Today's guest parenthood post is from Kelly, mama to an active 10 month old boy from the Twin Cities metro area. She's sharing with us about being a new mom and traveling with her son for the first time! Were you nervous to travel with your baby the first time? 

Notes on a Road Trip: A First Time Mom Faces Her Fear of Travel with an Infant

It is 3:30 AM and I am looking in the bathroom mirror through blurry, tired eyes that no amount of concealer could make look bright and lively, and thinking to myself that one of the ways to get my ten month old son to sleep would be to put him in the car and drive around for a while. It is 40 degrees outside and I am exhausted – this is not a good solution. I need to sleep, too, and how would I eventually get him out of the car seat, into the house, and into bed without thoroughly wrecking his peaceful slumber? On the road trips we took recently, he slept soundly in a way that he does not in his crib, so this may be what I need to do. I scrap the idea, though, and go back to his room to sit with him in my lap and let him snooze, wondering just how much coffee I can ingest without getting sick.

When I was pregnant with my son, I had similar visions of other first time moms – babywearing, making all of his food, washing every stitch of clothing before he wears it, sleeping while the baby slept, regular showers and meals, the list goes on and on. Then they handed me a squirmy little bundle that needed my eyes on him around the clock, and many of my notions went out the window. One of those notions was that I would take him everywhere with me. I would not stop going the places I wanted to go; he would just come along for the ride. I quickly saw that it wasn’t meant to be. After a few difficult trips in the car to the pediatrician a mere 15 minute ride away, I soon developed a fear of driving anywhere with him. I hated the idea of making a run to the grocery store. I was afraid he would kick and scream the whole ride, the whole way through the store, and the whole way home. All of this crying would leave him inconsolable and leave me feeling guilty and frustrated.

So when two commitments came up that required us to travel out of town two weekends in a row, to destinations that are four to five hours drive each way, with a baby who wasn’t fond of car rides, I got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. How do we get out of this without hurting someone’s feelings? Couldn’t my husband just go and leave us at home? No. We were going to travel as a family; we just needed to figure it out.

In the weeks leading up to the trips, I planned out in my head how we were going to pack, and our strategies for handling difficult situations. I plotted out rest stops on the map in my head. The time to prepare seemed to be going far too quickly and before I knew it, the weekends were upon us. I laid out everything I thought we would need, and eliminated the things that we could just pick up somewhere along the way. The mountain that remained was intimidating, but I also felt more comfortable that we would have the things necessary for the majority of situations that would arise.

The morning of weekend one, we packed the car until we could barely see out the rear window, and backed out of the driveway. I sat in the back with him, thinking this would be the best way to keep him occupied and happy. I felt my body immediately tense as we left the familiar ten mile radius of home and merged onto the eastbound interstate. A half an hour in and I was already tiring from the car ride itself and from entertaining the baby, who for some reason I felt the need to keep distracted although he wasn’t fussing. But then it happened – he got a little cranky. Oh no, here it was, the moment when the car ride would become tears and frustration for everyone involved! I started regretting leaving the house and wondering if it was too soon to turn around. What do I do? Mayday! SOS! I reached for the pacifier, which I had planned to save for big trouble, handed it to my son, and… he popped it in his mouth and dozed off. Silence. That was close. I decided to close my eyes and relax as well - I needed to conserve energy for when he woke up.

An hour passed, I woke up from my doze, and looked at my son who was still peacefully sleeping with the pacifier lying on his lap having fallen out of his sleepy lips. My husband remarked that he was feeling a little tired himself because everyone was so quiet and content, but he had gotten a burst of energy to continue on. I busied myself with all things smartphone and readied for when my son awoke, hoping it would be closer to our destination.

An hour from reaching our endpoint, he opened his eyes, hungry and needing a change, but happy. We stopped at a rest stop, got out, stretched our legs, took care of his needs, and got ready to go again. He went back into his car seat with little resistance and played contentedly with his toys. I felt simultaneously proud of him for being a good traveller, and proud of myself for making it this far, not having hung onto the door frame of the house, my fingernails leaving tracks as my husband pulled me by the legs, yelling, “ You are going and that is all there is to it!”

We arrived at our destination with baby content and rested. Everyone took turns meeting him and playing with him, and my husband and I sat back with sighs of relief over all we had accomplished in the last several hours. Aside from his one small meltdown when we went to change our son into cooler clothes, the afternoon was fairly uneventful.

Did I mention we hadn’t planned whether we were going to spend the night or drive all the way back the same day yet? No? Probably because I didn’t want anyone to stop reading and think I was a lunatic with that level of non-commitment. We had planned on getting a hotel room but everything local was booked months in advance for a college football game and some sort of marathon, so we would have had to drive back part of the way anyway. We decided to play it by ear. Early evening rolls around and everyone heads out to a restaurant downtown, without a reservation, hoping we can sit down to eat immediately. I knew this was unlikely but we joined the crowd anyway, and arrived at an establishment that looked more like a bar than a restaurant. While we debated about the likelihood of there being a changing table in the restroom, we were informed that there was a very long wait for a table, and the chances were good that our little guy would turn into a pumpkin before we even got to order. His bedtime was quickly approaching, my husband and I were staring down another car ride back, and we weren’t very interested in this activity anyway. We had everything we needed in the car in case we needed to stop for the night, so we decide to throw caution to the wind and venture back home. After our initial drive, I was feeling more confident, especially since the sky was darkening and the lack of a decent afternoon nap was likely to have our little one dreaming in no time.

We said our goodbyes, got on the road with me in the back seat again, and before we even hit the border of the city and merged onto the interstate, he was asleep, and he stayed that way ALL THE WAY HOME. I was a little concerned he would wake up when we got home and not want to go back to sleep, but this was the least of my worries because we would be in comfortable surroundings. Success! It could not have gone better.

Weekend two quickly arrived and still riding the wave of confidence from the previous weekend, we packed up the car again and headed to our next destination. This event was about the same distance away and the drive from home goes just as the previous time, with the exception of a little more fussing at the end. He had had enough riding in the car and so had I at that point. The week had been particularly challenging and exhausting, and I just needed to get some rest. I was hoping this get away would go well and be just what I needed.

We got to the little resort we were staying at, unpacked and settled in, and our little guy crawled around happily, exploring the new environment. About an hour later, we headed out to visit friends and family, and have dinner. Once again, dinner was late, but this time, our son was not having it, and I realized that, GASP, I didn’t bring the pacifier OR enough formula. I had become overconfident in how well things had gone the weekend before and now I was unprepared. My husband was able to soothe my son to sleep just long enough for the food to finally arrive, so I devoured it in record pace, and didn’t even think about the possibility of dessert. My son awoke and decided he had had enough of this mess, and proceeded to break out the big tears and choking sobs. Time to go – mom fail. He was overtired and needed to go to bed immediately. We got back to our resort where he had a bottle, and went right to sleep. My husband and I stayed up another hour discussing the day’s events and how to handle the wedding we would be attending the next day. He would be standing up in the wedding leaving me alone with my son in church for the first time. It was going to be interesting.

The night seemed to go by far too fast and since my son is used to waking up at 5:30 or 6:00 AM every day, he stuck to the routine and was ready to get his day started before the sun was up. I went to pick him up and discovered that his pajamas were soaked through with pee from a leaky diaper. I stripped him of his clothing, cleaned him up, and put him in a little outfit that seemed fine when I packed it but now seemed small and uncomfortable on the poor guy. It was only temporary though until he put on his dress clothes, so I made a mental note to pack extras for him next time. That was when I realized that I only packed one pair of pajamas for him that were now dirty and I did not have time to wash them. Ugh. Ok, I can handle this.

The lack of sleep, the long car ride, and the busy week had caught up to me and I was dragging. My husband set out what he needed for the day and I announced that a shower is what I needed to wake up and get a move on. I headed into the bathroom and discovered the situation that would truly be the root of Mommy Meltdown 2014. This resort, unlike any other place you make a reservation and spend the night, had no shampoo or conditioner. Normally I bring my own but I threw caution to the wind this time and skipped it, assuming it would be there and I could save some suitcase space. The office must sell these items in their little store, and it didn’t open for another forty five minutes, so I would have to wait it out. Fine.

The forty five minutes passed and my husband ventured out while I went to change my son in the bedroom. As I put a new diaper on him, I could smell the pee soaked pajamas hanging in the corner and my stress level started to rise. I felt terrible. I was exhausted, my son would have to wear stinky pajamas, and I needed a shower ASAP. I was away from home, facing a day of managing my active son by myself at an event where I only know a handful of people, and I was self-conscious about how I would look in my post baby body, which was another issue for another time. Then it happened. My husband walked in the door, stood in the doorway to the bedroom and stated that the resort store did not sell shampoo and the closest place to get it was TEN MILES away. That was it. I lost it. I burst into tears sobbing about what a terrible mother I was having not packed enough things for my son, how I couldn’t possibly shower effectively without shampoo, and that I was just so, so tired. I was in shutdown mode. My husband promptly grabbed my son and sternly said to me, “Go to bed. Now.” He walked out without another word.

I hauled myself crying into the bedroom and shut the door, not sure I would be able to sleep because I couldn’t stop the flow of tears. Things were already a mess. How was the rest of the day going to work? I sobbed until I eventually dozed off. Things had gone so well the previous weekend and now everything was a disaster. What happened? All of that confidence I had gained was fading. Traveling with my son was once again stressful for me, and it was an awful feeling.

Two hours later my husband returned from town with our son and a bottle of shampoo in hand and the day moved forward. We made it halfway through the wedding ceremony before going to the mothers’ room, which is further than I thought we would get, and aside from a stop back at the resort during the cocktail hour so my son could get a nap and work on his constipation issue, all in all the day was fairly successful. I managed to keep him mostly content and he charmed everyone he encountered. Sure, dinner was a challenge and there was no dessert for me again, and he cried the hardest I have ever heard him cry as I drove him back to the resort that night because he was so tired, but we survived. I survived.

The trip home for the little fellow was much like the trip there – a long nap, some entertaining needed from time to time, but overall, nothing that we couldn’t handle. My husband and I took turns sitting in the back with him, decompressing from all of the activity that had been keeping us busy the last two weeks. Looking back on these two road trips as the sun warmed my face through the windshield, I felt more warm fuzzy feelings than anything negative, and I knew the memories would be good ones.

In the end, I realized that no matter how prepared you think you are, and how much you pack, there will likely be something you didn’t think of or a scenario that will arise that you aren’t sure how to handle. All you can do at that point is improvise, and try to make the best of a tough situation. Try to keep a smile on your face no matter how hard it is for the sake of the little ones. Eventually, kids will start remembering these trips, and you want them to look back on them fondly, not be telling their friends stories about how mom and dad argued over who didn’t pack enough underwear. If your anxiety and emotions do get the best of you, you may look back on the trip and wish you had shrugged some things off and just enjoyed the time away, even if it involved pee soaked pajamas, constipation, and no shampoo.

Don’t let fear stop you from making those second trimester daydreams of adventures with your baby a reality. The more unique situations you encounter with your child, the better prepared he will be for the future and all of the new experiences coming his way. You want him to take cues from you to approach things with an open mind and a positive outlook, right? Our parents likely didn’t put so much pressure on themselves, so why should we?

But do pack extra clothes and bring the shampoo – I cannot stress that enough.

Kelly Kirar is a working mom and wife living in the Twin Cities metro area. In those rare ten minutes when she is not chasing an active ten month old, she can be found under a pile of endless laundry overanalyzing her fantasy football team’s losing record. You can find her on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram

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