“Sorry, you have to be at least 18 to stay at our inn,” a polite voice informed me from the other end of the line. What was formerly a relief has turned into a hassle. Not too long ago, I would have happily voted for child-free flights and turned cartwheels at the mere mention of a hotel with a ban on sippy cups. But that was last year. Things have changed. I am a parent now.
I am schlepping diaper bags, strollers, pack n’ plays, toys and bottle warmers from one end of the world to another, looking for booths in restaurants, getting delighted on spotting a ramp by the stairs and forever waiting for elevators. And I am trying to find a kid-friendly inn. Most chain hotels don’t mind, but boutique inns seem to prefer to keep their premises a child-free zone. So here I was, pouring my fourth cup of coffee, looking for a place to stay, a place which doesn’t mind a Pooh Bear on its dining table and if need be, is ready to help with washing off the milk stains from it.
Then I thought of something. How did my Mom and Dad do it? My brother and I have accompanied them on all their trips. So I called them to find out. Yes, it was hard, they told me. I had thrown plenty of tantrums, made many a mess, scraped my knees, bruised my elbows, even fallen ill a couple of times. Which means they had to find a pediatrician in the dead of the night in a strange town and no, in those days, they didn’t have an app for that. Did things get better as I grew older? Naah. I played the part of the sullen teenager perfectly and when my Dad asked me to write about the trips we took as a family, I thought he had lost it. I know, I know. That’s pretty much what I do now. But try telling that to a 13-yr old me.
We talked about the time I lost my first tooth in a strange place, far from home, and was worried if the tooth fairy would know to find it under a hotel pillow. I remembered the thrill of swaying atop an enormous elephant, the exhilaration of my first camel ride through the deserts of Rajasthan, the overnight drives along mountain roads, the endless bickering with my brother, the long train rides through deserted towns and the fun of being airborne for the first time.
My parents believe that, as with most things in life, traveling with a child gets easier with practice. The more you travel, the better you get at it. There are no rules. But the returns are great. So are the memories.