Pack up the Car, Honey!
Gail Marlene Schwartz on the doís and doníts of vacationing with kids
My partner, Lucie, and I live in Montreal and have a two-year-old son, Alexi. Before getting pregnant, we spent our summer vacations either renting cabins in the country or going with friends to Provincetown. In winter we traveled to international cities to check out the museums, art galleries, concerts, theater and innovative restaurants.
When Alexi arrived in March of 2010, both Lucie and I were in a state of shock. His arrival changed everything about our lives—including how we spend our time off. We became one of the 68 percent of LGBT couples who say a child-friendly vacation destination is more important than an LGBT-specific locale. Here’s what we’ve learned about traveling with young children.
The Shlep Factor
I used to be the type to travel with a carry-on bag and a backpack, no matter where I was going or for how long. Those days are over. During our first excursion as a family of three, a quick overnight to Vermont, the joke about lesbians and U-Hauls took on a whole new meaning. We packed an amazing amount of essential baby stuff: breastfeeding gear; multiple changes of clothing (babies can be messy); the small baby bag for day trips; baby shampoo, sunscreen, diapers, wipes, a changing pad, diaper cream, toys, books, the sling, a playpen, the bouncy seat, and so on. Now we make sure to start the packing process at least three days before departure.
Car Seats and Crying
Our first big trip with Alexi was to the lesbian Shangri-la, Provincetown, when he was five months old. The drive from Montreal is close to eight hours. New parents that we were, we figured Alexi would sleep in the car. And he did—for a few half-hour naps. At a certain point he simply could not tolerate being in that car seat for one more second. We had to pull over, calm him down, put him back, take him out again if he cried, offer more cuddling, etc. After seven stops, we had entered a sort of sleep deprived, adrenaline fueled nightmare state which ended up with a huge fight between the two alleged grownups. In hindsight, I should have waited until my baby was at least a year old to try any long trips. Plus, as every experienced parent will tell you, that first year just flies by.
Extra Travel Buddy=Time Off
Before we went to P-town, we offered Lucie’s sister Michele a free vacation in exchange for helping us out with the baby—a fabulous arrangement I heartily recommend. This plan allowed Lucie and I to have some desperately needed couple time: we saw Margaret Cho live, ate in a restaurant with no kids’ menu, and saw an independent film (on the big screen!). Just make sure you pick somebody whom you don’t mind seeing you at your worst. Sleep deprivation, hormones and recovery from a C-section didn’t always bring out the best in me. I don’t think episodes like this were fun for Michele, but in the end she was fine with the occasional drama and I didn’t feel I had ruined her entire week.
Stay with Grandma (or Surrogate Grandparents)
I have numerous friends in the generation above me who have adopted Alexi, and they love spending free time with him. Last summer’s trip to Pennsylvania to see “Nana” and “Papa,” two very good friends who are surrogate grandparents, is a great example. Staying in their cozy and beautiful lake house not only was affordable, but it allowed us time to bond while exploring the area with people who know all the good spots. As a bonus, we got to have our precious couple time while they watched Alexi, sans Mommy or Maman.
Fun Activities for the Whole Family (Really!)
Lucie and I choose vacations that all of us can enjoy. While in Pennsylvania, we went to an animal preserve, a deer park, several playgrounds, three eclectic restaurants and the beach. As Lucie and I are animal lovers and foodies who also enjoy playing in the sand, we were able to have fun while parenting. Alexi particularly liked just hanging out at Nana and Papa’s house, playing with all the neat stuff there. Recently, we decided to visit friends in Vermont and we splurged—a night in a hotel suite. We had time to see friends on both days and had our couple time in the evenings in a separate room while the baby slept. Alexi was thrilled because he got to socialize and also spend hours enjoying his new favorite pastime: riding the elevator.
A Little Imagination
Once infancy is past, possibilities really do open up. We’re hoping to explore nature with Alexi, and we’ve fantasized about doing a cross-country trip in a bio-diesel fueled Volkswagen, volunteering on various community projects. We’re dedicated to staying in close contact with our long distance family and friends so we know our vacation life will always include trips to Pennsylvania and Vermont. And we’re also looking into visiting Provincetown during family week, so we can not only hang out at the beach and eat delicious food, but so Alexi can also meet and connect with other kids who have gay parents like he does. We won’t spend all of our vacations at exclusively gay or lesbian spots, but we feel it’s important to make that choice sometimes, for Alexi to grow up knowing he’s not alone in his experience.
Gail Marlene Schwartz is a writer and multimedia performance artist. Her partner of six years, Lucie Gagnon, gave up her position as a library technician to be a full time stay-at-home mom. They live with Alexi, plus their dog and cat, in Montreal, Quebec. Check out Gail’s blog about being a lesbian mother of a young son at twodykesandaboyby.blogspot.com.