Some months ago, I was talking to a friend who has a three-year-old about her trips with him and what gear she takes and so on. I told her that I knew I needed to travel with Edith at some point, but I just couldn’t face the logistics and also had decision fatigue about where to go and who to visit first.
“Come to Puerto Rico with us in January,” she suggested. “I’ll just send you our itin and you can book the same thing.”
“Ok!” I said.
The thing about plans (which I’d forgotten about since the pandemic) is that it eventually does become time to carry them out, so last week, Edith and my mother and I all flew to Puerto Rico to spend three days at a beach resort with my friends. The last time I traveled was in November 2019 to Rochester, Minnesota for a few days on a family trip. This is very strange because I used to travel at least once a month and essentially lived at the airport, and now I think nothing of going multiple years without leaving home.
Anyway, I was right to be wary of traveling with a toddler. I don’t like fussing about with gear and toddlers require a TON of gear. I did the most minimal amount possible for this trip, but still for the three of us for five days we still had a massive checked bag, a stroller (which turned out to be unnecessary; we never even got it out of the gate check bag), a car seat, a wheeled carryon suitcase, a stuffed diaper bag, a small backpack, and my waist pack “baby bump” carrier. But other than the stroller and some extra swimsuits that I brought for myself and Edith and that neither of us wore, we used every single thing we brought multiple times.
You can check a car seat and a stroller for each child traveling free of charge, which is nice, but they’re likely to get torn up in handling, so these are things I would prefer to gate check, but you can only gate check either a car seat or a stroller but not both. The way frequent travelers get around this is to get pricey travel ones that fold down compactly enough to carry on, but for this trip, we just installed Edith’s old baby car seat in her seat on the plane (which was worth doing because she slept in it and I don’t think she would have slept in the seat, and also I don’t think we could have kept her from taking the seat belt off), and then gate-checked a super cheap lightweight umbrella stroller I bought from Wal-Mart.
An additional complication is that if you are traveling to Europe, European cars require a different model of car seats than US cars and it’s illegal to use an American car seat over there and vice versa, which feels like misogyny somehow? But I’m not sure quite how. Anyway, that’s a problem for future me.
I opted not to travel with any sleep stuff, because here at home Edith sleeps very independently in her pack-and-play but only because she hasn’t yet figured out that she can climb out of it (I live in fear of the day she does). I didn’t want to travel with a pack-and-play and she wasn’t going to sleep independently otherwise, so I figured we’d just co-sleep. This worked ok; I was dreading it, but Edith kicked me for an hour in the middle of the night the first night, and after that, she didn’t wake me up that I was aware of. It took me literal hours to wrestle her asleep in the first place, and I think I was getting poor sleep just from having her moving against me all night, but she wasn’t up and actively trying to play with me multiple times throughout the night like she was the last time we tried to co-sleep, so I’d call that a win overall.
We went to the Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Puerto Rico Golf & Beach Resort. My friends had been there the year before after looking for a resort in Puerto Rico that had both swimming pools and beach access, and they found it a very chill and manageable spot to vacation with toddlers. And indeed there were a ton of families with toddlers there, which was nice because nobody minded when we spent all day with ours in the swim-up bar pool because they wanted to climb on the submerged chairs, or when they spent an hour running toy cars up and down the railings of the patio at the fancy dinner spot.
I had grand ambitions to spend one day visiting the El Yunque rainforest which was adjacent to the resort but even as I first thought it, I knew we would not end up doing it. We left the resort exactly one time and it was to go to the supermarket for toddler food and bottled water. Otherwise, we spent all three days wrangling the kids poolside in between eating giant portions of very rich food.
Edith’s routine was sort of annoying for a beach vacation. She woke up about three hours before anyone else and Edith wakes up like she’s been shot out of a cannon, so fifteen minutes after her eyelids flickered open, we were dressed and sunscreened and hatted and outside hardcore exploring. By the time my friends met us for breakfast, I had already been doing laps around the resort (and getting an angry case of inner thigh chub rub) for hours. Then, Edith would enjoy the breakfast buffet, and then she’d pretty much crash immediately after, so while everyone else went to the pool, we went back to the room and went back to bed for anywhere from two to three hours. Then, around two in the afternoon, Edith woke up again, we spent thirty minutes covering every exposed inch of her transparent redhead skin with zinc, and then joined everyone at the pool for a couple of hours. Then, it was time for dinner and then it was bedtime.
Parents often say that traveling with small children is just going to a new place to take care of the baby, and I did feel that. Every portion of the trip and every activity was mostly me wrangling Edith on that portion or during that activity. But it was still well worth doing, mostly because I got to spend time with my friends who I never see and it was really fun to watch our kids playing together (even if at this age this mostly involved them tolerating each other). And also, Edith is a lovely travel companion. She was mostly chill on the flights (which blew my mind, as I fully expected her to scream her head off the whole way), she was game and interested in everything we did, she ate whatever was available, she slept wherever she was when it was time to sleep (well, after fighting with me about it and wrestling for a couple hours), she was curious and easy-going. She’s such a great little buddy.
Edith loves to swim and so a vacation mostly centered around multiple pools suited her perfectly. I got her a little floaty harness. She had never used one before and when she realized she could stay afloat and paddle around on her own her entire face lit up and she paddled and paddled and paddled, only stopping to repeatedly climb out of the pool and ask to be “jumped” back in. The swim-up bar pool had submerged ledges with these sort of slide chairs, and a long slow ramp up out of the pool that could be walked up, and the kids loved this. Also, a staff member was trying to teach a salsa lesson poolside on the afternoon we spent at this pool and the attendees were one drunk lady and Edith, who swam over to that end of the pool, climbed up on the submerged ledge, danced her booty off briefly to the great delight of the assembled guests, jumped back into the pool and paddled across to the other submerged ledge, climbed up on it, jumped back into the pool, etc. etc. etc. In addition to “swimming” Edith back and forth, and holding her hands as she leapt into the water, my role also included applauding her dancing and if I forgot, Edith would patiently clap lightly to remind me. At one point, Edith was walking up the gradual ramp out of the pool and she slipped and fell face-down in the water and floundered there for what seemed to me like an eternity but was really probably ten seconds, until I was able to get ahold of her and fish her out. Nobody noticed, least of all Edith, who…wasn’t bothered? By this? At all? But just kept playing in the water? ?!?!?! It took me a good hour and a stiff mojito to get over it.
The other, bigger pool had a waterslide and Edith LOVED this. I went down it with her in my lap and when we got to the bottom we were both drilled down into the bottom of the pool and our hats flew off and when we regained the surface, Edith was spluttering and saying “more, more” and making the “more” sign she learned from Ms. Rachel. I lifted her to the edge of the pool and she took off at a dead run over the ice slick tiles before I could get out after her. We went down the slide several more times and the attendant at the top found this hilarious. “No rest for mama!” he hollered at me.
Edith also really enjoyed swimming with her grandma, and her grandma (who has been waiting her entire life to have a grandchild to swim with) did not half mind it, either, and while they were doing this, I got to have a cocktail and talk to my friend (mostly about parenting small children). The only unfortunate thing about spending time at the pool was that Edith is so little that she can’t really keep her body heat up in the water. After only 20 minutes or so, her teeth would be chattering and her lips would be blue. She didn’t let it cramp her style and insisted on continuing to swim, but it worried me and made it hard for me to relax.
We didn’t go all the way to the beach and not take Edith out to see the ocean. I took her out there the very first morning right after we woke up. I couldn’t wait for her to see it. I have mentioned before that whenever Edith encounters something very new and vast that she can’t really process, she just goes completely pokerfaced and contemplative and does not react to it in any discernible way; it’s as if she’s making up her mind how she feels about it. She did this exactly with the ocean. She squatted down at its edge and looked out over it and she just froze like that for a good five minutes (an eternity in Edith time) without moving a muscle of her face. I squatted down next to her and talked to her about it, but she didn’t look at me or engage; she just kept staring fixedly out at the ocean like a widow on a rooftop. Finally, I got up and waded out to where the waves were coming in, and she jumped up to follow me and a wave came up over her foot. This was not like a wave wave; I wouldn’t have let her go that far out. It was just a lap of cold water, but it surprised her and she fell backwards onto her butt and started crying, so I went and picked her up and then I carried her out into the waves and we stood out there for awhile and then we went back to the pool.
We took a walk out to the ocean every day and every day was about like this — Edith seemed intimidated by the vastness of the shore, which makes sense. It’s vast and incomprehensible even for adults, so for a toddler, it’s especially surreal I’m sure. She got nervous when her grandma went out to swim beyond the breakers, but then I always get nervous when she does that, too. By the third day, Edith was into playing in the sand, and happy for me to carry her out into the surf and then dip her down into the waves while she paddled her little legs in the water.
While Edith wasn’t sure how she felt about the beach, she was demonstrative about her deep love for the footwashing station. Every time we passed it, she stood there for an age dominating one of the spigots (to my embarrassment because the resort was busy) playing in the water and eventually submerging herself before I could stop her, which was rather obnoxious when we were on our way to breakfast or dinner and not in swim gear. She also kept trying to drink it.
I think Edith loved being on vacation because I let her have as much screentime as she wanted, which is something I’m usually fairly strict about, and she got to eat endless sleeves of Ritz crackers AND she learned that it is actually possible (if you’re persistent enough) to be let out of a high chair at a restaurant meal and to run around on your own. She did not love the flights, but everything else pleased her and she will happily travel again.
I’m on the fence about whether I want to do more vacation trips with her while she’s this small. I’m glad we went and I enjoyed myself, but it was a lot of work, and the constant vigilance required with a toddler is incredibly draining. There are some other trips I want to take with Edith to see people I owe a visit to, though, and then my mother wants us to come with her to France late this summer when I’ll be on a sabbatical from my job. I’d really love to go with her, but whenever I think about it, I feel myself reflexively curling over at the waist into a protective position, so it remains to be seen whether we go through with it or not.