The stress was already mounting when the cab arrived early.
At the moment we heard the horn, my wife, Jess, and I were blotting our clothes from our 2-week-old son Wolf’s pee, which had just doused us and sprinkled much of the nursery as though sprayed from a loose garden hose.
Friends and family had warned us repeatedly about the trials of traveling with a baby so young, most of them saying it wasn’t worth the hassle or the risk of exposing Wolf to potentially harmful germs. But Jess and I love to travel and had vowed not to allow parenthood to crimp our ways. So we decided to test our ambitions early by attending a long-planned family reunion in Virginia.
After getting clearance from our pediatrician and other doctors and nurses we had met in the previous weeks, we bought last-minute tickets to fly from Logan to Dulles, which was about an hour’s drive from where more than 150 of my relatives, many from Europe, were gathering for a reunion we hold every five years. (The advice was that there was little risk of harm to a newborn flying, especially on a short flight in the summer, outside flu season.)
When the cab pulled up a few minutes earlier than expected, we rushed through the checklist of necessities, the kinds of things I had known nothing about only a few weeks before. Spread throughout our Jamaica Plain apartment, the gear looked as if we were about to set out on a months-long trip, violating any notion we once had about the virtues of traveling light.
In addition to our backpacks, which we had stuffed with Wolfy’s onesies and swaddles, we had bags filled with diapers, petroleum jelly, wipes, sanitizer, pacifiers, hats, blankets, bottles, and changes of clothes in case of an emergency. Then there was the car seat, stroller, pillow for feeding, and a chair that vibrates and plays music, a metal contraption that was the only place he would sleep.
Jess scooped up the baby, who was peaceful and blithely unaware of the journey he was about to take, as I grabbed everything else to heave down the two flights to the street.
Then I had to figure out how to install the car seat without its base, a device that ensures the seat is secured firmly. I was going on what I had learned the night before by watching a YouTube video, and to my surprise, while neighbors poked their heads into the taxi to see the baby, it all came together quickly and the seat seemed snugly anchored.
We squeezed the rest of our luggage into the trunk and strapped Wolfy into the car seat, where he began to wake and look a tad perturbed. We had heard that babies find motion soothing and often fall asleep on car rides. Not Wolfy. As we rolled to the airport, he went from groggily semiconscious to notably agitated to screaming bloody murder.
“Please don’t let this be an omen for how the trip is going to be,” Jess said.
There was only one solution to the fury: feeding our little wolf. But there was no way for him to suckle while we were driving. And the pacifiers . . . were in the trunk.
We sang songs we didn’t know the words to and Jess held his tiny hands. She also tried to use her finger as a pacifier, but Wolfy howled so lustily the veins in his head were engorged.
The driver told me he had four kids, but when I asked for advice, he had none.
“We hardly traveled when the kids were small,” he said.
The 20-minute trip to Logan felt like a lifetime. We held Wolf tightly for a while until he calmed down and passed out from what seemed like emotional exhaustion.
We got our tickets, gently put him back in the car seat, and pushed the stroller to the security checkpoint, where there was an enormous line. It was here we learned there were perks to traveling with infants, who fly for free on domestic flights as long as they remain on a parent’s lap.
A security agent escorted us to the front of the line, and we were allowed to bring some liquids through to keep Jess hydrated and the baby clean. We had to take Wolfy out of the car seat and put that and the stroller through the X-ray machine, but our boy slept soundly as I carried him through the metal detectors.
An agent at the gate gave us tags for the car seat, stroller, and vibrating chair, which we were allowed to check on the jetway while we boarded early.
We were treated like royalty, with oohs and aahs from just about anyone who got a glimpse of our boy, and Wolfy remained in such a deep slumber he didn’t appear to notice when the engines rumbled to life and the airplane rose off the ground.
In fact, Jess, worried that his ears might not adjust to the altitude, tried to wake him to breast feed, which she had heard would help. But he remained woozy and seemed as content as if he were back in the womb.
There was hardly a peep throughout the flight, and when we landed, he remained asleep.
Wolfy struggled with car rides back and forth to the events of the reunion that weekend, but by the time we had returned to Dulles for the trip back to Boston, we felt we had things under control, that we wouldn’t have to give up traveling.
When we got on the plane, this time with confidence, we thought we would take advantage of being among the first aboard to change Wolfy’s diaper before takeoff. We carried him and the diaper bag to the bathroom, unlatched the changing table, and went to work, as if we were old pros.
But that was when it became clear that we remained very much novices.
Just as we removed his diaper, we forgot the lesson from a few days before to keep a lid on the loaded cannon.
In an instant, we were both, again, sprinkled with pee, making the trip home a soggy, redolent journey.
But we were happy to sit in urine-soaked clothes, because our boy was peaceful, and as all new parents come to learn, that’s all that matters anymore.