Community Conferences – Bringing along Baby

The other weekend was the 7th annual Northern Voice social media conference. I’ve attended this conference many times in the past, and this time went avec Isaac.

I was a bit nervous about bringing him along, even though the conference has always been billed as welcoming kids, because of what happened last year.

Reader’s Digest Version for those who don’t want to click: There was a noisy baby during the Keynote. Some people thought this was okay, many didn’t.

After “Babygeddon 2010” I was one of the many who agreed with the “Anti-Noise” sentiment. I also have a permanent bug up my arse about anyone who (deliberately or not) acts as if their actions are allowed to negatively impact the comfort and enjoyment of everyone around them. So I really REALLY wanted to make sure I treated bringing Isaac along as the privilege it is, and that his inherent baby-ness didn’t take away from the experience for any of the other attendees.

From the number of cute-baby coos I got at the conference, and total lack of hearing anything about a “Babygeddon 2011” during or afterward, I’m calling this one a success.

I like to think it’s because I put a lot of thought into how I’d tackle attending the conference with a baby. Here’s what I came up with:

1. Know the event. I’d never, ever bring a baby along to one of those $3000/week professional conferences (as opposed to a more casual community event). Most of them expressly forbid anyone under 18 in the venue for liability reasons. This conference, however, has a long history of allowing parents to bring their kids along for the ride, assuming the parents can keep the kids safe and unobtrusive.

2. Know the Venue. I also made sure I was familiar with the venue and the places I’d be able to sneak away if things started to go sideways.

3. Know your baby. Isaac is still at a stage where he basically eats, sleeps and poops. And not much else. I knew he would pretty reliably sleep in a sling through sessions. Whenever he started to act like he was going to wake up (and I know he likes to announce the fact that he’s awake) I’d make sure I gathered everything together so I could bolt in a hurry with a minimum of disruption. I also left the sessions I attended just before they ended, to avoid the thunderous applause, which would’ve been almost sure to startle the kid.

4. Timing is Everything. I made sure I got to session rooms early so I could get a good spot near the door for a quick escape. I also kept a close eye on the time so I knew when Isaac would be likely to start to fuss and could be ready to dash.

5. Have a baby-wrangler. I didn’t plan as well as I could have for this one on Friday. I didn’t have a solid plan for handling Isaac during lunch or bathroom breaks. Thankfully I have some lovely friends who held the baby at lunch so I could wolf down a sandwich. I Brought Neil along Saturday to deal with almost all things baby, which worked out MUCH better. I just had to duck out for feedings.

6. Lower your expectations and have a Plan B. This last point was the biggest thing for me.

I knew I wouldn’t be able to attend all, or even any of the sessions if Isaac was having a bad day. I figured if the acoustic situation was the same for the Keynotes as it was in 2010 (thankfully it wasn’t), I’d miss them entirely. I was ready to admit dragging a baby along was a bad idea and just go home to drown my sorrows in chocolate cake and ice cream.

I had accepted that it was essentially okay to fail.

This is a very strange concept for me.

And it seems to be crucial to surviving life with baby. If the kid is having a terrible day, I just need to let him have that and try again tomorrow. The bad mood won’t last, the world won’t end, and I’ll have a chance to do something else to fulfill my grown-up needs sooner rather than later. Everything will be all right.

Baby Isaac has the most amazing blue eyes. @peechie is a prou... on Twitpic

Any other parents out there want to chime in on bringing their babies to adult-oriented things? What works for you, both in keeping your kid from being disruptive, and maintaining your own sanity?

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6 thoughts on “Community Conferences – Bringing along Baby

  1. Karen

    We have brought our little guy to lots of events. When he was Isaac’s age we took him to a Pecha Kucha night and did basically the same as you (sat near an exit, wore him in a sling, etc.). Recently I took him to the AGM for our community league. I wore him in an ergo baby carrier and did have to step out a few times due to his noisy babbling, but other than that it went fairly well.

    It is getting a bit more difficult now that Robert is older and more mobile, but we still manage to do quite a lot. Since he is eating solid food now I have a few more tricks up my sleeve to keep him chilled out. Before I was a parent I remember looking down at people who gave their kids packaged food, but now “Baby Mum Mums” and “Puffs” are my go-to snacks when toys and distraction just aren’t cutting it!

    Also, while I used to be more likely to go to an event with just a carrier, I now like to bring along our reclining umbrella stroller. Robert is getting heavy and if it looks like he’s going to fall asleep it is sometimes nice to literally get him off my back (haha) and let him snooze in the stroller.

    And I wholeheartedly agree with your last point! I think that one of the reasons we are able to get out so frequently with Robert is that we have very low expectations and are willing to bail or change plans if things are not working out.
    Karen´s last blog post ..Gracious Goods Cafe

  2. Raul

    This year, Arieanna and Ianiv left Aiden behind for NV ’11 (which I think made a lot of sense – I have never talked about this with them, so I’m totally going out on a limb on this one – the only thing Arieanna and I talked about before, during and after Northern Voice was “get the freaking e-book done, get the presentation slides done, and be ready to fly by the seat of our pants on our talk”. So, I have no idea how Arieanna feels about having left Aiden behind. I’m going to assume she felt she would be able to concentrate on our talk without having to worry about Aiden. That’s just assumption.

    I can tell you, though, that your experience (and blogging about it) is a great resource for anyone who wants to bring babies to Northern Voice. As you said, it’s extremely friendly to kids and you better start them geeking out early.

    Also, I loved seeing Isaac in person (ZOMG he is so beautiful – and those eyes, those eyes dammit) and having a chance to hold him. And lunch, SOON.


  3. Josh

    Whenever I’ve seen Isaac he’s only made quiet/cute noises that couldn’t possibly bother anyone, he seems like a quiet guy in general, so I’m extra impressed at your thoroughness with this.

    Thinking things through? planning? being considerate? being realistic? You two should teach a course to other new parents to make them wise in your ways πŸ™‚

  4. Nicole

    I took Adele to an academic conference in San Diego with me when she was 3.5 months. But, I cheated and also dragged my husband along. Truthfully, they mostly stayed hostage in the hotel room with occasional walks around the resort grounds. She did make it out to some of the social events of the conference, but a science conference is a different atmosphere than a community one for sure, so there wasn’t really a place for her in the talks. The atmosphere was way too professional for that. And since Michael was there, I didn’t really need to have her with me while I was attending talks anyway. But, there were still some things to consider – namely feeding times. Not surprisingly, her nursing schedule didn’t really jive with the coffee breaks and down times, so I often found myself dashing back to the room between talks to pump, then leaving Michael with a bottle of chilled milk on ice (we had no fridge or kitchenette, so we were sterilizing bottles using water boiled in the coffee maker and chilling them in the ice bucket). Usually I’d be running back to the room in a complete panic, thinking I’d find an hysterical baby and over-stressed dad. But, most often, she was passed out in her bassinet, and he was watching movies.
    That experience taught me a lot. First, I learned that I was far, far more baby-brained than I’d originally thought. I found it very difficult to switch back and forth between baby-nurturing and academic-schmoozing, and the latter definitely suffered. Second, bringing an infant along (albeit with a full-time, yet breast-less helper) to a conference in another country was not nearly as hellish as I’d expected it to be. In the end, we made it through unscathed, and I learned that, yes indeed, “everything will be alright”. It really boosted my confidence that I was somehow going to be able to pull my life back together with this little infant in it. And, just last week, I went to another academic conference in Quebec all by myself, leaving Adele and Michael here in Vancouver. So, proof there that you do eventually get to fulfill your grown-up needs πŸ™‚

  5. Loranda

    I’m always afraid of doing something new with the girls. Although I haven’t been to any conferences (ha, nor can I imagine doing something of that caliber with two), just doing small things like going to the store or a baby meet-up raises my anxiety level and has me questioning if I can do it. My motto is always “Worst case scenario, both babies meltdown and we go home”. Fortunately, we rarely experience the worst case, and for the most part they are good and we get the job done and make it home without too much whining, and sometimes even smiles. Doing things out in the world gives me confidence to do it again, and try new things as well.

    Glad to hear you are managing to integrate Isaac into regular life. Doing things out in the world, especially things that interest us (mommas) is always satisfying, especially when the little ones do well!

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