Yet another travel day came upon us with all the accompanying semi-frantic packing and toddler discomfort. The main positive of England is that it’s almost exclusively train travel, a balm to weary adults and train-conscious toddlers alike. We decided to take our time in the morning in London before our train back to Oxford out of Paddington Station.
We grabbed breakfast at Pret at Stratford station to take the edge off and decided to take the Jubilee line to Green Park and walk an extra mile or two (or three) through Hyde Park since Green Park was handicapped accessible. We were done lugging stuff up and down stairs.
We marched through Kensington and found a spot to catch a breath, eat some food, and to let Christopher run around on the grass for a bit. We heaved ourselves back up to head to one of the playgrounds in Hyde Park on the side closest to Paddington. The Brits know how to make a playground. They’re all fenced in, not gaudy and plasticky, and incorporate natural materials. This one had a little stream and some great swings. Chris and I were able to sit and talk while Christopher had a blast running around and Therese sat in the grass.
It’s been hard to travel with a three year-old. I still wonder sometimes if it was cruel to take him out of his element for more than three weeks. But I think we’re learning on the job as to how we can make this travel easier on our kids and easier on ourselves. Chris and I were talking on the train about how even we wish we could teleport back to South Bend for a day to reset before continuing on our travels. We are loving this trip, but it’s obviously hard to be away from the comforts of home for us. It’s made it a little easier to sympathize with Christopher, who has the disadvantage of not having a concept of time yet.
This is not to say it’s all difficulty and an unhappy toddler. I’m so impressed by how much Christopher has matured since we left. His imaginative play has grown more creative, he asks great questions and more quickly volunteers what he’s feeling with words, and his you/I pronoun confusion has 85% disappeared. It’s neat to talk with him about what he’s enjoying about the trip and to note what he remembers.
I made him a trip book with pictures and blurbs about the sights we would see on the trip. He was adamant about not reading it at the beginning, I suspect from the anxiety of traveling, but he has since been more interested and is quick to talk about the various modes of transportation and favorite things we have seen.
I don’t write much about Therese, but only because she has the perfect baby temperament for a trip like this. She naps in the carrycot super easily, is happy to get out during our stops, and has discovered the joys of the paci and blankie for falling asleep. If anything, I regret not giving her enough gross motor time since every time we put her down, she’s demonstrated how mobile she suddenly is, rolling all over the room.
All this mom introspection is to say that there have been really high highs and low lows, lots of forgiving and asking for forgiveness. I’m glad we had two extended trips to the playground. It made a noticeable difference in all of our ability to coexist peacefully.
We decided to make our way to Paddington after some telltale signs of a tired buddy. We tried to sit down for lunch at a pub called The Swan but bailed after it was clear it would not be pleasant. We made it to Paddington with about 20 minutes to spare before our train to Oxford. Chris grabbed us some pasties for lunch and we got to our seats.
With seven minutes before our scheduled departure, Chris mentioned his regret that Christopher hadn’t been able to see the Paddington Bear statue. We had just watched the Paddington movie after all. I said that he knew I thought they couldn’t make it, but if he thought they could get to Platform 1 from Platform 8 and back in time to be on our way to Oxford, he should try. But he should give me my ticket just in case. Chris grabbed Christopher and took off running. I semi-anxiously watched the station clock, knowing that it wasn’t the end of the world if he missed the train, but hoping they would make it back in time. With two minutes to spare, they showed up in my car, breathing heavily. I was so glad Christopher got to see Paddington. Chris said he gave the statue a hug, so Christopher and I decided to make Paddington our next lunchtime chapter book.
We made it to Oxford without incident. Our AirBnB is in Cowley, a nearby suburb. We had some trouble finding the well-hidden key with downloadable internet instructions that were useless on our slow phones and devices, but we finally made it and settled in for the evening. We really like this place. It has three full bedrooms and is spacious and cozy. Jon brought over dinner, we gave the kids an early bedtime, and relaxed.
So traveling with our kids has been hard, but it has given us unique joys: Christopher striking up a semi-sensible conversation with a man on a London bus, enjoying people’s shock? joy? at realizing there are two kids in our stroller, translating instructions on a can of Italian baby formula, and a favorite moment of a “Mouse Dance Party” with a happy baby who didn’t want to go to sleep in Chianti. It gives us reason to interact with others we wouldn’t if we were traveling alone, without need of help carrying the stroller up and down stairs or pacifying a tired baby. While I do hope Chris and I can come back to these places by ourselves one day, I also find myself daydreaming about future trips with older Christopher and Therese and, Lord willing, more kids.