We used to stay out late on our travels – have dinner at 9 or 10pm and then wander the streets, hand in hand. In Paris, we would head to the Eiffel Tower to watch it light up at midnight. In Italy, we’d cue up for pizza at 2am, and then find a place to sit in the piazza and scarf our slices down before they became cold. In Brussels, we’d go to a strange, loud-music-bumping rave and feel very out of place sipping gin-tonics in the corner of the club.
I remember a time in Amsterdam when our rented canal house faced a house in the red-light district. We sat in the front window and drank coffee very late at night and watched women lounging in their rooms in various states of semi-dress. We just laughed and shook our heads and thought those late-night adventures would never end.
But they most definitely have. For now.
Traveling with a baby will do that. Now, our only late-night adventures involve being awakened by a small, very cute dictator. We’re in bed no later than nine and if not, we pay for it the next day.
We’re rushing to have dinner at a restaurant we can’t find, around a bend, down a cobblestone way at 5 or 6pm. The baby is napping in his carrier. The baby needs to have his diaper changed in a questionable restroom with no changing table. Some days, he won’t nap at all. We wonder why we even went on the trip. Why did we ever enjoy traveling?
Instead of walking hand in hand dreamily down the lane, or down a sandy beach, we are carrying a baby and a bag full of diapers and teethers and wipes. We are prepared with extra clothing. We’re sniffing a baby’s butt in public to see if he needs changing. We’re looking everywhere for a coffee shop. And now another coffee shop. We need coffee. Where is the coffee? After coffee, we look for alcohol. Where is the wine? Where are the margaritas? We need a drink. Badly. We need two drinks. And another coffee.
But then, it’s all worth it, isn’t it? The stress of traveling, of the plane and the rental car with the wonky car seat and the going to bed early and changing everything about how we used to travel. It’s worth it, because the baby smiles. He looks around in wonder. He reaches his baby hands out to touch branches of trees he’s never seen and toward flowers we don’t have at home. He’s seeing faces that look different from those in Canada or the U.S. He’s seeing bright colors, hearing different music, trying little bites of our food. He may not remember this specific trip, but these experiences are getting tucked away in his memory somewhere. He’s a traveler now, too.
And what he doesn’t remember, we will.
And so, even though we miss our late-night champagne, or after-midnight rambles through quiet neighborhoods or nights out at a pub listening to a local band — this is an adventure, too. Introducing a baby to the world. Showing him different people, different tastes, different lives. Infecting him with a travel bug of his own and wider horizons and tolerance for people, places and ideas that are different.
In the years to come, our late-night travels will be returned to us. But, I think at that point, there’s a good chance we’ll miss having a baby in a carrier, a bag full of diapers and 8pm lights-out with our little explorer.