I've blogged about the best of times, and I must also blog about the worst. Traveling can be hard...traveling with children can be much, much harder. I understand now why the barrier to getting on the road can stop most before they begin. The challenges are overwhelming sometimes, the burdens can be huge, and there are no safe fallbacks.
Why it is hard...
In Italy, you must always be prepared. There are no late night runs to Target for baby food, no 1-800-DIAPERS overnight diaper delivery. It is a Sunday, and you don't have extra diapers, you are SOL. Or it could be an obscure Saint's holiday you didn't know about...nothing is open.
The baby seats here are not made for babies. They are regular chairs with added height, but no seat belts, no safety bar between the child's legs. They are wooden chairs with a wicker seat that look more like a mini bar stool. The first week we were here, I rejected a place that brought that baby highchair out, and went in search of another restaurant with a highchair we could actually use without having to hold onto our son the entire meal. But the next place had the same type, then the next. I quickly realized that this was how it was going to be. Occasionally I find a place with a more modern version like I am used to, with a plastic seat and tray, and a belt. But most of the time we have to eat with one hand holding onto Bodhi to make sure he doesn't slip right off the highchair. I keep him on my right side so I can eat with my left hand. These types of inconveniences would not happen at home. There are also virtually no changing tables in Italy. The bathrooms are smaller than a coat closet. Usually, I have to change my son's diaper with him standing up. And often, I am wildly trying to make sure he doesn't touch anything while I as speedily as possible tear off his diaper. Thank goodness we found these new diapers that are pull-ups, because it makes it much easier to change a child with one hand. It is a stark contrast to Germany and Scandinavian countries, where it seems they expect everyone to have a child with them wherever they go. In the airports, on every train, in the cafes and exits off the highway, there are deluxe baby changing stations everywhere, most complete with straps, baby wipes, diaper pails... but not in Italy. For a country that adores babies, they seem very ill-prepared for having them around.
I have had to overlook the notion of sanitary hands, and realize that really, there is very little I can do to keep this child from touching things that are often disgusting. There is pigeon poop on the old cobblestone streets, and when you walk or crawl on these centuries-old streets, you get grey soot on your hands or shoes. The bathrooms have bidets, scrub brushes, shower drains, all of which my son is very interested in. In fact, while traveling, it seems everywhere I turn there are hazards to look out for, and it is difficult to keep up with them all. At least when you have a home, you can child-proof it and have 'safe zones'. While traveling, there are no safe zones, and every new place you go has new things to watch out for and secure. For instance, I am just glancing around the apartment, and here is what I see. A giant bookcase that could topple if climbed. Electrical outlets in need of plugs. Small lamps that could be pulled off end tables. A giant fireplace with iron tools. Low open windows, working radiators, a glass table. I am constantly on the lookout for small choking hazards, shock or burn hazards, open staircases or steps, things he could break, unsanitary things he might put in his mouth, or sharp objects. It is like a giant obstacle course sometimes. Recently he has taken to climbing everything, and yesterday, he figured out how to successfully climb onto the couch while yelling "uppa!". Once he gets up, he often stands or jumps or tried to climb over the back of the couch, so now it is a regular game of running to pull him off the couch, then watching him climb right back up.
This leads me to the next challenge of traveling with a young child. There are often things that you want to do, that you simply cannot do with a baby. You have to put those things out of your mind and focus on what you can do. For instance, there are no date nights. No babysitter, no time off. There is a huge music festival here in Lucca all ten days we are here, we are only several hundred yards away from some big names like Ben Harper, Jamiroquai, but we won't be going. the shows start at 10PM and are outdoors in an old amphitheater. We were also in Karlovy Vary for the biggest night of the year, their last night of the international film festival. But there were no films or parties for us. There was a time in Verona, we went back to our hotel for room service, but they hold operas in an ancient outdoor coliseum after dark, and the barber of Seville was playing. No go. There are a lot of activities in Europe that go on after dark that you miss out on when you have a baby or young kids in tow. It can be hard to take when something really tempting or 'once in a lifetime' is happening. But of course, there are other experiences you have that could only happen with a child, and these sacrifices are worth it. But you cannot have your cake and eat it too, like you often can from home with your team of helpers, and that is when it's hard.