Posts tagged ‘Traveling with a Toddler’

November 4, 2011

Biodome! Biodome! What in the World Is a Biodome?

When John was reading through a Montreal guidebook and told me there was a biodome we could visit, my first thought went to a Pauly Shore movie, circa 1995, that I never even saw. Once he told me it was a kind of zoo situation—and there were penguins—I got much more excited.


For most of our trip the biodome was a kind of plan B. We walked around the old part of the city for the better part of our stay. But eventually, it was so cold and we’d already walked so far from the hotel for smoked meat and croissants (separately) that we hopped on the subway to spend a little time indoors.


The biodome is like a zoo and a botanical garden at the same time. We walked through four (or five, according to the website) different ecosystems that recreate various environments in the Americas. We started with a tropical rainforest, and the heat and humidity were very welcome to my chilly fingers and toes! Jacob couldn’t have cared less about the heat, but he loved the fish! Next stop: NYC Aquarium.



We then walked through a couple of zones that showed off some of the wildlife you’d expect from Canada—a lynx, birds, more fish. We only saw the otter for a minute, but man, oh man, was he cute.


Finally, we got to the part I’d been waiting for. We put Jacob’s hat on him and entered the “Sub-Antarctic Islands” ecosystem.


It was like he had finally come home.


First he made himself comfortable in a giant replica penguin egg.



Then he read up a little bit on his feathered friends.



And then he had a heart-to-heart with a couple of puffins, which seemed to be what the trip was really all about anyway. Usually Jacob’s all about the animals that move, but these little guys were totally still. Sometimes, the soul just knows where to look for a connection.



Although we would have had a great time at the biodome even without a toddler, he certainly made things more interesting.



November 2, 2011

The Not-so-Latent Kids in Us

When John and I were about to get married, his dad told us that our biological age didn’t match our internal age. We were really about forty, and he meant it in a good way. Likewise, when we quickly went from married to married with a family, our friends weren’t totally surprised. Many of them said they couldn’t imagine doing those things right then, but they made sense for us.


Even though the only way we get to something like forty is if you combine our ages, the children in us live, and our trip to Montreal was proof. Sure, we chose family-friendly activities because we had a toddler along with us, but really they were things we probably would have done even if we were on our own. Okay, so maybe we wouldn’t have gone to the playground, but we still would have walked to the clock tower nearby.



The first wonderful thing we did was go to the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal. Since we’re daily Mass-goers, we wanted to stay in a hotel near a church, and we’d heard this one was something to see. Really, the church wasn’t just something to see, it was something to experience.


I love churches in cities. With or without soundproof walls, they can be an escape from the noise, traffic, and busyness of the streets. In New York especially, churches can look rather small from the outside, but once you pass through the doors, you feel like you’ve been invited into some kind of expanding Alice-in-Wonderland reverie, like there’s somehow more room inside than outside. Notre-Dame (modeled after the one in Paris) was big enough on the outside, but inside felt like it went on forever.


I didn’t take photos of the church for two reasons: 1) I know my photography skills wouldn’t do it justice and 2) I totally forgot. Despite the chilly Montreal morning, when I entered the basilica, I was engulfed by a luminosity that can only be described as a precursor to Heaven, and that’s just what was intended. Normally I prefer sculpture in churches to paintings; I see the unity of God and man more clearly in a figure hewn from stone or wood. There were plenty of statues in this church, but it was the painted ceiling that really made the whole thing pop. Colored a warm, inviting blue, the ceiling was covered with golden stars. The uppermost scene on the altar was the coronation of Mary, with the crucified, risen, and crowned Christ crowning his mother Queen of Heaven and Earth. Majesty radiated through the whole church. Golds, blues, purples. Everything shimmered and shined, and yet felt so warm and real at the same time. It may be the most beautiful church I’ve ever seen, and it alone was absolutely worth the trip.


When we first visited the church, we noticed banners for a sound and light show called, “And Then There Was Light.” The program was forty minutes long, and the brochure we read implied that children as young as Jacob were welcome. The timing fit perfectly into our evening schedule, so we bought tickets for later that day. I admit, I was a little skeptical about a sound and light show in the church, but we figured buying our tickets probably helped the church some, and it was at least worth a try.


Oh boy, was it ever! When we arrived for the show, white sheets were hung from the sides of the mezzanine sections (I’m not sure if that’s quite what to call them, but they were similar to elevated seating at an opera) and a giant projection screen was set up in front of the altar. John and I were given headsets that would tell the story in English, and we sat in our assigned pew near the front. Good thing we got tickets early! There were lots of people there—and there was a second showing later that night, too!


The program was not only light and sound, but also vignette films that traced the history of Montreal from its colonial period through the various stages of constructing the church. It was more of a dramatized historical documentary than simply a “sound and light show.” Partway through, the projections screens sunk away and the sheets were pulled up so that various elements of the church could be literally highlighted. It was an incredibly cool way to learn the history of the church and the area, and will be my number one recommendation for visitors to the city, traveling with a toddler or not, Catholic or not.


Looks like I had more to say about this church than I expected! Stay tuned for the second great Montreal family adventure tomorrow . . .


November 1, 2011

Adventures of the Traveling Food Allergies

According to a recent study*, traveling with a toddler with food allergies is approximately seven and a half times more complicated that simply traveling with a toddler.


Simply traveling with a toddler? Ha! Fun, yes. Simple, noooo.



When we planned our trip to Montreal, we figured it would be after Jacob was fully weaned, which would allow me to eat freely and would make sightseeing and so on a little easier. For the most part, we were right. But we didn’t consider the host of other obstacles his allergies set before us.



As much fun as it was to have Jacob with us, his sensitivities did present some challenges. We never administered Benadryl, but we came close a couple of times.


Our first full day, we tried to feed him some grilled salmon at a restaurant. I told our bilingual waiter about the allergies (pretending they were my own), and to be sure he got it all, he sent over another waiter—one without a French accent to his English—to be sure he’d understood everything. They even brought me gluten-free bread, because they thought I couldn’t eat the baguette they were serving. After a number of reassurances that the salmon had only been cooked with olive oil, we gave it to the little man. And he loved it! Great news!  Well, until the hives started to show.


From that point, we only fed him fruit from restaurants. The rest of his menu was food we’d brought along or bought at a local grocery store. Thank goodness it was cold outside, so I didn’t worry about carting cold cuts around all day.


When John and I ate, we tried to eat anything that might contain dairy with a fork and knife—even quesadillas and chicken fingers. If one of us needed to hold, say, toast with butter, we’d make sure the other person had at least one dairy-free hand. It sounds nuts (pun intended), but it was the best we could do. And after every meal, we used mouthwash to clean ourselves up. Just a kiss after a café au lait can set the little guy off. Thank God he hasn’t shown any signs of anaphylaxis, but maybe that clause should end with “yet.”


Still, there’s always a silver lining, and on this trip I discovered an incredible combination of modern conveniences: ordering take-out in a hotel. Once Jacob’s asleep, we’ll eat what we like and just be careful when we clean up. When it’s take-out, you don’t have to cook, and you avoid the tip for the delivery guy (John doesn’t require tips). When it’s in a hotel with a kitchenette, you get to eat on real plates without having to clean anything up. Plus you don’t need a babysitter, and you can wear yoga pants and no shoes. Does it get any better?


Joking aside, this trip made more real for me how dangerous the world can be for Jacob. We’re not sure what caused it, but he had very red cheeks one morning and a rash another. We started to wonder if he might just be allergic to Canada.



While it’s tempting to want to build a bubble around him, that’s not going to help him figure out how to live in his world. The other day I spoke with a woman whose teenage daughter has a bunch of food allergies, and she told me her goal for her children was that they learn to negotiate their world. After this trip, I’m adopting that as my mantra as well.


It’s tough sometimes to look in the fridge and realize there’s nothing Jacob can eat in there. I never thought I’d know what it felt like to not have something to feed my child. I am grateful all over again that I can go around the corner and buy what he needs, but even in trendy Park Slope, there are slim pickin’s.


This new lifestyle is not something I’d expected in my motherhood, but every life has its challenges, and it’s rare that we anticipate them. Success and happiness come from making the most of what you’re given, and while sometimes I want to find some crazy magic way to make Jacob’s allergies disappear, that’s just not possible. They are a physical manifestation of how both he and we have to get to know the wonderfully unique and individual person he is. And whether or not it involves butter, eggs, or wheat, that’s a journey I’m more than willing to take.



* that being our trip to Montreal

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