Finding the time, and investing it
To the extent you could express your opinions at 4 weeks old you seemed fairly keen, when we ran the idea of a 6 week holiday passed you. You certainly didn’t object in any obvious way.
A few years ago Mummy Shark and I went to Sri Lanka. We found one awesome bar overlooking the beach which had a fantastic tilting umbrella, allowing Mummy Shark to sit in the sun while I got to sit in the shade. Right next to each other. Perfect. A rare find even though it sounds simple. Mummy Shark likes hot weather, I don’t mind hot weather as long as there’s shade, Aircon and cold beer easily available. You’ve got my skin tone Elsie, sorry! I wish you had your Mother’s. What type of weather you prefer will become clear as we go, but at least for now it will be 2 votes to 1 for sitting in the shade, so shade will win on this trip 😎.
I Need A Holiday!
One Saturday afternoon, when Elsie was about 4 weeks old, we were out walking around the inspirational Streatham Common, for the second time that day. Down in the lifts, 5 minutes to cross the A23 (4 sets of traffic lights just to cross over!), 5 more minutes to get in to the Common proper, and you’re in a relative sanctuary of peace and greenery – the best on offer in South West London anyway. With an unpredictable 4 week old baby even short trips out like this can seem like an achievement, but we had well & truly MASTERED this walk now, so on that outing we decided we needed a new challenge, to go somewhere more adventurous and get away from the busy-ness of London and Streatham High Road.
A 6 week trip somewhere exciting should do it, we decided.
Six months later and i’m now sat in the most awesome Airbnb – we’re in Mazunte, Oaxaca state, Mexico – and this is my view as I write:
Elsie is in the middle of an mid-afternoon siesta, starfished on the floor. KJ is doing some AdAmi work, and for the first time in 6 months i’m getting some time to do some writing. Bliss!
This is our first proper holiday since a roadtrip around Namibia in January 2018. Last year was full of stag doo’s and weddings, and we’ve not been overseas in 2019, thanks to Elsie! So we both needed a holiday. I had a deep desire to get away from it all – the busy-ness and stress of London life, the enevitable rat race that it drags you in to. When we originally booked, this was my main motivating factor for the holiday – getting away from it all. It made sense timing-wise for Kirsty too – she would, we assumed when booking, be going back to work in January 2020, so we thought best make use of her maternity leave. We’d also heard travelling with babies was good fun (can’t remember who/where we heard that 🤔).
As the trip drew closer a more important reason began to emerge, for me anyway, for the extended break.
The first two weeks after Elsie was born were amazing. Challenging, but so rewarding, and it was such a priviledge to spend every minute of every day with her. The two weeks flew by and before I knew it I was back in “work mode”.
When it’s just the two of you (no baby), you can get away with being in “work mode” (which means, sadly, that most of your life is organised around work). Weekdays I’d get up early (c.6am) to do some stretching, breathing or whatever, travel to work (c.1hr), arriving around 8am – work all day (8-9hrs), then travel home (another c.1hr), usually via some exercise if not done in the morning, to hopefully snatch an hour or two with Kirsty to chat, do a food shop, cook dinner, eat, wash up then get ready for the next day. And repeat x 5.
By Friday (and most weeks by Thursday, sometimes Wednesday, and hopefully rarely Tuesday) you’re in desperate need of a drink, or 10. Work consumes most of the week. Saturday mornings can often be a haze, before you’re off out to play 5-a-side, meet friends for brunch, go to the lido, go for a walk or daytrip somewhere new, spend the day in the pub with the lads, or one of a hundred other weekendly options you always have open to you living in London. Never did I just sit and do nothing.
So, by the end of March, after 2 unforgettable weeks of not leaving Elsie’s side, I found myself back in a baby-modified version of “work mode”. Credit where it’s due, my boss and work were good to me, and i’ll always be grateful for the flexibility they allowed, but I was still away from Elsie for most of every day’s waking hours. We reclaimed a lot of our weekends by decreasing our drinking considerably (baby + hangover = bad) and we learned/were forced to say no to some social events, but the few months after Elsie was born still flew by in the haze of London life. This began to really eat away at me.
When I was old enough to go to day nursery, in a story I love re-calling, I apparently cried so much when my Mum first tried to leave me there that after a few attempts she relented and decided to open her own day nursery, with me as her first attendee ☺️. She ran Tregantle Day Nursery in Llandudno with huge success for the next 15 years. It was the “go to” nursery in town – all the cool kids wanted to go there. As a result Mum knew EVERYONE in town, and when we were out and about it was really annoying as we’d always have to stop and talk to people in the street. I’m only just realising this as I write, but one of the reasons I was so close to my Mum, I think, must be that I spent almost every minute of the day with her until I went to school. There’s other reasons, sure, but as Kirsty and I are now seeing first hand, a baby’s inate craving and desire to be with/on/next to her mother is compellingly life-affirming, and life-changing for a first-time mother.
In the weeks leading up to our Grand Départ my desire to spend every minute of the upcoming 6 weeks with Elsie was at fever-pitch. I just could not wait to spend proper real time with her – to see her behaviour throughout the day firsthand, rather than via Kirsty telling me what i’d missed, her getting used to seeing my ugly mug everytime she woke up from a nap, rocking and singing her to sleep for her naps, helping to feed her as we begin our weening journey, taking her swimming, playing with her on her playmat without a plan to rush off somewhere else soon after – all simple things that take time.
I also couldn’t wait for her to see me differently too. I always made a huge conscious effort to not bring work home with me and always switched in to Dad-mode as soon as I got through the door, but work can be stressful even with your best efforts and intentions. I looked forward to Elsie seeing and getting to know me in a more relaxed state, away from the stress and bustle of London life. Hopefully the best version of me. Kirsty can be the judge of that!
To Mexico For 6 Weeks
We chose Mexico as it’s big enough to easily spend 6 weeks, has good weather (KJ’s idea of good, anyway) in October/November, is well developed (vs. where we’d normally look to go for a long trip anyway), and therefore safe enough to go with a 7 month old, has direct and cheap-ish flights from London, and the cost of living / travelling is low enough for us to spend fairly freely for 6 weeks (ie, eat out a couple of times a day and enjoy ourselves). We’d also read that the locals were very friendly towards babies. And, Mexico has excellent coffee, another big tick. Some compelling reasons to visit, we thought.
I love planning trips so slowly but merrily I put together this itinerary:
Mexico With A Baby – Are You Mad?
To some people a 6 week trip to Mexico (we’re not going to an all-inclusive resort in Cancun!) with a 7 month old is madness for a number of reasons, one being risks to Elsie’s health and general safety. Others would see no issue and wouldn’t even question it. Kirsty’s more of an adventurous traveller than I am (I’m almost caught up with her now), but I am more in the latter camp – usually I prefer destinations that are a bit “not normal” but not too far out there. Kirsty’s view is that if Thomas Cook fly there then she doesn’t want to go, which sums it up nicely for me too.
So, with some risks inherent, I nominated myself as the Health & Safety Officer for the trip and planned a number of risk mitigations should anything bad happen. Brief summaries of this below for anyone who’s interested (seriously opening myself up for some piss-taking here aren’t I).
- Preference to travel by air rather than long road trips – old us would have dived in to an adventurous road trip to get from one place to another, but with Elsie we decided flights are safer than 12 hour mountain passes with psycho drivers who don’t speak English or understand that blind overtaking on corners in the rain is risky. In-shallah? No thanks
- When travelling by car for anything more than a few minutes Elsie must be in her car seat with a shoulder strapped seatbelt well fitted to the seat
- Wear seatbelts whenever possible and definitely for anything longer than a few minutes
- For any longer journeys subtly check out the state of the driver – where local laws aren’t as stictly enforced as in the UK, or exist at all, you can’t assume drivers aren’t high, pissed, half-asleep or just massively incompetent
- Learn the local words for “drive slowly”. We will tell drivers for any longer journey’s that Kirsty gets car sick so they must drive slowly. That seems to work most of the time
- Check the state of the car – usually you can’t do much more than a rudimentary visual inspection, but if you’re going on a longer journey do the tyre kick test at least
We’re staying at some smaller guesthouses and Airbnb’s – in some of these types of non-hotel standard accommodation I don’t think you can take safety or security for granted. I promise I wasn’t this anal before Elsie, but now i’m responsible for her I will be checking the following at our accommodation, where appropriate, just in case:
- Fire escape route and extinguisher locations
- How we could get to the nearest doctor or A&E
- Contact details of guesthouse owner or Airbnb host, if staying somewhere quieter, in case of emergency
- Doors and entry points to room are secured at night – this door wedge alarm has been purchased
- Portable smoke and CO2 alarms
- Body temperature thermometer – check Elsie most days to catch any first signs of fever
- Luckily Elsie is still breastfeeding so risks of her getting upset stomach are low. We’re weening her now though, so have taken loads of Ella’s Kitchen food sachets with us and won’t be giving her anything “local”. She’s sampling fruits through a chewer, but only safe basic fruits like apples, bananas, watermelon
- Sterilise dummies, bottles, toys, spoons etc every day or two. We will use boiling water where possible and Milton tablets if not
- Keep Elsie well covered from sun, including sun hats and Babiators 😎 and natural suncream if she’s going to have much exposure
- Bug swatter for life-threatening insects and wilderbeasts 😳
- Natural mosquito repellent – can’t be coating Elsie in DEET
- Get proper health insurance cover and have the details saved and ready to hand
And We’re Off
We’ve made it to Mexico! So far, so good. Elsie is a total hit with the locals – they can’t get enough of her. And we’ve not sunburnt her yet either.
Another essay or two will follow detailing our trip and how we’re coping with Elsie in tow.