Going to California * Part Two

Going to California * Part Two

The trip was planned fairly meticulously yet allowed space for adaptability, if that makes sense. I had no idea how it would go, travelling with a baby. Times zones, stuff, navigating subway systems, even a new pram for the trip took a ridiculous amount of research.

So I planned for three weeks, which would give us over a week in SF, a week road-tripping and a few days back in SF to bookend the trip. I also factored jetlag into the mix and allowed time to take time, so we could sit in a park and watch the world go by if the mood took us.

On another occasion I’d like this to be literally just riding the tram system and seeing what happens. Their trams are amazing! Recycled from various worldwide locations, mostly vintage, vehicles of beauty!

Being on one is like stepping back in time, yet with everyone on their phones or whatever…wood panelling, rounded mechanical bits of chrome, lovely typography on signage. I digress…

I made a rough plan of where to be when so I could book our accommodation through Airbnb and see to our flights. I decided to stay in Oakland as it was cheaper, interesting and still in the San Fransisco Bay Area.

Travel insurance I was dreading. America, with a recognised mental health condition? Some of the quotes were as suspected, jaw-dropping; though I eventually found a great deal.

In the days before travel everything starting coming together, the excitement was tangible and not fraught with nerves like I’d imagined.

All the stuff at the airport was good, I allowed loads of time as it helps ease the worry out of an already anxiety-ridden place. A friend took us there and helped with our stuff and generally be a calming presence whilst checking in. All that along with some deep breaths and aromatherapy oils on pulse points, it was all good.

Master McDuff nodded off just as we went through security so I had a bit of time for browsing the airport wares. Result. Then we had a leisurely breakfast before getting on the plane.

I’d read that breastfeeding a baby on take off was a good idea to help with the air pressure. It worked. Master fell asleep again, another result. Short lived though, as he was awake again after twenty minutes and didn’t drop off again until we were queuing at customs on arrival, over eleven hours later.

I relished the whole experience. I enjoyed listening the conversations of progressively drunk young men also embarking on a road trip. I was inspired to talk to my neighbour who had, with her husband, made a move from Sussex to California a few years before.

I was very grateful for the connection to the lovely, Polish air stewardess who took Master for me to the crew at the back of the plane for hugs and giggles (he was a hit!) so I could have a few moments to myself.

I learnt so much in that say, 18 hours of airport and flying experience I’ll need to write a separate checklist of advice and tips for people travelling solo with an 8 month old.

Master was excellent, reluctant to sleep (which is normal) but there was a lot of stimulation for him, bless him. People commented how calm he was and that was reassuring, when I’d wondered about the opposite.

The most sensational part of the journey was towards the end. Where you could see from the TV screens how we were flying across American states, peeking out the window and everything becoming so clear and visceral. This feeling of return, of renewal. The feeling of joy. The feeling of adventure.

The skies were blue and it was sunny and clear. I gasped as I saw the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time. My neighbour told me that she had made this flight numerous times and not once had she seen the Bridge flying in as it was always shrouded in mist. She said I was very lucky. I looked at her, tears rolling down my cheeks and said with a smile “patience is rewarded”.

Going to California * Part One

Going to California * Part One

Ever since I was little, I’ve had a fascination with San Fransisco. Maybe because of Christopher Walken and Roger Moore’s fisticuffs on the Golden Gate Bridge in A View to a Kill. Or perhaps it was the spookily alluring Escape from Alcatraz that captivated me.

Certainly as a teenager, West Coast music of the sixties and seventies were the main sounds booming from my system. Literature has inspired me too, such as Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City along with Beat Generation classics. Beatnik dress code is one I’ve often favoured too 🙂

A few years ago, I made a decision that I was going to celebrate my 40th birthday in San Fransisco, by hook or by crook. I also knew it could be pricey and frankly, I didn’t have much in the way of cash, so I saved. A fiver a week over four years would give me enough for a flight and some accommodation I thought, I could add to this as I went along.

Fast forward three and half years and I have a baby. A baby! A baby McDuff and I going to San Fransisco, was that possible? In pregnancy I’d pondered the notion of going to California for my fortieth with a baby, but discounted it almost immediately with the inner wisdom of ‘see how you go at being a parent first’.

I discussed the idea with my longest standing trusted mum friends, who completely gave me the confidence to make such a trip. They reminded me of being me solo and this is what I would have done, once upon a time, which is something any new mother needs reminding of it seems.

Airports are such exciting yet anxiety riddled places. There used to be a time that if I flew at all, I’d either have a valium or a vodka to get on a plane. Not the sort of thing that could be done with a small child.

Long haul too, eleven hours to San Fran. Wowsers, but then, what is the worst thing (apart from crashing and I didn’t want to think about that) that could have happened? People not like me very much because of a screaming child? I think I was at a point on my emotional journey where I was starting to care less of others judgements anyway.

Plus Monty was such a contented, calm baby my instincts told me he would handle it.

Practically too, how could I handle carrying all this stuff? So I did a dress rehearsal with a friend “okay so this is me walking to the check out desk” and so on. Another friend encouraged me saying it’d be easier to travel with an eight month old than a toddler. Now, I understand what she means 😉

Decision made, we were going. San Fransisco and a West Coast road trip for my birthday. Going a bit earlier than my birthday as we could then take in Dia De Los Muertos, Day of the Dead festival. As San Fransisco has such a thriving Mexican community it’s celebrated there in a big way.

Day of the Dead signifies tenacity and rejuvenation, I didn’t know that when we went. Looking back, this seems symbolic to me personally. I had also wanted to somehow make amends with America.

Twelve years ago, at the start of my mental health journey, I got stranded in New York. It’s another story but it was scary. I’d said before we went that I had to go back to that land, the West Coast of it, to make my personal peace and create new memories.