As I write this at 4:30 in the morning, Ruthie is still asleep in bed at our hotel by the Indianapolis airport. She was overwhelmed by the weirdness of sharing a bed with me and stayed up way too late, and then she slept up against me all night. Now it’s time to get up and head to the airport so that we can get on our way to Portland, Maine. I’m a little nervous about how the snowstorm that hit last night will affect our travel plans, but I’m still trying to be optimistic.

Ruthie has been really excited about this trip. She gets to stay in a hotel! Go to the airport! Fly in a plane! While I attend AWP in Boston, she’s going to spend several days in a row with the family who babysat for her when she was a baby. These are absolutely lovely people–some of my favorite people. They’re excited, she’s excited, I’m excited. It’s a good situation all around.

Everybody knows that traveling with an infant or toddler can be stressful. Anyone who has ever tried to soothe a wailing baby on a plane or entertain a bored two-year-old during the fifth hour in an airport knows it. So does anyone who has watched a parent trying to soothe a wailing baby or entertain a bored two-year-old. Traveling with babies means carrying more stuff, moving at a slower pace, and having all of your travel dependent upon the feelings of a miniature ball of raw emotion.

Despite the stresses of it, traveling with Ruthie is also one of my favorite things. Because she was born when we lived a thousand miles away from my closest family member, I traveled with her extensively before she was 18 months old. We’ve flown and driven between New Hampshire and Indiana numerous times, visited my dad in Florida, gone on a thesis research trip to Texas, trekked down to Louisville for Lebowski Fest.

When Ruthie and I travel together, I always feel like we’re such a great little team. I feel like we’re in cahoots. We’re on a mission, working together to accomplish some goal. There is something about traveling together that makes us more like partners than mother-and-daughter.

I don’t know what about traveling with her makes me feel like this, but I love it.

I suspect it’s the strategic nature of the whole thing. There is plotting, planning, and organizing involved in traveling with a little kid. You have to think ahead and pack in a very specific, counter-intuitive way. A lifetime of rules like “pack as little as possible in your carry-on” suddenly becomes “pack as many fun activities in your carry-on as possible.” Snacks must be pre-purchased, put into appropriately small containers, and easily accessible.

Last night, Ruthie sat buck naked on the bed, eating olive pizza and watching cartoons that are far beyond her level of understanding. Her carry-on that she packed herself is on the kitchenette counter, full of books, crayons, stickers, and snacks. Last night we watched a bunch of cartoons, made some microwave popcorn from the vending machine, pretended to be puppies, and colored with markers. I may have let her jump off the window sill into my arms a bunch of times, too, because it was fun and why not.

I like my little traveling buddy. I love taking her to new places that she’s never seen before. I like to hear her observations about the world and see what she remembers. The last time we flew together was in November, when we went to a family wedding in Boston, and her expectations are certainly shaded by that trip. Last night she stopped everything and looked at me expectantly. “Mommy! Benember last time? Benember? Are we gonna get a DWINK on the plane again? Can I get juice on the plane?”

How could anyone dislike traveling with a kid when they get this excited over the prospect of the drink cart coming around?

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