So here we are. Twenty-three weeks, eight countries and four continents later, we’re heading home. It would have been good to coincide our arrival with a France v England final, but that might have been a little too perfect.
In the last week we’ve met up with more friends and family than we have in the whole trip combined, and all of them have asked the same question – “how does it feel to be going home?”
Tigger, meet Tigger.
Answering that is tricky. Of course, there is some relief. At the moment, the only thing I want to do is curl up and sleep for a month, in between waking up for marmite on toast and cups of tea. Travelling with a baby is many things, but it’s definitely exhausting.
There’s also an unsettling feeling. When anything comes to an end, you feel like something is slipping away that can’t be regained. Away from our non-stop adventures we will be able to see our friends and family, stay in one place for a while, get into a routine. But we will lose the sense we’ve built up of ‘us against the world.’ As we slip back into routines of work and habit, will we lose this special sense of closeness that we’ve built up as a new family? I can only hope not.
Famous sights on our way
There are bound to be benefits. Perhaps we’ll stop losing things. Once we got to the third country, I started documenting all the things we’ve left behind on the way. Three dummies, a pair of baby socks, some toys and a bottle of shower gel – these are things that you would expect to lose, and are not hard to replace. The bikini left hanging on an airer in Brisbane, the binoculars sitting in a hire care in Chile and the beard trimmer sitting next to the sink in Mexico City are a bit more frustrating. To be constantly in motion means things are shoved into cases and scattered in transient rooms, so it’s not surprising things go astray. Maybe we’ll feel more grounded, more sure of where things are and where we can find them.
It’s also sad. Even though the length of the ‘holiday’ has ensured that we certainly feel like going home, there is no denying that something fabulous is coming to an end. No more exciting days out to places we’ve only seen on TV. No more exotic plants and animals waiting outside for us to go and explore. No more strange food, challenging languages or new experiences.
First colouring experience! Well, more of an eating experience…
As far as our girl is concerned, I worry I won’t know what to do with her. I’ve only learned how to be a parent in between planning day trips, booking accommodation and going on long journeys. While it could mean that I have time to appreciate her more, it could also be that all the new things that creep in – washing, cooking, bills, work – might take me away from her in a way that this trip never did.
If our adventures have taught me anything, it’s that things are very rarely what you expect. I tried to imagine what it would be like, and in some ways tied myself up in knots worrying about the things that might happen, that could go wrong. It was both more amazing and more awful than I imagined. There were times of intense excitement and extreme panic. The real thing always exceeds your expectations in both directions, so there’s rarely any point in testing the emotions you think you’ll need before you get there. Appreciating what is happening now and letting the next days bring what they will is certainly something I hope to take away from this experience.
The beautiful ceiling of the New York City Public Library
Would I do it again? Who knows. It’s only with hindsight that I look back on myself in January and wonder what on earth I was thinking. Eyelids heavy with lack of sleep, just beginning to grasp the enormity of having a new baby, barely making steps in knowing what to do with her. How could I have thought that uprooting ourselves and soaring so many miles around the world was a good idea?
But it was. We have spent more time together as a family than we would have done if we had stayed in one place. We have faced, and overcome, challenges that would never have presented themselves back home. We have discovered things about ourselves that would have been difficult when surrounded by the familiar.
And, to be honest, it would be much harder if we were to leave now. She has much more rigid sleeping and feeding times, she needs solid food, she needs much more stimulation and spends more time awake. Even though it seemed crazy, leaving when she was so small was actually far easier.
By the Infinity Pool at Ground Zero
I regret the months missed with family, that they haven’t been able to see the wondrous changes happening in the tiny body we’ve been carrying around with us. But I also know that there is plenty of time for her to spend time with the people that will become important to her. I regret the conversations missed with friends and family. I regret the connections I might have made with other new parents, and I know that it will be harder to do that now we have missed the first few months of our babies’ lives together. But I know I am willing to put time into relationships I will need when I feel the isolation of being a parent without a community.
It’s impossible to regret this. The places we’ve seen, the things we’ve done, the experiences that are etched into our bodies and minds. It is too irreplaceable for that. I hope that she too will grow with the memory of these things in her skin, that some part of her will remember the bustle of bodies in Tokyo, the vast expanse of beauty in New Zealand, the taste of frijoles on a sweaty Costa Rican day, the clatter of hummingbird wings darting back and forth. It seems impossible that she can have experienced all of that for it not to be there, somewhere, behind the impossible blue of her eyes.
What will she remember?
So I will learn my lessons and try not to take my emotions too far forward. For now, I will gaze out of the window in this Brooklyn apartment at the lower Manhattan skyline and remember all the other skies we’ve seen. For now, I will wallow in the memories we’ve made. There are some pretty spectacular ones, that’s for certain.