning before going anywhere, and coming back late afternoon for the second one. We made it to the beach twice in the evening, and the first time was lovely. Littlest mostly liked playing with the sand and running it through his fingers and happily did not put it in his mouth this time. The second evening the Mediterreanean wind was out in full force so we didn’t stay long.

Otherwise, there are some charming towns down there that we walked around (Collioure, Balnyus-sur-Mer) and we had great weather. We didn’t even taken Littlest’s stroller this time because it takes up so much space in the car. We trucked him around in our Ergobaby carrier instead which worked splendidly. We also did a tiny bit of wine tasting and bought a possibly overpriced bottle, but you know, memories.

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Typical southern France decor on a window in Collioure

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Balnyus-sur-Mer, I think

Yesterday on the drive back up we stopped in Dordogne to eat lunch (Littlest is surprisingly patient in restaurants and the owner/server was happy to heat up his food for us) and have a quick walk through Saint-Cirq-la-Popie which was beautiful. While the south of France was nice, it was slammed with people and I think Dordogne is prettier.

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Obviously I’m not alone in that opinion (Saint-Cirq-la-Popie on a cloudy day)

Now we have no outings planned for the remaining weeks of summer, and in fact I should get some work done especially now that Littlest’s naps are more predictable, but who knows if that’ll happen.

Transatlantic Air Travel with a Baby

So! Now that we’re back, I can describe with confidence what it was like to fly across the Atlantic with a nine-month-old baby. I do think this experience would have been very different with a three- or six-month-old, and will be different with a 14-month-old at Christmastime.

Here is a normal day for Littlest, to give some perspective: wake at 8, nap 10:30-12, lunch, nap 3-5, snack, bed at 7:30. (Ish, and also, there’s breastfeeding in there just sort of whenever.) His awake times are 2 1/2 hours in the morning and evening and three hours in the middle of the day. Obviously, this all had to go out the window when flying but he did actually keep his naps up pretty well.

We did this two ways: on the way to Boston, Littlest and I were accompanied by my parents. #WIN. Grandparents are the best. They are always happy to hold the baby and walk the baby and bounce the baby on their laps. On the way back, we had my mom with us for the first flight (Boston-Newark) and were alone for the long haul to Munich.

The short of it is that it was all really fine. But if I have any advice to give, it would be to spring for the direct flight and avoid connecting flights. My dad very generously got us these tickets on his frequent flyer miles, and there was no direct Boston-Paris flight on United. But though Littlest loved everything about the train to CDG; slept pretty well at the airport Sheraton; had a fine time in CDG being walked around; and adored watching Toy Story and “reading” Hemispheres magazine on the long haul on my parents’ laps, he had a meltdown when we got onto the second flight, from being overtired (he’d been awake at least 5 hours what with landing and customs) and overstimulated. I stuck him in his car seat, covered him and my head with the United blanket I had swiped on the long haul flight, and sang him John Prine until he fell asleep. The frustrating part was of course the endless announcements from the flight attendants and then the introduction from the captain that go on forever (I know that’s what endless means but it was INTERMINABLE). Littlest then slept through that 90-minute flight. After that, he was again fine for the taxi ride from Logan to our rental apartment.

As far as traveling with a baby alone, it was also fine, and he took a 1-hour nap and then later conked out for 3 hours on our long haul night flight back to Europe. The actual long haul flight part was pretty good, because he had enough time to look around and get tired and fall asleep and wake up on his own.

For the shorter flights, this was obviously more complicated, and going through security was a pain in the ass. They do let you take in baby food and often bottled water, but they scan everything inside and out while you’re standing there holding your baby, waiting for them to return your stroller so you can set him down and put your shoes and your belt back on. Thankfully I was always with at least one grandparent for this part so I could hand him off to collect my things.

So, things that helped us out:

  1. Grandparents
  2. A dark blanket to drape over the car seat (if you buy your baby a seated ticket which we did this time but won’t in December)
  3. Breastfeeding (no formula or bottles to pack, and immediate access on the plane)
  4. A couple good toys
  5. Toy Story on the individual movie players
  6. People finding him adorable

Things that were annoying:

  1. The really nice but really loud flight attendant on our Newark-Munich flight that just had to chat up another passenger really loud right while Littlest was switching through sleep cycles and thus woke him up. The most stressful part of flying with him was just that I couldn’t control what other people were doing in terms of noise around him, including intercom announcements on the flights.
  2. Going through security
  3. The lack of a microwave in the airport to warm up his baby food (on the flight this was fine since a flight attendant did it for us)
  4. Not being able to control when food was served on the flight in order to ensure I would be able to eat it—fortunately for Newark-Munich, Littlest was napping.

Otherwise, changing his diaper on the plane wasn’t ideal but it was fine, and his ears didn’t seem to hurt on take-off or landing.

I feel pretty confident about doing all this on a direct Air France Paris-Boston flight in December, and we won’t even have to spend a night in Paris beforehand. The unknown factor will of course be that we didn’t purchase a seat for Littlest, so will he be ready to nap on our laps? Fingers crossed he does, or that the gate agents get us an extra empty seat between us.

In fact, Littlest and I had some of my favorite moments just the two of us on that long haul flight back to Europe. The first was when I tried to get him to sleep for the first time by putting the airplane blanket over his car seat. He was still in a playful mood and I looked over from whatever I was doing to find a look of pure delight on his face as he hid and uncovered himself in fits of giggles that I quickly joined in on.

He woke up from that ensuing nap crying and as I settled him into my lap under the airplane blanket he was suddenly cuddlier than he ever is, leaning into me and relaxing in a way that he rarely does as I turned on Toy Story for us. I think we actually had the sweetest twenty minutes of our lives just cuddling and watching that movie.

Babies are full of surprises, I guess.

The Past Week

The past week has been busy and stressful except for the welcome respite of this weekend. We took Littlest to a Kindermusik class and so will be signing up for a full month of them. It’s a nice opportunity to socialize him, to have him hear English and music, and to do something fun together. Otherwise the weekend was pretty boring, thankfully, allowing me to gear up for the coming week, except that now I have a sore throat.

I don’t think I’ve talked about this on the blog—maybe mentioned it—but I’ll be chaperoning a student trip to Ireland in a few weeks. I hadn’t planned on doing any trips this year, for obvious reasons, but when my colleague started telling me about this one, I knew I couldn’t NOT go. I’ve been dreaming of visiting Northern Ireland ever since I started teaching about it five years ago, and I think my feelings about Ireland in general are no secret (=it’s the most beautiful country in the world). But I’m ancestrally a bit biased. The trip also involves some of my favorite students ever, the ones I took to Slovenia last year.

So at J’s urging, I volunteered to go and also to teach an extra hour in my colleague’s class about my family tree. I’m excited about it but it is adding to my already heavy workload this week.

I also am not sure what it’ll mean for J and Littlest. J owes me lots of evenings free because of his rockclimbing habit, and I think things will go well, although I’m not sure how prepared he is for the mental fatigue of taking care of a baby alone 24-7 (single moms you are my heroes…). I’m trying to make up a stock of frozen milk for when I’m gone but it’s tough what with pumping already for the days at the nanny’s. I’ll be taking a hand pump in order to pump a few times a day and keep up my supply (I’ll be dumping the milk, since keeping it seems like too huge of a hassle). Originally I thought five and a half months would be okay for weaning if this trip provoked it, but I love nursing Littlest too much now to accept that easily.

So that’s on the docket in the coming weeks. This is the busiest time of the school year but also the part that typically flies by the fastest.

Reading:

For Brazil’s Zika Families, a Life of Struggle and Scares: This is heartwrenching, so only read it if you’re really interested. The thought of these parents who must love their babies so much, dealing with so much hardship for them, made this one a hard read for me. I almost had to go wake up Littlest and give him a hug. The article says that these one-year-olds are at the developmental state of a 3-month-old, but Littlest was doing so many things at 3 months that these babies aren’t doing.

He Swapped Email Signatures With a Female Co-Worker, and Learned a Valuable Lesson: Get past the click-bait title, and this one’s pretty interesting. I work in a very feminized profession so I always wonder how much of this stuff I’ve escaped. I know students respect male teachers more, and we just have to deal with that unfairness. But I don’t think the problem carries over to colleagues or principals, or even parents (most of them anyway). There may be a maternal aspect of teaching and caring about young people that’s involved here.

Traveling with Baby Trip 1: Spain at 4 months

Well we are back from our trip to Catalunia. It was fun but also a little stressful for me for a few reasons:

  1. The bungalow we rented was, as they often are, tiny, and had some important flaws in terms of baby naps: no outlets in the bedrooms for the white noise machine, and creaky doors. The heat also was only in the main room so we had to leave the bedroom doors open at night. Things would have been easier (and less fun) if it had only been the three of us, but we also had J’s sister, her boyfriend, and another friend over most nights so it was really cramped and the baby was napping so nearby that we had to whisper.
  2. I got hit with bad allergies about day five and had to actually leave the cliffside.

Otherwise things went swimmingly at the cliffside. The first day Littlest fell asleep almost immediately for about three hours.

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Exhibit A: Sleeping baby in baby suit and baby tent

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Exhibit B: Tent in context

Day two and day three he slept for over two hours.

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Exhibit C: Baby at another cliffside

In his brief moments of awake time, there was some silliness that went on between his Daddy and his auntie.

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I was responsible for none of this.

Otherwise he does seem to be going through some sort of sleep transition because he is back to waking up twice a night, at 11:30 and 3:30 (ish). We’re trying to move his bedtime earlier too. I don’t know if he’s teething or if it’s the infamous four-month sleep regression, but so far it’s not too bad—I’m just glad I’m on vacation. Then again, it may be because I’m on vacation that he’s off his rhythm.

In other developments, he turned himself over from back to tummy the first afternoon we were there. He hasn’t done it again but is often on his side.

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Improvised vacation play mat, with baby on his side.

He’s grabbing things all over the place and moving around a lot by pushing on his feet.

All in all, J seemed to enjoy the climbing and Littlest is none the worse for wear, though I’m happy to have him home and getting back into the normal swing of things. It was good to see J’s sister and her boyfriend before they move away next week (not far away, but just far enough), to drink a few beers, and even eat some spicy patatas bravas. All the Spanish-Italian-Frenchish languages are fascinating, and we drove through Andorra on the way home, where we ate lunch and bought some alcohol.

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Too interested in his surroundings to look at the camera