- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 1, 2002

Traveling used to be fun and relaxing and more important, it could be done spontaneously. Now, with our 6-month-old Little Viking in tow, it's hard work that requires patience and planning.

The first thing to remember when you go to see friends and family is that they no longer really want to see you. They want to see the baby.

A parent on the road is very much like a rock star's manager, making sure the talent is fed, entertained and well-rested so he can be at his best when meeting the fans. It has its rewards, but the parents are always in the shadow.

Hence, a word of wisdom to all attention-grabbing parents: It's time to move over.

We took our first out-of-town trip with the Little Viking just a few days ago. While the occasion was not particularly fun, it definitely was important and meaningful; Great-grandma, a Southern lady who once was the rock of comfort in the family, is very ill and feeble.

She sits in a chair 24-seven, greets visitors and waits to die, she says. One of the few occasions that brought a smile to her face recently was the Little Viking's visit. His innocence, cuteness and vitality rubs off, even on soon-to-be 82-year-old Great-grandma, who lives in Atlanta. (Yep, Atlanta. The Little Viking has a Southern branch in his family tree.)

We chose to drive because we could stop anytime during the trip and would have transportation in "the city too busy to hate" and too busy to build a good public transportation system.

Before the Little Viking's arrival, I was able to drive the 630 miles with one or two restroom stops, including filling up once on gas. (The trip takes exactly two tanks of gas in our little green car, which we have named Kermit.)

This no longer can be done.

Every two to three hours during our most recent trip, we stopped to change diapers, eat and stretch out. This is where the planning and preparation really show.

I recommend packing bags according to content. One for toys, one for diapers, one for foods and medications, and so on. A portable changing table is a good idea, too. When traveling in winter, bring plenty of blankets and warm clothes. Keeping the car temperature cool helps the driver stay awake while keeping the baby warm and cozy.

Also, it's important at least to consider a worst-case scenario. If the car breaks down and you have to wait by the side of the road in freezing temperatures, you may need to bundle up. (I am pleased to report that we had no such incidents.)

Another piece of advice is to bring adult snacks and try to get gas when the baby is awake. You could be lucky enough to get a long nap out of the bambino, and you don't want to have to stop to get gas at such a fragile and pleasant time.

The importance of taking breaks cannot be emphasized enough, though. Car seats probably have come a long way, but they still are not as comfortable as they should be. They should allow the child to change his or her position and recline, more or less, as permitted by adult car seats. The car seat's restraints are what made the Little Viking angriest on the trip.

As we drove through Virginia and North Carolina, he was fine, looking at the trees outside or playing with his many toys. In South Carolina, though, eight or nine hours into the trip, he had had enough. Nothing made him happy.

Grandma, who was on the trip with us (I really recommend having a second adult along for the child's entertainment and calming) sat in the back seat the entire time, playing with the Little Viking, giving him leg and back rubs, feeding him water or rice cereal and reading from "Sesame Street."

As we drove through South Carolina, however, nothing would appease the little guy. Not even Chet Baker.

We already had discovered that rather than the children's and classical music with which we had loaded the CD changer, the Little Viking's favorite was Mr. Baker, the 1950s jazz singer and trumpet player. Whenever he became whiny, Mr. Baker's smooth, melancholy voice lulled the Little Viking to sleep. His renditions of "Little Old Lady" and "Someone to Watch Over Me" seemed particularly soothing (and appropriate).

But not in South Carolina.

As soon as we crossed the state line into Georgia, the Little Viking was though not happy at least quiet. We will never know what his very loud anti-South Carolina sentiment was all about, but at least we were the only ones who were subjected to it. If we had taken a plane or train, others would have had to hear his despair, too, which is why we chose to drive even if it's a long, long, long ride.

It was worth it for all of us. Great-grandma got to hold her only great-grandchild in her lap, if only for a moment because he weighs about 25 pounds and her muscles are not what they used to be.

She told me he was beautiful and that I should cherish this time because it passes so quickly, and she should know. She has five children.

Also, I have a feeling the tiring drive and piercing South Carolina screams will fade as time goes by, while our memories of Great-grandma and the Little Viking smiling at each other will grow stronger.

He may never know this caring and thoughtful lady directly, but with the aid of our recollections and storytelling as well as the videos and pictures that were taken, he will know she loved him.

Gabriella Boston is a features writer for The Washington Times. She and her husband welcomed their "Little Viking" in May. Send e-mail to [email protected]

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