When I told friends in Hong Kong that I was heading back to the US for three weeks, the general response was, “Oh, you must be so excited to go back!”.
Yes, I was extremely excited to go back, but I was also very nervous. It would be my first trip flying home with my new little attachment, E.
Also, Hong Kong is my home right now, but you know what I mean.
Whenever I went back to Chicago or New York before I had E, my itinerary would be jam packed with coffees, lunches, dinners with family and friends, catch-ups with old coworkers, photo shoots etc. But this time, while I wanted to do as much as I typically would, I wasn’t sure how much I could do with a 5-month old in tow. I already knew how having E made travel different in general, I just didn’t understand how it would make going back home different too.
I was worried about the following:
- Our packed three week itinerary: 1) a week in Chicago/Palos Park where I’m from, 2) Dayton for a weekend to see my mother-in-law and some friends, 3) back to Chicago for four days, 4) Dallas for a wedding, then finally 5) Brooklyn to spend Thanksgiving with family and friends. If you’ve never been to the US, these cities are in states that are not close to each other. Would this be too much for a jet-lagged baby?
- K would only be with us over the weekends and during the last week because he had work events in Milwaukee and in Philadelphia. Would I have to act like an only parent for majority of our trip?
- Driving with a baby in the US, aside from a Lyft/Uber/taxi, requires a car seat. Our only real experience with E in a car seat was a two hour drive from Uluwatu to Ubud in Bali that she HATED. How far away from home would I actually be able to drive her? Would we even make the five-hour drive to Dayton?
- There’s a 14-hour time difference between Hong Kong and Chicago and I had no idea how E’d react to it. How long would it take for her to get over her jet lag?
I’ve always imagined what life as a mom would be like in the US (i.e., without the help we have here, needing to drive depending on where you lived, etc.), and now I’d get the chance to experience it to some degree. It made me so anxious that I was reluctant to make solid plans with anyone.
Our flight to Chicago was at 10:40 am on a Friday.
It still really hadn’t hit me that we were going back until we got to the gate at HKG and I saw the sign display, “Boarding to Chicago”. I suddenly became overwhelmed with emotion. I didn’t realize how much I really missed home until that moment.
After a surprisingly pleasant flight (E slept nearly the whole way), we grabbed our bags and met my dad just outside of baggage claim. I was so excited to see him that I forgot that E was strapped to me in her carrier. My dad took one look at me, then down at E and his smile got brighter than I thought it ever could. He hadn’t seen her since she was born.
Seeing my parents with E again was both great and a bit funny. My parents and mother-in-law hadn’t taken care of an infant in ages of course, so I wondered how much they’d be up for. Infants are tiring!
The first few days were a little rough. E was jet lagged and therefore fussier than normal, so at first every time she cried while my parents held her, they’d hand her back to me or K. I kept urging them to try again, promising them that she’d adjust soon, and she did. I didn’t, however, realize how quickly they’d get attached to each other.
The night that K left for his first work trip, I thought I’d have to manage E’s jet lag alone. Then at 1:30 am, just before I started feeding E, I saw a shadow lurking by my bedroom door – it was my dad.
“Do you want me to take her?”, he asked.
“No it’s OK, I’m going to feed her and see if she’ll sleep.”
“OK, well I can come take her when you’re done. Come and get me.”
“OK, yea, sure. I’ll call you when she’s done.”
I had no intention of waking my dad up after E ate knowing he had to go to work in the morning, and my dad knew that too. So he came back again a half hour later and persuaded me to let him take her. I thought he’d come back quickly because of how tired he might be, instead I woke up the next morning to see her soundly asleep in her Pack And Play. It turns out that my mom had joined my dad while I was asleep and they played with her until she fell asleep in their arms at 3:30 am. This continued each night until E was finally over her jet lag.
Even in Dayton, my mother-in-law, who hadn’t taken care of a baby since my now nine year old niece, was more than willing to hold E at night or whenever we needed her to.
With their help, E acclimated to the time zones, survived the 5-hour, one-way drive to and from Dayton, experienced her first snowfall thanks to the baby snowsuit my mom bought for her, and gave me the freedom to go out and see friends instead of just having them come over. I still prefer living in a walkable city, but it actually felt good to drive again.
My parents flew with E and I to Dallas since K had to meet us there from his second work trip and my sister joined us from Houston. Together, they created the perfect babysitting scenario and K and I could attend our friend’s wedding without having to worry about E.
Now despite the fact that I wasn’t sure how much our parents would be able to care for an infant again, I knew they’d help out somehow. What actually did surprise me though was how much our friends wanted to help out too. I didn’t message our friends until the last minute because of how anxious I was about E, so I just expected them to all be busy. But everyone completely understood and still met us for for brunches, dinners, and/or stopped by my parents house. All of them also wanted to play with E or to help put her to sleep, and we were so touched. I don’t know how we got so lucky to have so many amazing, loving people in our lives.
All of this love and support continued into the final part of our trip, New York, where we had more of our amazing family and friends join us for a fully packed week. That said, I still mentally separate that week from the first two in Chicago, Dayton, and Dallas because of what New York means to me.
K took over with E for the first two days which gave me a chance to meet a few folks and get my hair cut (always one of my favorite New York moments). I didn’t get to do as much as I wanted because I needed to nurse E too, but just getting the opportunity to roam around on my own for a bit was worth it.
Chicago will always be home; it was where I was born and raised. But New York is where I started discovering who I am. It helped me unearth aspects of myself that I hadn’t yet found and reintroduced me to the creative self that I had somehow forgotten over the years. It had become my second home.
I knew that going back with E would be different, but I was happy to find that the aspects of the trip that always been the best parts, still stayed the same – our amazing family and friends and the chaotic, love/hate embrace of New York.
Despite all of my anxieties and the crazy amounts of re-packing, it felt great to go back. I wouldn’t say that my anxieties were unfounded; it is nerve-racking traveling to that many places with an infant. But I had definitely underestimated how well E would do. The trip was exactly what I needed right now, and it also somehow solidified the new part of my identity as a mom.
In hindsight, maybe that’s what I really needed after all.
Blog edited by: Betty Ho