Thanksgiving in Europe again – 2022

After seeing how well Kaia did on her flight to and from San Francisco, Chris got excited and started looking into flights to go to Europe for Thanksgiving. We haven’t been to Europe or anywhere for Thanksgiving since 2019. 2020 was obviously a lost year given COVID, and in 2021, I was just weeks away from my due date. He booked a trip for us to spend Thanksgiving week in Munich, so we’d be able to experience the famous German Christmas markets again, but in different cities. In 2013 when we went, we experienced the Christmas markets in Berlin and Hamburg, which were incredible, but Munich is supposed to have even more lavish ones if I can even imagine it. And this time, Kaia will be with us. Even before she was born, Chris kept talking about how much he wanted her first Thanksgiving to be in Germany to experience the Christmas markets there. He wanted us to start traveling again and get used to being out and about with her, and he thought it would be a fun memory to share with her when she got older. Plus, she’d be able to see endless photos of herself in Germany for her first Thanksgiving. It would be very un-American, but why not? It will be her first time out of the country and using her passport.

I thought about this while we were sitting at a bar eating tapas and having drinks with Kaia today at Little Spain near Hudson Yards. We really haven’t been able to travel much between COVID, then being pregnant, and getting through the first year of Kaia’s life, and though it will certainly be a challenge, it will be one we will have to face if we want to continue traveling and living the life we want. I hope our baby will continue to both be a good little eater and little traveler. She already has done so well, and it’s been amazing to watch her grow and evolve. It’s hard to believe her one-year birthday is just around the corner, and by that time, she’ll already have been to more places in New York than most adults; to New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and California; to Germany, and finally at the end of the year, to Australia.

Redeye with a baby in business class

On Saturday evening, we received a frustrating notification that our flight on Sunday morning had been cancelled. Because we were booked on two separate bookings since my flight was paid for by my work, we also got placed on two separate flights to go back to New York, which was not good for many reasons, but especially because Kaia would be with us. So I called American Airlines and eventually changed both of our flights to be on business back to New York on a redeye flight Sunday night, which would return Monday morning. The last time I’d been on a redeye was when I had to come back to New York for Chris’s citizenship ceremony in 2018, and I felt miserable when I landed and for a few days after. It’s funny how our bodies change: I used to take red-eyes regularly through college to come back to Boston, as well as in my early to mid-twenties, and I’d always hit the ground running and never even needed to nap when I got back. Well, this time was very different: I’m 36 years old now (which means I have aged and my body cannot handle that type of travel anymore regularly), plus I’m traveling with an infant in lap, so a red-eye flight has a very different meaning now. Plus, everyone knows that a red-eye flight from California to New York is too short to sleep properly, even when you do have the privilege of a lay-flat bed in business class. Even privilege and money cannot get you the perfect red-eye flight back.

We got to the airport early so that we could get comfortable, get Kaia fed and settled to sleep as soon as possible, and so I could pump a little earlier so I would not need to pump in flight. And while she did fuss initially when we boarded the plane, mainly because of the sounds and bright lights, she did amazingly well throughout the flight. She slept soundly on top of me… which is good because at least one of us slept well. While I love having her on me, it made it impossible for me to sleep. I really just had my eyes closed the whole time. We came back early this morning and got back to the apartment relatively quickly, but I was so beat when we got back. I ended up having to take a nap in the afternoon just for a little rest. It still wasn’t enough, though.

It’s like now, my body is recovering from the red-eye travel, while my mind is recovering from being with my parents in their house of terror. So all of me needs recovery time now, which will likely take a few days at least.

Air travel with a baby

About a week ago, my business class flight got upgraded to First, so we can actually say now that Kaia’s first flight was not only cross-continental, but it was also in style in the first class cabin. We got our own pod with as much privacy as you can get on a plane. Given Chris was in business class, we moved her back and forth between our seats depending on what was going on (when she was bottle fed or I was pumping, she was with Chris, whereas other times she was with me). She was a little fussy in the morning given we woke her up really early at around 4:30am to get in the car for the airport, and she absolutely hated her diaper change in my pod before takeoff, but after that, she was really like the dream baby in flight: she slept a lot, and when she wasn’t sleeping, she was babbling away, playing with the remote buttons, and exploring things I laid out for her to play with. Kaia got so many compliments from both the flight attendants and other passengers. The thing I was worried about the most in terms of the pressure in her ears never even became a problem: she was sucking away at her pacifier during both takeoff and landing, which I’m sure helped any potential popping.

Pumping milk on the plane was actually much easier than I imagined, but that is hugely because I was in a premium cabin with total privacy. I didn’t need to lock myself up in the bathroom to prime my boobs or connect my pump to my nipples; I could do all of that in my little pod without anyone watching me. The only time I was actually nervous pumping in the air was when I had to disconnect my pump and measure out my milk, hoping to God there was no turbulence that would cause a potential spill. In the end, I lucked out, and everything went perfectly. It was even my biggest pump yet because my gap between pumps was so large — 330ml or 11oz!

When I think about it, though, in practice, traveling as an adult with one baby on the plane would really be hell, especially if you are not in a premium cabin seat. How are you supposed to put luggage in the overhead bin or use the bathroom with a baby that needs to be held or could roll over off the seat? How can you even do something as basic as take your tray out or eat your snack or meal without disturbing a sleeping baby? And PUMPING while on a plane sitting in economy with a baby — alone without a partner?! Forget about it – it would not even be an option!! Parents who fly with their babies alone, just 1:1, are like warriors.

When your Zipcar doesn’t turn on during a trip

For this quick weekend trip, Chris decided to get a Toyota Sienna for us given the baby, her car seat, stroller, and luggage for all five of us. It gives all of us more room to be comfortable while in the car, as well as ample space for luggage and baby stuff. The Sienna rode pretty well and was very comfortable. We didn’t have any qualms with the vehicle… until we finished our last stop before heading home at Costco. Chris tried turning the car on, and it failed to turn on. After a long time waiting on hold for a Zipcar representative, multiple reps spoke to Chris to try to troubleshoot, yet nothing worked. It seemed to be a security issue that no one at Zipcar could figure out. The final resolution ended up being that we had to leave the vehicle in the Costco parking lot, empty out the van, and get two Uber rides back into the city to accommodate all five of us, our luggage, plus our big grocery haul. Needless to say, it was quite an unexpected adventure at the end of our Poughkeepsie/Beacon trip.

It was also an unexpected adventure for my breasts, too. I was planning to skip my 11am pump and pump when we got back to the apartment, which would have been around 4pm. That never ended up happening since we didn’t get back home until around 5, and I didn’t start pumping until 5:45pm since we needed to unload and organize everything we bought. So when I went to take off my regular bra and put on my pumping bra and hand express, it was really awkward: for the first time, my breasts were so full of milk that my nipples were nearly inverted. Milk was already leaking out. It felt awkward just sticking my nipples into the flanges! I also pumped a record amount at one time: over 315ml.

Pumping milk at a winery

Today, I brought my Baby Buddha breast pump connected with my Legendairy Milk cups while on the car ride and at the winery we visited. I always get a little self conscious wearing my milk cups out in public because they are huge; they make me look like I have D+ cup breasts, but hey, when you have to pump, you have to pump. So I pumped while there, having some hard cider, cheese, and crackers, and wondered if anyone noticed the sound of my pump or the fact that I looked a little disproportional. I’m sure no one noticed or cared, especially given we were outside enjoying the nice fresh air with our ciders.

I took a photo of myself with my D+ milk cups on and sent to my friend, and she said how hilarious and huge my breasts looked. “At least they give you the ability to be in public and pump!” she said in response. The convenience of these new pumping technologies actually makes us pumping mamas feel like we can really have a life outside of pumping milk for our babies. Even though the output still isn’t the same as my Spectra, I’ll take what I can get if it means I can be more mobile temporarily.

Poughkeepsie getaway

Since we didn’t plan an Independence Day weekend trip, we decided to take a long weekend the weekend before the 4th of July this weekend to the Poughkeepsie/Hudson River Valley area. This area is just about 1.5 hours outside of New York, yet it really does feel like an entire world away. Everyone drives. You can access hiking trails and wineries easily. The air is actually fresh air.

This will also be Kaia’s second trip away from home, and yet another crib/bed that is not her own that she will sleep in. So far today, she seemed like a really good little traveler yet again, sleeping almost the entire way in the car and happy and babbling a lot while at the winery we visited. So far, we’ve gotten really lucky with her adapting to new places and sleeping arrangements.

After having spent about half a day here, I totally get why people do weekend getaways to Poughkeepsie or Beacon. It’s so close to the city and even accessible via train. It feels very quaint and nature-y. It feels good to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city every now and then and do things at a slower pace. Then again, I guess once you have a baby, you have to go slower no matter how efficient you want to be.

“Breast milk is the best milk” website disclaimer in Australia

For American-based alcoholic beverage companies, it’s the law that on their websites, they have to have a page or pop up that requires the website visitor to enter their birthdate (to show they are 21, even though we all know we could lie about it) to prove they are 21 before actually entering the site. Similarly, to visit an official infant formula website that is based in Australia, what I believe to be a mandatory popup appears on the page, informing you that breast milk is the best milk, nutritionally complete to aid in your baby’s health and growth, and formula should only be considered if breastfeeding is not possible due to health reasons. It also tells you of the risks of infant formula feeding and asks that you accept that you have read these warnings before entering the site.

Given that mothers, by law, are given a full year of maternity leave in Australia, I think it would be a safe assumption that breastfeeding is probably more supported by government, employers, and society in general in Australia. And as a result of that, I have a feeling that breastfeeding/pumping/lactation support is just better and easier to find there than in the U.S. The irony is that while in the U.S., doctors, nurses, and hospitals always do emphasize that “breast is best,” we don’t have anything in place to truly and fully support breastfeeding, whether that’s through family leave laws, comfortable nursing/pumping rooms, or even a social acceptance of nursing or pumping without a cover on in public. I’ve read too many stories of women getting shamed publicly for having their breasts out in public to feed their babies. I’ve never seen anyone pumping milk in public… except the one time I ran into my colleague pumping milk in the women’s room at work (and that’s hardly “public”). Plus, the number of conflicting messages and conclusions that these so-called lactation consultants come to in their evaluations of new moms is just ridiculous, not to mention the mom-blaming about poor milk supplies that aren’t even low milk supplies… They just weren’t pumping enough or nursing effectively to establish a good milk supply early on enough.

Nursing and pumping in public without a cover on should just be as normal as people sitting out and eating lunch and dinner. Isn’t that what we’re doing by nursing and pumping — feeding our children?? I’ve now pumped milk in Central Park, at a children’s birthday party, in the car, in a hotel lobby, and on our building’s roof, but I was always covered up in some way. I wish I could just forget my shawl and just be out in the open. After all, my nipples are not just erogenous regions of my body: they are the gateway to my baby’s food.

Alphonso mangoes in New Jersey

Yesterday, on our drive back from Philadelphia, Chris had us stop in Edison, New Jersey, to have dosas and poori for lunch, as well as to make a pit stop to get some Indian groceries at Patel Brothers. While Chris tends to focus on his Indian snacks like banana chips and mixture on these runs, I always end up getting the household staples, like fruit, vegetables, freshly baked roti or thepla from the Patel Brothers bakery (the Jackson Heights location has no bakery due to space constraints; it’s not fair!!), beans, frozen goods, etc. As we are currently in mango season, we picked up a box of Mexican Ataulfo mangoes… and Chris pointed at a sign that said, “Indian mangoes: See cashier.”

Eager with anticipation and hope, I asked a cashier about these, and she pointed me to the back of the register, where there were two stacked areas of boxes of Indian mangoes: one pile was for boxes of Alphonso mangoes, also considered the “king of mangoes” in India; the second stack was boxes of kesar mangoes, which we had one of during 2020 when an Indian shop owner gave it as a gift. One box of 11 Alphonso mangoes were $55, while the box of about 6-7 kesar mangoes were $45. The kesar mangoes were about double if not triple the size of the Alphonso mangoes. I really wanted to get both, but given we knew the Ataulfo mangoes would definitely be good, we just got one box each of the Ataulfo and Alphonso mangoes. Fifty-five dollars for 11 Indian Alphonso mangoes shipped on an Air India flight from India to the U.S.: this was by far, the most expensive purchase we’d ever made at Patel Brothers, or any Indian grocery store, for that matter.

I was so excited to bring these home and try them. The Alphonso mangoes were all still green and quite hard when we bought them, but today, they are already starting to get a little softer, and parts of them are turning yellow in color. I can’t wait to have these again. I know we ate Alphonso mangoes while in India the summer of 2018, but I cannot quite remember the flavor or scent at all. I just knew that they were complex and intensely delicious. We can’t go to India now and have their mangoes locally, so this is the best we can do for now. $5 per mango is a small price to pay for this level of deliciousness.

Traveling with baby for the first time

Our baby is just over 24 weeks old, and Chris thought that Memorial Day weekend would be a good long weekend to take a short trip with her away for the first time. He suggested Philadelphia, which I wasn’t initially that excited about, but this destination made sense for a couple reasons: 1) it’s a 2-hour driving distance away, so not too far but not too close, 2) Philly has a great food scene, so it would be fun for us to eat our way through it, plus they have an expanding beer and wine scene, as well. Two nights away in a new environment and new crib would be a good initial test to see how well our baby does with travel and adaptability.

Travel itself with the baby doesn’t really stress me out as it likely does with a lot of first time parents. What stresses me out more is pumping milk while traveling: knowing when to pump, when I can do it with my regular pump vs. portable pump, milk storage and transport — those are the things that make me a little tense when I’m thinking about being mobile and not at home. I ended up just skipping one pump per day during this trip to ensure we’d be more mobile and get from place to place, even though my breasts felt uncomfortable because of it. I made sure to take extra sunflower lecithin pills to prevent any clogs that could happen from doing this. Once your body is on a pumping schedule, it doesn’t really like it when you go off schedule unless you gradually wean.

The baby slept almost the whole drive to Philly, and throughout the trip, she has been in good spirits, smiling and babbling away. She’s only had one little fussy moment while at the winery today, and she has been sleeping well in the big pack-n-play crib that the hotel provided. She’s not used to sleeping with this much space: when we laid her down in it, she spread her arms and legs out wide as though she was an oversized starfish. She can’t really do this in her bassinet that she’s soon to outgrow now. It was cute to see her in new environments and her reactions to different places and things. She’s at this really cute and fun age where she’s responsive to everything but because she can’t speak yet, she can’t give attitude or talk back. I love this current development phase and how cute and sweet she is. I hope she continues to be an easy baby to travel with, especially since a friend of mine keeps warning me that the older she gets, the less adaptable she will be and the more difficult she will be in new surroundings or a new crib/bed.

The Museum of Innocence

On our last day in Turkey before we headed back to the U.S., as the last thing we did before heading to the airport, we walked from our hotel to the Museum of Innocence, a quirky museum in the Cukurcuma neighborhood of Beyoglu, Istanbul, that is based on the Orhan Pamuk book also called the Museum of Innocence. In a nutshell, the museum and novel are about a love story between a wealthy businessman named Kemal and a younger, poorer, distant relative of his, Fusun. Kemal is actually engaged to another woman of his same social class and circle, but after meeting Fusun at a shop where he went to purchase a handbag for his fiancee, he immediately becomes entranced with Fusun, and they begin a very quick and intense emotional and physical love affair. The museum documents the entire book in the form of collected pieces of jewelry, cups, glasses, and other random items; vignettes, stories, newspaper articles, and other objects from that period of the late 70s to early 80s in Istanbul. It stands somewhat as a historical piece depicting the culture of the time then in Istanbul and Turkey overall, and also as a more narrow story of Kemal and Fusun. The general themes that are quickly picked up just by visiting the museum and without reading the book are the cultural differences between East and West (they often talk about how those in Europe are “sophisticated, educated, and progressive,” and those in the East, or in Turkey specifically, are old-fashioned and regressive, stuck in a period of time that has passed. The museum also emphasizes the importance of female purity in Turkey and how virginity was of utmost importance until marriage; women who had sexual relations with men prior to wedlock, regardless of whether it was the man they ended up marrying, were seen as scarred and dirty, and ultimately “lesser than.” The museum even depicted newspaper columns that actually showed the FACES of women who purportedly had had sex before marriage, basically warning men, “Hey, these women are impure! Beware!” We spent a couple of hours at the museum, listening to the audio guide by section. I was a bit intrigued, so I decided that when we came home, I’d get the audio book to see how the book was.

I’m about a few hours into the book, and it’s definitely a very intense love affair, narrated by Kemal, who frankly comes off as obsessed, a little narcissistic, narrow-minded, and selfish, and most definitely creepy. I’m not totally sure I want to continue listening, but what the heck, I’ve already started… in total, it’s 20+ hours long! I suppose, though, that’s the general theme of major love stories that have made history, ranging from Lolita to Anna Karenina to Madame Bovary. However, the difference here is that while I’ve actually read Lolita and Madame Bovary, this book veers on the side of Anna Karenina where the guy in question just keeps droning on and on, constantly obsessing, resulting in confirming exactly how creepy, stalker-ish, and selfish he is (well, isn’t that the theme of all men of all time?). It’s kind of amazing how over history, stories of selfish, obsessive, creepy men make history so often, yet as soon as you hear of a selfish woman, all bets are off.

Kemal is truly ridiculous, though, and in many ways, a total loser in my mind. I have very little to no pity for him as a character, as he’s highly unrelatable and pathetic. Even after he breaks off his engagement with Sibel, his fiancee, and finds out Fusun is married, he continues to try to pursue her, and even goes on to INVITE himself over for dinner/coffee/tea at her home 3-4 nights a week for EIGHT YEARS, where she lives with her husband and parents. It’s truly insane and just borderline worthy of sticking this guy into a stray jacket. Honestly, I’m not sure I’d recommend the book to anyone unless they really wanted to read an obsessive man’s account of his ridiculous love for a woman, but hey, to each their own!