SAN DIEGO — Don't ever take a baby to Europe.
My wife and I just did, and somehow lived to tell about it. We carted 13 pieces of luggage from San Diego to Dallas to Frankfurt, West Germany, then hauled all of that in a rented car from Innsbruck, Austria, to Zurich and back. We did it with a drooling, sometimes screaming, often ravenous 4-month-old we love more than anyone alive.
I hear thousands of Yuppie couples are doing this sort of thing--having babies and taking them to Europe. Doing the things Yuppies did before they had babies.
Having done it, this Yuppie wonders why.
The stress of a long trip is bad enough anyway, especially in the Year of the Terrorist and Wind Shear Airlines. About the only thing that didn't happen was, we didn't meet any Shias.
I'll have to confess it wasn't all bad. Ted, our baby, had a way of charming the most curmudgeonly German women, making them smile like schoolgirls. He was our "good-will ambassador," constantly bringing out the best in people. A woman on a mountainside tram gave up her seat for Ted. She held his head in her hands and talked in furious Deutsch of the wonders of kids. One woman made food for Ted when neither I nor my wife could read the directions. His smile, wider than a catcher's mitt, was a magnet for good cheer and pleasant conversation.
That part of taking a baby to Europe was wondrous.
The rest was woeful.
Why did we go? you ask. For professional reasons.
My wife, a singer, was on a tour of Austria and Switzerland with a Renaissance music group based locally. The Early Music Ensemble of San Diego travels like a professional basketball team on a runaway road trip--Schonbuhl one night, Stuttgart the next. We ate enough chocolate to consider freebasing the stuff by the end of the trip.
Before leaving, we heard (and read) a lot about what to do and not to do with a baby on a marathon trip. Everyone had an opinion.
Our family doctor: "Don't do it. Are you crazy? The only things you have to do are pay taxes and die."
He was right.
Others, the more adventurous (and usually single) types, said, "Oh, don't worry, it'll go fine . Better that he's 4 months old and not 2 1/2 (years), when he'd be dashing after everything." Still others shook their heads and agreed with the family doctor, whose word I will never discount.
Since we made the trip, and survived, my editor sees me and my wife as experts on a new phenomenon: Yuppies will do anything . Next thing you know, Yups and their babes will be river-rafting down the Ganges and billing it "quality time." In this space, I'll examine the myths and meat of how to endure such a thing--globetrotting with a tot, that is--if for some reason you see yourself as a cross between Ward Cleaver and Evel Knievel.
My advice: Don't do it. The only things you have to do are pay taxes and die.
Nevertheless, let us proceed.
Ahead of time, we were warned about everything from formula to diapers. Those were flares, fired for the most part by Ugly American sympathizers. The clear message: Don't buy the stuff in a foreign land. For that reason we took a bucket of American formula (for supplements once a day). The rest of the time, Ted breast-fed (the main reason he didn't stay with Grandma). We also took enough Pampers to serve as an adequate bunker in case we did meet Shias.
Halfway into the trip, we ran out of both. (In case the Guinness people are reading, Ted in 3 1/2 weeks dirtied 311 Pampers.) Much to our surprise, European Pampers were thicker and more absorbent. The Swiss formula we tried seemed to agree with Ted's palate more than the Yankee mix he sometimes turns up his nose at. Later, I realized those chauvinistic-even-about-formula Americans must have thought we were going to Iraq or Mozambique. If you're headed on a long trip with a formula feeder/diaper wetter, by all means trust the foreign market. It will save on space like you wouldn't believe.
We heard many horror stories about airplanes, none having to do with wind shear or tail sections. Everyone insisted we'd have to have bulkhead seats--those near the front of the coach section with a partition in front as opposed to the back of someone's chair. I suppose the logic here had to do with minimizing the inconvenience. A screaming baby would disturb people on all sides but no one directly in front! The parents would have more leg room, and with bulkhead seats next to a window, which we had "all the way," you're guaranteed a sanctuary no other spot on a plane can possibly offer. Score one for bulkhead seats.
As it turned out, fears about flights were as groundless as any involving diapers and formula. Ted, for the most part, was fine. He slept much of the way from Dallas to Frankfurt and back, almost 11 hours by air. To make things easier, not only in flight but also in foreign hotels, we carried a portable bassinet that fit easily in front of our feet. Score one for portable bassinets.