It’s 5:00 in the morning and I’ve been up for over an hour already. My experiment of early rising that I spoke about in my previous post is well underway. Except, it hasn’t been a conscious decision to be up and at ’em at this ungodly hour. I’m dealing with a massive case of toddler jet-lag over here. My 26-month-old woke me consistently and hourly from 11:00 pm to 4:00 am, at which point I gave up on sleep and succumbed to the inevitable.
Her little internal clock has been turned on its head, because we’ve just returned from a week spent in Hong Kong, which is 13 hours ahead of EST. In an ideal world, I wouldn’t have attempted a trip of that distance and short length with a toddler in tow, but the stars had aligned to take this journey, so off we went.
I should clarify that this trip was a gift given to our family by the Children’s Wish Foundation of Canada, and has been something that’s been idling on our family back-burner for over five years. I was a wee bit skeptical – and slightly fearful to be honest – when my son informed me that it was his dearest wish to travel to China. After some contemplation, and a little research, I presented Hong Kong to him as an option. He was in. We were in. A few months later we got the green light from Children’s Wish, and we were all systems go.
At this point in his life, the Bean is a seasoned traveller. He’s only eight, but he’s already been to Australia 4 times. He can get on a plane and keep himself entertained for hours – 15, in fact – with movies, video games, books and iPad. I suspected, with a sinking feeling, that it would be a different story with Lark.
When we boarded our Air Canada flight to Hong Kong, we were assigned three seats together and one across the aisle. Guess who got to sit alone with the kids for the whole flight?
Craig was essentially in another country on the other side of the drinks cart, while I grappled with ear-buds popping out of tiny ears, spilled apple juice and pieces of puzzle that’d fallen into the abyss on the floor. Upon sitting down, I’d been horrified to learn that the arm-rests on our row didn’t lift up. Hoping that there was some magic key available to raise them, I called the flight attendant, a sympathetic character with a man-bun. “Sorry,” he said. “They don’t lift up. It’s only this row, for some reason.” Feeling cursed, I gave the arm-rest one more feeble yank, before accepting my fate. “I know it’s really annoying for families,” he added nicely.
It certainly was really annoying for the following 15 hours as my toddler squirmed on top of me, and my son complained about not being able to stretch out his legs and go to sleep. To make matters worse, my Lark decided that sitting with her father was inconceivable, and screamed as though being subjected to anaesthesia-less surgery every time I tried to pass her across the aisle. There were tears shed over Russia that night. Mine, hers, and probably those of all the passengers within a ten-foot radius. On touchdown, I kissed the sweet earth in gratitude.
After staying awake for the entire journey there, she promptly passed out at 6:30 in the evening. Good, I thought. This way she’s already getting on local time. Maybe she’ll even sleep through. Ha. Naive dreams. You know when you’re jet-lagged, and you wake up out of the deepest sleep ever, like, wha-? What time is it? How long have I been sleeping? And it’s been maybe an hour, but you feel completely disoriented? Right. So imagine that feeling, but instead of being able to roll over and go back to sleep, you have tiny hands patting your face in the darkness and a loud, clear voice in your ear, saying, “Mummy. Are you awake? I don’t want to go sleepies. I want to wake up now. Mummy. I need snack. Can I have Larabar? It’s not time for sleep-time.” After hearing my hushed insistence that it was, in fact, time to sleep, she’d respond in her little bugle voice, “NO, it’s not. It’s time to get up. Mummy. Mummy. Mummy?” And then she’d press her small face hard and lovingly onto mine, cutting off my air supply, so that I finally gave in, and took her to the bathroom, to perch on the edge of the tub whilst eating a snack and reading stories.
Usually, at around 4:30 am, either my husband or myself would take her out of the room and try to keep her entertained in the empty hotel lobby until breakfast was served at 6:30.
Sleep issues aside, toddler-travel can prove difficult for other reasons too. Everyone who’s ever cared for a toddler for more than say, 10 minutes, has observed that moving them from point A to point B is challenging. They may object to your proposed mode of travel – stroller, carrier, or feet. They may require many stops to observe and interact with their surroundings. You need them to enter a shop 20 feet away. They need to look at this pile of gravel, or bit of fence, or clump of flowers – apparently for the rest of the day. These conflicting agendas mean that 45 minutes later, you still haven’t bought the bananas you set out to purchase that morning.
So now let’s imagine that you need to move this little person through a busy and unfamiliar transit system in a city of 7.2 million people. And she doesn’t want to ride in the stroller, she wants to walk. No, she wants to run. Actually, she just wants to run away. She wants to get on the escalator by herself and she definitely doesn’t want to hold hands with anyone. Is the train coming? Too bad, she’s busy putting her mouth on this glass partition over here. Which is why we left all of our parenting ideals behind and resorted to outright bribes. If you get in your stroller, you can have a treat when we get there, I said one million times in a week.
I don’t want to make it sound like caring for her was all on me, and my husband was off drinking margaritas or something. He was trying his best to do his equal share of toddler-time, but my daughter let it be known, in no uncertain terms, that Mummy was the preferred parent, in every conceivable situation. Mummy has to push the stroller, Mummy must carry me, I have to sit on Mummy’s lap, I have to go through the turnstile with Mummy, Mummy has to take me to the lobby at 4:45 am. “It’s like she’s addicted to you,” said my husband bitterly. I have never heard the mother-child bond referred to as addiction before, but if the shoe fits. If you let Daddy carry you, you can have a piece of chocolate, I said to my daughter.
Of course, please don’t think that the trip was all ruinous. Actually, it was amazing. We let Bean call the shots and saw all the things that he wanted to. My kids were treated so well by the locals. We were offered seats every ride on the busy MTR, and if people were often startled by a little girl darting amongst their legs on the sidewalk, they took it in stride and were unfailingly polite and helpful to us. Certain experiences would also just never have been had, as when Lark and I made friends with a bunch of old ladies in a playground at 7:00 am, who were there doing their morning calisthenics.
I’m led to conclude that while not without its challenges, this epic trip was worth it. My son got his dream trip, and my husband and I proved to ourselves that if we could survive this with her at this age, any future travel will seem like cake, right? Which has me dreaming of far-off destinations on this dark and chilly January morning in 2017.
Before any new planning begins, must sleep, though.