Travels in California/ A day in San Francisco

Dear jet-set son,

Before you were born, and even in the months that followed your birth, I swore I wouldn’t see my home country before you were five years old. Maybe even older.

You see, the thought of traveling with a little baby set my postpartum heart afright. Visions of screaming infants on twelve hour plane rides, horrendous jet lag, not to mention having to lug around kilo after kilo of baby paraphernalia haunted me in my dreams. There was no way I was going to do that.

What happened though, was that in summer, you were really quite easy to travel to Germany with, and then your grandma was coming to visit in December and January, and what I htought might be a good idea would be if I caught the flight back with her, that way I wouldn’t be totally alone, and they could help out with jet lag and all that. So we ended up doing that, and it was great.

Son, I don’t have a  whole lot of time on this Sunday night at the café downstairs, so I’m not going to tell you about every little thing we did on our trip to California. What I really want to tell you about is this great feeling I had while traveling within California, this feeling of autonomy, that we really actually DIDN’T need much stuff, that everything you needed I could carry on my proverbial back (more like the stroller handles, really), and that traveling with you at 7-8 months was just such a joyous, wondrous experience, you napping in the familiar darkness of your navy stroller or perched in the back sling while walking around the farmer’s market.

There were a few practical and a couple of material reasons for me deciding that now was as good a time as any for taking you to California. Everyone said that it’s easiest to travel with babies at this age than when they get older and you have to walk them up and down the plane aisles. You were not quite ten kilos and so you fit in the bassinet in the bulkhead seat so I didn’t yet have to buy you a seat,a nd you slept in that, and we gate checked the stroller and car seat. Also, you still fit in the car seat of the stroller travel system, which you won’t much longer, so that meant that we could easily go in the morning with you in the car seat snapped onto the stroller with grandma to have a donut, then off to the park (that was really wonderful, taking you to my childhood park, showing you the picnic table where I had my seventh birthday party, pushing you in the swings for the first time, son oh son it was magical. Pure magic. ) then have someone pick us up for lunch and shopping or a walk on the beach, and just having to fasten the car seat in the back seat and put the stroller in the trunk, then having grandpa pick us up after work if need be.

So it all worked out quite well, and we had lovely times hanging out with grandma and grandpa. It was going so well that I decided to take you a little bit around California. I decided we would go down to San Diego and up to San Francisco.

San Diego, we traveled by train on the Surfliner, though you napped through the ocean part. This is what I was talking about with how joyous it was to travel with you. I just packed up a big Longchamp pliage, and put your pop up bed, inflatable bath tub, Sophie, a change of clothes for both of us (well, a couple of changes for you), a blanket, a couple of pashminas, some jars of food and disposable bibs, some travel sizes of your soap and lotion, and enough diapers and wipes. I had a backpack on my back, and another smaller pliage that was folded up that I used when we got to our destination. I used a large makeup bag as  a diaper bag to put inside my bag, and another little bag for food, bibs  and utensils. And all this I could carry myself. I also packed your Ergo, which came in handy on the train when I wanted to go down and get a tea, and also in the airport if I had to check the stroller. You sat in your car seat on the train (I had to maneuver a bit to get a good We were met at the train station, and had a lovely time with our aunts and cousins. Your little cousins were so very sweet with you, it was darling.  We walked around Mission Bay to the playground and they pushed you in the bucket swings, and played sweet little peek a boo games with you .We had a nice big family dinner which kind of made me a little longing for having big family time, even if I do like it in Paris a little too much. Your grandpa came down and he drove us back up to Santa Monica, and you slept the whole way.

While we were in California, since things were going well, I decided I wanted to take you to my favorite American city, San Francisco. I have been dying to go since it’s been nine years since I lived there. So I bought a ticket, and packed pretty much the same thing as San Diego except a little more of some things, and we took a flight up, and were met at the airport by J, and driven to Union Square where we met my friend from Paris A for lunch (we stayed with A in her gorgeous loft south of Market, it was spectacular), and after lunch A had to return to work so we walked with J through Chinatown, towards North Beach. You were fascinated by Chinatown and all the people. We stopped by City Lights Bookshop and took a few pictures and I bought you a onesie to wear to Shakespeare and Co, then we had a tea at Café Puccini. J had to get back to his friend’s house who was having a dinner party, and so this again is where this great feeling of feeling autonomous comes in. Everything I brought for our trip, I could carry/push myself. You in the car seat snapped on the stroller, the backpack on my back, the rain cover in the basket, and the pliage hanging on the handles. I had borrowed an O’Neill jacket from my father to bring to SF as it was quite nippy. We walked back to Union Square where we left J, then you and I walked down to Harrison street. You started to fuss halfway, so we stopped in Yerba Buena gardens for a feed and a diaper change in the grass, and a bit of rolling around. Night was falling and everyone was coming home from work. We walked under the waterfalls of the Martin Luther King, Jr memorial, where I felt a little old to realize that MLK was younger than I am now when he delivered his I have a dream speech. Then we passed in front of the SF MOMA, and I took a picture of you. I wanted to get a picture of you under the Golden Gate Bridge, but alas, next time. Then we headed on to the loft.

The next day, we left when A left  for work, and went to Caffe Centro at South Park down the street for tea and granola with fresh fruit and yogurt, and to wait for J to come pick us up. I wanted to put you in the swings, but you were napping and you let me read the whole SF Weekly. J came by, we drove to the Mission for wandering around Dolores Park and then a burrito. Afterwards, for some reason we drove to the Sunset, which is weird considering I’ve always found the Sunset to have this depressing last-day-of-summer feel to it, but it’s easy to park and I wanted to see ocean. We had a tea in a cute café, then wanted out of the Mission. We didn’t have time for a walk in Golden Gate Park, but J kindly drove us through, past the new De Young Museum which I have yet to visit the new building, and Stow Lake, through the Haight. We parked at his frien’ds house with the idea that you and I would take a taxi back to the loft later.

We had a gorgeous walk through the Haight towards the Castro. Past the darling Duboce Park (lovingly dubbed Dog Sh#t park by the locals, pardon my language son). Past Jumpin’ Java, where your mama and J used to hang out when we both lived in the Bay Area years ago, on to Café Flore, a gay Parisian-style café that I used to love before I got to the real thing. Your mama had a glass of delicious Rabbit Ridge Zinfandel, and wished the French did more red zins. Your mama thinks Central California zinfandels are the best. Along with Mendocino County Red Tail Ale, which your mama drank a bit of in Santa Monica too. Anyway. We sat outside and J gave me this funny chocolate bar, it had salt, chipotle and, of all things, pop rocks. It was great! You were looking around, soaking everything up, that’s what you did, besides smile at people and have lots of people comment on how cute you are. Pretty much everyone smiled at you when they saw you, it was lovely.

So after Flore, we all backtracked to the Haight, and I picked up a Thai soup for dinner, and we caught a taxi back to the loft. The next morning, we had to leave with all our stuff with A as she was going to work. So I once again loaded everything on, and we waved to A and watched her bike off down Harrison with her messenger bag and foldable bike, very San Francisco indeed. And headed again to Caffe Centro to kill some time, as we were going to visit a friend and his wife and the 1.5 month old baby on Townsend.

You slept the whole time at Centro, and we spent a couple of hours at Centro, breakfast turned into lunch and I picked up a sandwich for the road. We then started the walk down towards Quaalcomm. (Well it was Quaalcom in your mama’s day, it’s called the ATT park now I think). We stopped in Borders for bit, then passed the Academy of Art College, this part of Townsend was a bit sketchy, but I felt like I blended in as a bag lady with the bags loaded on the stroller. We got to our friends place just as the rain was starting to pound down, in the nick of time, and spent the afternoon with them and their cute baby. And they gave us a ride to the airport. I was happy to still know enough people in SF to not need to take taxis to the airport.

So that was SF, and the rest of our California visit was spent more of the same, visiting, walking on the beach, shopping, seeing people, eating. It was so nice to have high chairs wherever we went, that is something that is totally lacking in France. In San Diego we even went to one place that had this thing where you could set the car seat on it by the table. No need to wake baby up at all.

The reality of traveling with you was just a far cry from what I had feared. It was just so joyous, and not difficult, not the way I had expected. There were just these moments, son, where I just felt so happy to be traveling with you, and to be able to show you my home state. And the beach, you saw the beach for the first time, and your first sunset over the Pacific Ocean. Like sitting in Yerba Buena, this feeling that we have everything we need right now, right here.

We will see if we’ll be up for it when you are one and a half!


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