Before arriving in London, I had spent a few sleepless nights trying to figure out the logistics of the whole thing. The whole thing being how to travel around London with a toddler and an infant while my wife went to the office and while I was only equipped with a single-seat stroller.
We owned a double stroller, but it was the sort of double stroller that had the children riding side by side. Now that my oldest daughter was in the habit of bluffing her need for the bathroom, and since British law prohibits parents from leaving infants unattended, even if they are leashed to a tree or hydrant, the double stroller just seemed like a headache. Taking the eldest for one of her spontaneous false-potty calls would require me to remove both kids, grab up all the stuff crammed underneath, and collapse the stroller just to get it and my children and the stuff through the door.
Sometimes those sleepless nights shifted toward illusions of grandeur. I pictured perfection with the single-seat stroller: my infant sleeping in the stroller while my toddler rode the new skateboard attachment that we had purchased for the trip. There was even music to accompany this false prophesy of transporting both kids seamlessly through the city.
But when the gamut of delusions was through, and reality affirmed I was without a foolproof plans, I decided to just wing it. We arrived in London and I set off into the city with a baby carrier, a stroller, a skateboard attached to the back, a bag full of stuff, both kids, and hope. Lots and lots of hope.
Traveling London with a Baby the First Time
On a previous trip to London, when I only had my eldest to tote around–she was then an infant– getting across the city was cake. The largest problem I had faced was entering and exiting the tube stations. Many were without elevators and most had hundreds of steps. It had been a struggle then. This time around, my only rule was avoid the subway.
And though not a rule, I also intended to limit the number of streets I had to cross. And it wasn’t because cars drive on the other side of the road. The problem is I’m sometimes too aware. In London, the streets are painted with notes to pedestrians, directing you which way to look. But since I had planned on being extremely cautious before stepping into the street, I found myself noticing the warning below me that read, “Look Right.” But then I’d also spot the upside-down warning on the other side of the road, telling those pedestrians “Look Left.” At that point, I had no idea which way to look. So I looked in every direction too many times.
Since I would be without my spouse–AKA Stroller Two Captain–for three days (not nights) and because I wanted to limit street crossings, I mapped out day trips that kept me and the kids mostly safeguarded inside London’s parks.
Traveling London with a Toddler and a Baby
Day One was a lovely bust. The kids were happily ruined by jet lag and we didn’t leave the hotel room until well past noon. There happened to be a playground a few blocks from the hotel, where my eldest ran about while the baby slept. Of course there were small challenges, like when my daughter had to use the toilet and I had to drag her to find one. Luckily the park we were in had won “Loo of the Year,” which, for a public restroom, is unfortunately a category that is as glamorous as winning a beauty pageant among pugs with anal warts that spread to their face. So while it wasn’t ideal that the stroller was sticking out from the toilet stall and the wheel was inches from the urinal, the baby probably won’t log this as a memory. (Had we had the double stroller, it would have been even more disastrous.)
Back on the playground, we played for another thirty minutes before the baby woke. The timing was good because my toddler was getting cranky. So I strapped my infant to my chest first, and then tried to negotiate my eldest into the stroller.
You know those films set in the Middle Ages where a knight is told to select a weapon for battle and the knight picks a shield over an axe or a flail, and you’re like what is this guy thinking? Why would you pick a shield? Well, I’ll bet you anything that the knight was a parent and he knew the powers of the shield.
When I picked up my toddler to put her into the stroller, I, fortunately, did not get kicked a single time. (And in the future, I’ll do a better job recognizing that a human strapped to the chest is sort of like a shield.)
Regardless, with minimal injuries, the infant and I managed to KO my eldest.
During my time in the park, I had been chatting with one of the other mothers who kept trying to steer the conversation toward the usual park chatter. But I did my best to focus on what I consider appropriate playground talk. Was it:
A). Your Child?
B). My Child?
C). The Weather?
D). Restaurant recommendations?
D is correct. The mother, who seemed to know her restaurants, suggested a dim sum place. The restaurant turned out to have wonderfully creative dim sum, from shu mai topped with scallops to Chilean sea bass wraps tied up with seaweed strings.
When the meal ended, my infant soiled herself.
I searched around for a bathroom, but the waiter informed me that they had a baby changing area up front. As it was, the baby-changing area happened to be one of the private dim sum rooms, where the staff had placed two chairs together for me. With an unbussed table stained with soy sauce and old dim sum dishes scattered about, it was the perfect ambiance for changing a diaper.
The jet-lag had worn off. The kids were up and back on schedule. And I was feeling overwhelmed.
“What do you mean you don’t want to skate anymore?” I asked my daughter, who decided to jump ship.
“I don’t want to skate anymore.”
I looked back. We were about fifty feet from the hotel entrance. “Yeah, but we need to skate to the museum,” I said to her. The museum was about four miles away.
“No. Carry me.”
We debated for another few minutes and settled on a compromise: She would walk, but I would carry her if she saw any lions or tigers or bears. When we saw our first dog trotting through Hyde Park, she added canines to her list. And then, when we reached the pond, she added ducks, geese, swans and some other bird that neither of us could identify from Old McDonald’s farm or elsewhere. Despite some fear, my two-year-old did walk most of the four miles from the hotel, through the park, and to the Museum of Natural History. And she was even a trouper when we found a long line snaking down the block.
When we entered the museum, she added dinosaur bones, dinosaur robots, and dinosaur pictures to the you-need-to-carry-me-now-because-I’m-terrified list. In the mammals hallway, it was most things taxidermied, though, ironically, she was totally cool with stuffed lions and tigers and bears. (It sounds made up for purposes of humor or hyperbole, but it is not.) She did, for whatever reason, decide that leopards and jaguars and cheetahs were scary; but penguins and fish were fine.
Then tiredness hit her with a force that had caused the dinosaur extinction; and the entire museum felt her wrath. Decidedly, I swapped her out for the more relaxed shield. I strapped my infant to my chest and together we enjoyed the sculpture work in the park, critiquing some of the modernist structures with our bias.
I was worried about day three. My toddler had wowed me with her walking abilities on day two, but on day three, just as we started for the zoo, she started complaining that her legs hurt. She collapsed herself to the ground. Now I’m sort of an expert at this move, which I perfected one New Year’s Eve, about a decade ago. After our dinner party, a few of my friends were transporting their collapsible tables home and when they had asked me for help, I fell to the ground and claimed that my legs didn’t work. I’m not sure if I was absolutely convincing, but it got me out of having to carry any of the tables downstairs.
When I saw my daughter doing this move, I both respected her for it and worried that we would never make it to the London Zoo.
But I did the one thing that would have gotten me off the floor on that New Year’s Eve all those years ago: the promise of something irresistible. In my case, perhaps a good cigar or another beer would have raised me. In her case, it was ice cream. She took the lure and we trekked on despite “hurt” legs. The rain made the walk fun. After all, we were in London and she was a great admirer of Peppa Pig. So she jumped in muddy puddles, even if I did explain at least four times that the puddles were simply puddles because they lacked mud.
By the time we reached the zoo, my daughter was shockingly comfortable with all of the live animals, even though she had been scared of their stuffed ancestors the day before. She watched them do their animal things, stroked the little ones in the petting zoo, and scaled the fake ones. (At the zoo, she was most scared of the sprinklers.)
While promises of ice cream had gotten her to walk to the zoo, there was nothing I could think to promise to get her to walk three miles home. She refused the skateboard and since the baby was asleep, I couldn’t give her the stroller. There was only one option. I strapped on the chest carrier and slipped my toddler in. While it was a bit strange to carry an almost-three-year-old in the carrier, with her heels kicking me in the shins, it was the last of our options. And it turned out to be great. If the baby had doubled as a shield, the older one was like having four hands. She pushed the stroller when I got tired, scratched my chin itch when I got lazy, and assured me that she could do my taxes next year, even though I think she was just feeling overly confident after she had proved that she wasn’t frightened of the animals in the zoo. Regardless, I walked through London with a toddler, a baby, an unused skateboard, and a one-child stroller.