It’s been one month and five days since we left Amsterdam. I’m sitting in my temporary apartment in San Andres Cholula, Puebla, Mexico, and thinking about some of the things I learned about long-haul travel, moving, and starting over.
#1 Flying long haul with my then 13.5 month old was exhausting but do-able, and we flew some random cheap airline. Learn from me – if you are flying long haul with a baby/toddler who can walk/climb/etc., – get extra legroom. Get bulkhead if at all possible. Not because you’ll be using the bassinet, but because you can construct some sort of bed on the floor – or at the very least, a play area that is something other than your lap. Also, bring a full-size pillow or a piece of foam or whatever that allows you to construct a bed.
Ayla is a sprawled-out-tummy sleeper. She fell asleep around her normal bedtime without too much of a problem in Enrique’s arms and then across our laps, but after an hour or two she wanted to roll over on her tummy. Try as she might to get comfortable, she couldn’t really find a way to sleep happily on her belly, which meant she was fairly restless. Still, had she been the only baby on the plane it all would have worked pretty well – the one thing that woke her up (over and over) were the other crying babies. Sigh. Not much you can do about that.
#2 We changed locations quite a bit over the past month. Flew to Merida, stayed there 9 days. Went to the beach (Chuburna), stayed there 8 days. Back to Merida, 3 days. Flew to Mexico City and then drove to our new home in Cholula, have been here about 2 weeks. Three very different climates and very different places. Ayla adjusted remarkably easy schedule-wise when we first landed in Merida – by the third night she was already back in her preferred schedule of 8pm sleep/7am wakeup. Then we moved locations to the beach, where we had to share a small bedroom with her – and she woke up every night at least once, and it wasn’t always easy to get her back to bed. Ayla seems to love new places when we get there. She gets all excited to explore and love to run around a new apartment or house. But at the end of the day – I think that moving around does indeed take a toll.
#3 What is fun for adults isn’t always fun for kids. Vacations have changed. Merida, for example. This city is just simply not the place to go to with a young toddler for three weeks. Why? All the fun stuff is at night, when the temperature cools down to a reasonable 27 degrees (instead of 34 which felt like 44). And for as much as we tried to alter her schedule so she would go to bed later, she was having none of it, she wanted to be in bed by 8pm. And in terms of daytime activities, the heat was simply too much. It was incredibly humid, no breeze, not a lot of shade, and no toddler-friendly public parks in the sense of paddling pools or playgrounds. We tried *everything* – museums (not so many, but we went for the A/C!), restaurants and … that was that. Well that, and running around the zocalo chasing pigeons or the little plazas around town. I’d absolutely go back to Merida, but I’d A) go in January or February B) wait until Ayla was at least three C) make sure we stayed in a place that was air conditioned throughout, not just in the bedrooms – or a place that had much better air circulation D) plan to stay about 4-5 days instead of 3 weeks.
#4 It got a bit tedious to just be me/Enrique/Ayla for 3 straight weeks. No other kids, no other friends. I wouldn’t do that again, for that amount of time, at Ayla’s age. I can spend 3 weeks just with Enrique, no problem. But with Ayla in the mix it’s so different. I’m pretty sure she was getting bored of us, and at the same time growing more clingy. When anyone else would give her attention she was all over it and again, I felt a bit bad. She’s at an age where she needs other people to play with that aren’t mom and dad all day, every day. I’m not shy and I can talk to strangers at parks and make a quick friend, but I can’t really do that if the park itself doesn’t exist.
#5 We moved to Cholula, and Cholula is perfect for us. The second we arrived in here, we found a playground. Ayla’s eyes lit up. Seriously. She hadn’t seen a playground with other kids running around in three weeks and she was so. freakin. excited. Then we found more playgrounds. More public spaces with grass and trees. And more kids. The weather is perfect – not too hot, not too cold. Our temporary house is big and comfortable and she has her own room with a new crib. We just got bikes. This town is just so typically Mexican in all the best ways – kids everywhere, dogs everywhere, beautiful views of mountains and volcanoes, random fireworks go off all the time, there’s almost always a high chair available wherever we eat, and there’s no real challenge in how to spend time, either alone or with Ayla. This is the kind of stuff you want if you’re moving away from home with a young toddler.
#6 Changes! We still do a regular bedtime routine, but we’ve dropped a lot of the other seemingly important stuff. She doesn’t sleep in a dark room anymore for her naps – that stopped once the blackout curtains came down in Amsterdam. She now sleeps through barking dogs, fireworks, marching bands, etc. She no longer despises cars (we’ve had horrible times in cars in the past) and now can sit happily in her carseat in the back while I sit up front with Enrique. I credit this a lot to the forward-facing car seat, which I think would be illegal or at least highly not advisable in the US at her age. But man. It’s a game changer.
#7 Speaking of cars and change – it didn’t make any sense for me to bring my (big, forward-facing) car seat from Amsterdam to Mexico. So we got here without one, and while we were in Merida we used uber and taxis almost every day. Ayla sat on my lap, in the backseat, with the lapbelt around us both. If there is any carseat law in mexico, no one gives a shit whatsoever. This was a very, very hard thing for my american/dutch/rule following/new mom brain to handle, but I did it for short distances (no more than 20 minutes) and within city limits (frequent stops, typically not going more than 30-40 km per hour at most). Uber made leaving the house in the heat of the day possible – if we hadn’t used cars, I can’t imagine what we would have done all day. Holding her on public transport (buses) wouldn’t have been any safer.
#8 If I felt like I had no time to do anything before, in Amsterdam, my GOD if you travel/move with a toddler and there’s no one else helping out, any notion of free time is just simply gone. There is soooooooo much to do, logistics wise. So much. And yet Ayla needs to have her day too. So it’s slow-going to look for a place to live, to try to make friends/see old friends, to connect with grandparents, to get a bike, to replace a pair of sunglasses, to get a new phone, to go to the supermarket, to work, to get 10 minutes to myself to just chill out, etc.
The day we got to Cholula, we started making appointments with daycares and putting out the word to find a babysitter. Of course I’m quite picky about anyone that I’d leave with Ayla, but I thought that within 2-3 weeks we’d have found someone and done introductions and whatnot. It’s two weeks later and we haven’t even begun, due to Ayla getting really, scarily sick after we had been here about 4 days – which caused so many more logistics delays. If you move with your kid and don’t have an already familiar family member or babysitter, it will be very, very, very hard to truly accomplish all the little logistical things you need to accomplish. Phones, bank accounts, finding a dish rack, etc.
#9 Seeing Ayla with her grandparents (who live 2 hours away), and walking hand-in-hand with her grandpa: it cemented the idea that we absolutely made the right decision to move back to Mexico. But still – and anyone with kids this age knows this now – you can’t just drop your toddler with a grandparent and head out if that grandparent is essentially a stranger. It’s not fair to anyone. So slowly, Ayla will get to know her grandparents, and pretty soon we’ll be in a place where yes, Grandma and Grandpa can watch her for a few hours while Enrique and I get a break. Eventually. They are also older and slower, so they’re going to be the type to rely on electronics (and hopefully/maybe books?), rather than take her to the park. That’s fine, just needs to be considered that Ayla doesn’t have much attention span for electronics – I’m enormously proud that she has zero idea that the giant TV in our apartment has any purpose whatsoever, as she’s never seen us turn a TV on in her life.
#10 Ayla came down with an infection – from something she ate, drank, or touched. It was bad. Having a very sick child is the worst thing in the entire world. Witnessing Ayla’s clothes fall off her because she had lost so much weight broke my heart in a way that I’ve never felt my heart break before. While Mexico is a foreign country to me, it’s home to Enrique. So he knew how to look for a doctor, and what to look for. We are very lucky to live 15 minutes outside a major city (Puebla), so there are first-class hospitals and we can afford to see private doctors (which doesn’t mean they are any more skilled than the doctors who work in public hospitals – but it does mean a *lot* less wait time, which we were willing to pay for). Had this happened in the US and we didn’t have insurance that covered us there, I honestly shudder to think at what we would have spent. Either way: if you take your kid outside your home country for any reason, even for a day, make absolutely sure you are covered for health care costs.
#11 During the hard times of this whole relocation- either because of sickness, because of exhaustion due to Ayla waking up 3 times a night screaming because she was just simply scared and didn’t know where she was, or because of the days that we literally could not figure out how to keep her occupied in Merida, I must say I grew really tired of the “Babies adapt so easily!” comments I’d hear or read. Did Ayla adapt? Sure. In the long run, did it take her so long? Not really. But does that mean it was just totally smooth sailing and I went my days feeling well-rested and like a proud mama who was showing her child the world? No. It was all worth it, but that doesn’t mean it was always easy and always fun. I think this is an age where travel becomes harder. Not impossible, but harder. I think there are lot of things you can do with babies that are say, 5 months old or kids that are 3 years old that you can’t do with 14-month-olds.
There were plenty of nights, after Ayla was in bed, where Enrique and I would sit around and come up with a grand, fun, family plan for the next day. We’d be so optimistic! And then reality would happen instead: Ayla randomly decided that she was terrified of the pool we had in Merida, and that manifested into hating taking any sort of bath or shower (bath time used to be one of her favorite things to do, she’d cry when we took her out). Or she’d wake up at 5am in Chuburna and just simply not be willing to go back to sleep which meant a seriously cranky morning on her part and exhausted parents. Why did she hate taking baths for three weeks and then decide to like it again? I have no idea. Was it really because we didn’t have the same bath toys we used to have? Was it the fact that we didn’t have a real bathtub? Did she miss watching us fill the tub with water, like she used to in Amsterdam?
Even during our travels, we always had toys around for her (though not the amount we had in Amsterdam), of course. However, a few days ago the grandparents bought us a few of the boxes we had shipped, and one of those boxes included a whole bunch of toys. When I gave Ayla this pink dog that she used to play with in her crib, she squealed with delight, hugged it, and sat right down to start playing with it the way she used to. It was amazing to see. She remembered that dog. I don’t know how much she understands about this move, or what – if anything – she misses anything from home. But I’ll mention something else: she saw a plastic bicycle at the park the other day, similar to what she had in Amsterdam. She went right over and grabbed on to it as if it was hers.
I really need to get her a new bike.
#12 We made the right decision to move to Cholula. I think it, and say it out loud, several times a day. I love this town. I love that I wore sandals and a teeshirt today when I rode my bike to go pick up some zucchini flower quesadillas for lunch, along with a couple liters of fresh juice. I absolutely love the views of the volcanoes and mountains. I love that the weather is no longer an issue, that I can plan on taking Ayla out every single morning and we’ll never be too cold. The people in Cholula are generally friendly, warm, and easy going. The town has somewhat exploded in the past few years with new restaurants, cafes, bike shops, etc. There are enough public places for us to take Ayla where we all have a great time and we don’t need to spend any money. The other day I put Ayla in the ergo on my back and climbed the pyramid, just for fun. When we got to the top, I took her off my back and held her hands as she climbed the stairs, and I thought – wow. She’s going to grow up thinking this is so normal. That you just climb up a pyramid in the mornings to get some exercise, and then eat your tamale at the bottom. That’s just what you do.
We moved at the right time. It was perfect to have Ayla’s first year in Amsterdam – I had lots of support, friends, and took every advantage of living around so many parks. But I’m also so happy that we managed to get out before her second year – before our second winter. In a city where I really couldn’t afford regular childcare, where I didn’t really like the childcare options, and where my apartment was feeling smaller and smaller the more Ayla learned how to run around. I’m thrilled that I’m not dealing with the dark mornings, the super early sunsets, and the constant gray drizzle. Ayla doesn’t have a winter coat at the moment, because she doesn’t need it now – a jacket is good enough for the chilly early mornings. I love that there’s no waiting lists to get into the daycare that I want her to attend – and that we can afford daycare. It’s fun to see Ayla adapt to putting her toothbrush in a cup of water to rinse it off, rather than use the tap water. Or to see her “sing” along with music from the gas truck that drives by. There’s so much to do to continue to feel at home, but so far, so good.