Many new parents are about to hit the road for the holidays, on drives and flights, short and long, with infant children in tow. Which means you'll be moving at high speeds with a ticking time bomb.
If this thought terrifies you, good. The prospect of trying to reconcile your desire to relax on a rare vacation with soothing an inconsolable 20-pound tyrant should terrify you. It terrified me the last time we tried it, on Thanksgiving.
On Thanksgiving Day, Mrs. Tepper and I drove with our son Luke up to Rhode Island to visit friends for the holiday. Willfully trapping oneself in a 3,000-pound metal cage with an infant captured us at our most masochistic.
Still, we survived. Sorta. And if you're hitting the road this Christmas, you can too. By giving yourself ample time before departure to ready the ship and dividing up chores and other domestic responsibilities between you and your spouse, a true vacation can be attained.
The key is communication. So I'm sharing my travel diary below. May my successes fortify your spirit and my failures illuminate. Godspeed and happy holidays.
4:33 am: Luke wakes up screaming. Rising before sunrise is, sadly, nothing new for Luke. But the screaming is. Foreshadowing. Anyway, he eventually falls back asleep, and so do we. But it’s that kind of half-sleep where consciousness exists just below the surface.
5:58 am: Luke wakes up again—this time hungry instead of angry—and Mrs. Tepper feeds him briefly, while I fumble around assembling his bottle. Our bottles, by the way, have five pieces and require measuring one scoop per two ounces of water, which is much more complicated than it sounds when it’s 6 o’clock in the morning and you can’t remember how to use your hands.
6:34 am: After feeding, Luke plays for a half-hour. I read him Shel Silverstein’s poem “Point of View,” a kind of vegetarian morality play, which pinged my own guilty conscience for all of the meat I was going to scarf down in nine hours. So it goes.
6:40 am: Mom has just reawakened and exits the bedroom to find her son’s hands gouging the eyes of her prostrate husband. She walks to the bathroom and brushes her teeth.
6:53 am: Chloe, our ancient dachshund and now somewhat marginalized pet, needs to be let outside. Chloe won’t be joining us for Thanksgiving. Luke, meanwhile, walks into the bathroom, fixes himself between my wife’s feet and rages at the baby-proofed cabinet with pounding fists and fierce yawps.
6:55 am: While I’m outside with Cujo, Mrs. Tepper turns on the water for a shower. Before she can hop in, Luke belly-flops over the side of the tub. He’s now in love with water. Panic shoots through Mrs. Tepper’s limbs.
6:58 am: Chloe leads me into the apartment, where we see my relieved wife holding my damp, nonplussed son aloft.
7:10 am: Mom packs up Luke’s things for our two-night, three-day stay. I laid them out for her an hour earlier. Brownie points for me. His wardrobe included three onesies, three pairs of pants, three full-body pajamas, a couple of shirts, a sweater, hoodie, bear suit, jacket, hats, gloves, and three pairs of socks. Meanwhile Luke sits besides me, very interested in my glass of water. He eventually puts the rim of the glass to his mouth and spills the water down the front of his shirt.
7:15 am: Mom rushes over and extricates Luke from his soaked outfit. In doing so, she also removes his wet diaper. By the time she lifts Luke to the changing table, he pees on the floor and howls maniacally at his achievement.
7:26 am: Dry, diapered, and clothed, Luke crawls around the apartment, eventually sidling up to Chloe, who barks at her new master because he tried to swat her flappy ear. She also gets nervous around suitcases. Sanity starts to wear thin at the Teppers'.
7:34 am: Mrs. Tepper packs up Chloe’s food, puppy pads, organic calming medicine (she has separation anxiety), down jacket, and leash and I drop it, along with the dog, at the home of a friend who miraculously loves the dog as much as my wife does.
7:42 am: I’m now outside pulling old coffee cups and pizza boxes out of our car. At some point, we’ll be the type of adults who keep a spotless vehicle, but that day isn’t today.
7:51 am: I am outside again, but this time with the first wave of bags. (It will take me three trips.) Nestled in among our large suitcase and Luke’s stroller are three hampers' worth of dirty laundry. If nothing else, we’re getting our damn laundry done this weekend.
7:58 am: While I’m acting out Tetris in our car’s trunk, my wife cleans the kitchen. Luke meanwhile grabs the railings on the baby gate, swinging it wildly, as if he’s a freedom-starved prisoner of war.
8:00 am: Luke attempts another sip of water, but Mom captures the cup from his hand midpour. She gives him a Baby Mum Mum—a rice biscuit—instead.
8:04 am: I schlep the last bit of luggage (mostly shoes and electronic equipment) outside, while my wife crawls on hands and knees in search of Luke’s Elmo toy cell phone. Luke watches the domestic choreography with glee.
8:10 am: With Luke in arms, we give the house one last look around. Little do we know we’ll be back the next day.
8:20 am: We fasten Luke into his car seat. He immediately squirms.
8:30 am: Mrs. Tepper runs into a neighborhood organic grocery store to pick up a food pouch, and then jets into Starbucks for coffee and breakfast sandwiches.
8:50 am: Mom returns to the car to sounds of Luke crying and me praying behind the wheel.
8:55 am: Only 55 minutes behind schedule we are finally on the road, and there’s no traffic.We give thanks.
8:59 am: Mom gives Luke a fresh bottle.
9:08 am: Thanks to the car’s heating system and his bottle, Luke enters a trance and falls asleep a mere three hours after he woke up. Mom fights the urge to clean a spot of milk from his chin, lest the baby open his eyes.
9:10 am: Parents happy.
Epilogue: We arrived in Rhode Island in record time and had a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner. All marveled at Luke’s development. Trouble, though, ensued at 1 am Friday morning, when Luke awoke screaming in his crib. Over the next 9 hours, Mrs. Tepper and I slept a combined 300 minutes as the little guy tossed and turned and yelled and fought against sleep’s embrace. I eventually took him for a drive at four in the morning in hopes of calming him down. We decided to return home the next night, so he’d hopefully sleep in the car for the ride back to Brooklyn. All went according to plan until our car ran out of coolant in Westbrook, Conn., and would have cooked the engine if not for the generous help of a standup Mobil employee. Thanks and praise unto him. After that 45-minute pit stop, we were back on our way and returned home an hour before midnight.
Which is all to say that new parents may want to mentally ready themselves for Murphy's Law. By preparing for the worst, you can be delightfully surprised when your car doesn't billow smoke hundreds of miles from home or you don't return to work on Monday desperately more exhausted than before.
More From the First-Time Dad: