Category Archives: Family Affair

Home and Away

Neil and I just got back from a trip to India, which was incredible, but more on that later.

Taking the trip meant leaving Isaac behind. Just shy of a fortnight away from the kiddo.

You guys, it was SO GOOD.

Much as we love the little bugger, it was really excellent for Neil and I to go away for a while and remind ourselves that we’re awfully fond of each other as well.

Lovers at the Love Monument

We had initially planned to take Isaac along, but the more we thought about the destination, the pace of the activities we had planned, and Isaac’s personality (nearly 2-year-olds are not known for their logic and patience), it seemed like an increasingly bad idea to bring him.

So rather than a round-trip ticket for Isaac, we bought one for my mum instead, and my parents got to have some quality grandkid time, while Neil and I got to explore the way we used to.

We’ve had a lot of fun traveling with Isaac so far. Bringing kids along really changes the way you travel in a few ways. Your pace is slower. Your range is shorter. Your luggage is much more cumbersome. But your encounters with others are so often deeper. You connect with locals and fellow travellers far more easily with a kid in tow.

Toddlers are crap at monuments, museums, long car rides and staying up late. But we have only ever been mistaken for locals when travelling with Isaac. Smiles to others aren’t returned nearly as often when you don’t have a kid along who’s also grinning away. We spend more time in parks, at playgrounds, and shopping in local stores instead of tourist traps, since that’s where you find baby supplies.

I’d love to take Isaac to India some day.

But in the meantime, during the long and sometimes intense days that come along with caring for (chasing after, negotiating with) a toddler, it’s also really nice to take a break and travel with a light bag and an even lighter sense of responsibility. And the rejuvenation that comes from sleeping and waking on one’s own terms is not to be underestimated!

Although, in case you were wondering, absence does make the heart grow fonder.

The Friendly Skies – 4 tips for flying RyanAir with a lap infant

We just got back from a few days visiting friends in Stockholm, which was also our first experience with RyanAir.

ryanair
Photo by Mikelo on Flickr

We’ve flown other discount carriers before, but RyanAir is often held up as the example of how much discount carriers can nickel-and-dime travellers, and exactly how deep the race to the bottom has gone.

RyanAir is known for being exceedingly tight-fisted across the aviation industry. We were chatting with a check-in agent on a different trip about our (heavy) luggage and he dropped into the conversation that “hey, we’re not RyanAir here, our parents are married.”

So to say I was a bit nervous about how we’d fare on this trip was an understatement.

Turns out that if you channel that nervous energy into checking and re-checking the conditions of carriage, and have exactly no expectations about any standard of service, you might just be pleasantly surprised!

There are a few things you need to know about how RyanAir operates that are likely a bit different from some other airlines. These can be especially frustrating for frequent travellers, who are used to their routines and like to arrive as late as possible to spend as little time waiting around as you can (I am totally one of those people). So your first tip is to arrive early. No seriously, I mean it.

RyanAir closes their bag-drop, passport-verification and check-in desks 40 minutes before flight times. They make this fact well-known. But they don’t tell you they also have a skeleton staff checking people in for flights (fewer employees means lower fares!), so if you need to get to the desk before your flight, you should count on an additional 30 minutes (at least) of line-up time. And unless you are an EU citizen, checking no bags, you need to visit one of those desks. We definitely needed the line-up, since Isaac and I had to have our passports verified, and we had to get a luggage tag for our gate-checked stroller (the one and only (and appreciated!) freebie) as well as check-in the travel cot we’d paid for.

And here’s where I give you tip the second about traveling with an infant on RyanAir: check a travel cot. Cabin baggage restrictions are stringent (one piece only, max 55cm x 40cm x 20cm and 10kg). Any personal items (laptop, camera, handbag) must fit inside that one piece. Infants get no cabin baggage allowance, and it’s expensive to purchase checked baggage (£25-£40 per direction).

But! If you are traveling with an infant you can purchase a checked travel cot for £10 each direction, and it can be up to 20kg. We managed to roll Isaac’s fleecy blanket, some jeans and sweaters of our own, and a bunch of diapers up inside the thing while it was all folded down and bagged up to squeeze those few extra items onto the flight.

Ryanair cabin
Photo by bigpresh on Flickr

Boarding is also a special experience.

Like other discount carriers, RyanAir employs a “general admission” process. Queue up, and pick a seat once you’re on board. There is no special treatment for those traveling with babies. If that happens to be you, here’s tip the third: pay for priority boarding. The cost is negligible (usually about £5 per direction), but it puts you up a the front when it comes time to board.

When going with a tiny human, you’ll find the extra cost totally worth it as you can store your cabin baggage nearby and find a block of seats with your party (the last to board generally end up split up over an assortment of single seats). You can pay £20 for reserved seats, but the priority boarding is really totally adequate.

So! You’re on the plane, adjusting to the bright yellow and assortment of public-transit-esque ads, and ready to go! Just make sure that if you have timed your flight so your tiny-human might sleep, you employ the fourth tip: have a setup prepared to block out some noise and sound for your baby.

Another way RyanAir keeps fares low is to plaster the inside of their planes with ads, and bombard you with offers to purchase things (duty free! snacks! drinks! smokeless cigarettes! lottery scratch cards! more snacks!) for the duration of your few hours with them. There is literally an effort to part you with your money every 20 minutes during the cruising time of the flight.

ryanair
Photo by JayFreshUK on Flickr.

It’s not a hard sell, just a constant barrage of offers. They’re fairly easy to tune out as an adult, but not conducive to sleep for babies who are startled and/or bothered by a constant stream of announcements and carts up and down the aisles. It also means they never turn down the cabin lights while cruising. If your kid depends on some dark and/or quiet, it’s worth getting some earmuffs and/or jury-rigging some sort of tent-ish thing during the flight to try and insulate them a bit.

It also helps for those times a couple cretins and their brood of hellions who like to throw toys at each other over the seats and rile each other up into a vibrating, shrieking frenzy end up sitting a couple rows away. Not that I’d know what that’s like or anything. At least it makes your baby seem extra angelic in comparison.

Other than that, it’s hard to argue with jetting across the continent for less than it costs us to take ourselves and our car on a BC Ferries return trip from Vancouver to Nanaimo. Or less than a fancy dinner. It cost us more to park our car at the airport than one of our tickets.

Everyone loves to complain about the horrors of flying discount airlines, but it’s a compromise. And as long as you’re prepared, it’s really not much different than flying with an infant on any other carrier. Be ready to deal with longer lines, comply with the baggage restrictions, and employ a shred of the manners your mama taught you about living in polite society, and both your wanderlust and your wallet will thank you.

What it’s Like

Quite a few people have been asking what it’s been like to have relocated, and I feel like I don’t have a great answer. Because currently, it doesn’t feel like, well, much of anything.

Watchin'

I feel like I should have a better answer. Something like going to museums, sitting up in late night philosopher’s cafes, punting. Making international friends and having exciting adventures.

But the reality is, I spend my days with an 18-month-old.

If you are not familiar with 18-month-olds, their day looks something like this: wake-eat-rampage-nap-wake-eat-rampage-eat-bath-bed. Most of what I spend my days at is finding places Isaac can run/climb/throw/jump/run without hurting himself, or making other people want to hurt me.

This means that instead of museums, pubs, historic walks and punts, I spend most of my days at playgrounds and children’s centres. Don’t get me wrong, they’re lovely, and I am starting to get to know a few other mums of toddlers, but it isn’t terribly exciting.

I also have the strange feeling of being something like a non-entity. Of course I’ve said my goodbyes to people in Vancouver, but with no colleagues of my own here, and just a few acquaintances, I’m in the bubble of the in-between. Like I’ve left one place, but haven’t really fully arrived in the other.

We do venture a bit further afield on weekends when Neil and I can tag-team wrangling Isaac (though so far, mostly to do things like buy a car, or go to IKEA), but the Monday-to-Friday day-to-day makes for pretty unadventurous tales.

Hopefully once we’re settled into our new place (moving in this weekend!) we’ll have more time on weekends for more story-worthy adventures.

And if you have any tips for managing to do more interesting things with busy, energetic toddlers, I’m all ears!

WOW!

Fun kid thing of late:

At some point, Neil started reacting to Isaac’s more… impressive… diapers by exclaiming “Wow!” in the midst of changing him.

I’m not sure when it really caught on, but now, Isaac exclaims “Wow!” every time his pants come off.

Kid, I wish you a life where someone always says “Wow!” whenever you drop trou.

All Smiles

In which the WaterCooler lives up to the “WorldWide” part

Because I want to bring both my kid and dog to the pub, goddammit.
Because a bunch of my other friends moved to Europe, and I miss them.
Because I’m sick of living somewhere with a mandatory bike helmet law.
Because, as much as I love my Kindle, who wouldn’t want to live near an incredible five-story bookstore?
Because I felt so bad about leaving town during the 2010 Olympics I felt the need for a do-over in the next Olympic city.
Because maybe I’ll become smarter by osmosis by relocating to an international seat of academia.
Because I want Isaac to sound like the kids in Mary Poppins (‘allo Guv’nah!).
Because maybe I’ll apply to that Masters program after all.
Because I put it on the Life List (see?! I told you something like this would happen).

Because, why not?

In case you haven’t figured it out, or didn’t see it fly by on the twitters yesterday, Team Watkii is relocating to Oxford, UK!

Oxford's Bridge of Sighs
Neil’s accepted a position with the UK headquarters of his current company, located just outside Oxford, so we’re off mid-July.

Yes, this is the real reason we’re selling our condo, and why I’m putting up with living in the ‘burbs in the meantime: not only is it economically sensible, it gives Isaac lots of grandparent time before we head off.

This isn’t the most radical move we could make. There won’t be much of a language barrier, and as Neil’s a UK citizen, settlement visas aren’t much of an issue. We already know a few people in the area, work is secured, and we do have company housing set up until September.

So far we’re looking forward to experiencing a lifestyle that, while somewhat familiar, is really quite different than what we’re used to, and taking advantage of our proximity to continental Europe to do more traveling in that part of the world.

For those who’ve done the ExPat thing before – any tips for us as we get ready to go and begin to get settled?

And, perhaps most crucial, which Premiere League footy team should we back?

Parenting, Family, etc.

This is what it means to have a family: diapering, cleaning, bedtime stories, untold drinks of water at bedtime, cooking, homework supervision/assistance, school drop off and pickup, daycare drop off and pick up, scheduling play dates (including hosting play dates), comforting and conflict resolution. If you aren’t willing to do those things, why the hell would you have a family?

It would be impolite to just copy Jon’s blog, verbatim, so I encourage you to go read his post on being an “involved father” and the articles he links to.

I’m seeing these themes a lot lately, with Sheryl Sandberg and Penelope Trunk also stating that one of the most important career decisions you can make as a woman is picking a good husband – one who will be an equal partner in household and parenting duties. Though I certainly didn’t need them to tell me that. It’s been a deal breaker of mine all along.

In our family, Neil is still the only one who’s done a single-parent overnight shift. In fact, he’s done two, and I’m about to leave for a 3-day business trip where he’ll do our first multi-day single-parent adventure. I assume that there will be times in the future where I’ll return the favour.

And as the first commenter on Jon’s site says, while I feel grateful that I have found a partner who plays an equal role in running our family, luck has nothing to do with it, and neither of us deserves special recognition for being competent, responsible adults.