Armed with the cutest baby mug shot ever, my husband and I took our 6-month-old daughter to apply for her first passport in March. We had ambitious plans for the summer: Vancouver Island, Florida, and, best of all, a two-week jaunt through Italy to see friends get married and visit family. (One Saturday night, buoyed by take-out sushi, a soundly sleeping infant in the next room over, and a couple glasses of wine, we even started talking about an adventure in Tokyo.)
That trip to the passport office was on March 7 B.C. – Before Coronavirus. It turned out to be one of our last mask-free outings as a family before Washington State’s governor announced a stay-at-home order two weeks later. The State Department stopped processing nonessential passports in April. And, in an instant, all our plans – unlike us – were up in the air.
In an alternate, limoncello-soaked reality, this essay would be packed with memories and lessons learned from our first big trip with Eleanor – our grand Italian adventure as a party of three. (And my first trip to Italy too!) We’d overnight in Rome, drive to Tuscany for the wedding weekend, then hop a flight and a ferry to La Maddalena, the tiny island off the coast of Sardinia where my mother-in-law grew up. We’d meet great-aunts and -uncles, and my husband would translate as I tried to keep up with the conversation. Eleanor would screech while we dipped her toes in the Mediterranean. Connecting with extended family while building our own family – all the makings of beautiful reflection, right?
We were ready. I’d done the research and had the sleek travel crib and the lightweight stroller in my online cart. The extensive “surviving baby jet lag” googling was complete. I felt empowered by the friends with older kids who kept encouraging us to “Go now!” They said traveling with Eleanor would be much easier before she could get bored on airplanes and moody on car rides. She’d be turning 1 while we were in Tuscany. We joked about letting her celebrate by digging into a slice of tiramisu. I couldn’t wait to watch her grab for strands of cacio e pepe at lunch. (I also couldn’t wait to grab for strands of cacio e pepe at lunch.)
Instead, I’m at home, where we’ve more or less been for the past six months. I’m writing this in my new office, which is really just a desk tucked in the corner of a spare bedroom. According to the State Department’s Passport Application Status website, Eleanor’s passport is still processing. After this year, I think we’re all still processing.
I know: She won’t be disappointed by these foiled first-birthday plans because she won’t remember this year. I don’t remember my early vacations either, but I still love asking my mom to tell me about them. here was the road trip from Connecticut to Florida for Christmas when I was 14 months old. (A horrible idea in hindsight, she admits. We flew home while my dad and grandpa drove the car back.) And the summer getaway to Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. My mom chuckles while telling me how I ran around all day and then refused to fall asleep until 4 a.m. … not surprising, given that my own daughter likes to party at midnight too.
My mom lights up over these memories. So, as much as I’m disappointed for Eleanor this summer, I think it’s clear that I’m really disappointed for me. I want to start collect-ing stories that I can tell my daughter about later. And I want to travel again. Though having a child is a beautiful, fulfilling, no-regrets experience, it can also be an overwhelming, lonely, and disorienting one. There’s an unbelievable rush of love and a momentous loss of independence. But travel has always made me feel most like myself. And after world-changing moments – life, loss, a pandemic – we all deserve to feel like ourselves.
It’s a privilege to be able to travel abroad as a family; I don’t take that for granted. But amid everything that’s going on in the world right now, I still believe you’re allowed to feel sad about canceled vacation plans. It’s OK to wallow for a minute. Yet what this summer could have been is what next summer might be. I’m still looking forward to Eleanor’s first scoop of gelato on the Via del Corso, and now I’ve got a few extra months to learn a little more Italian than grazie and allora. And the passport offices have slowly started to reopen. Here’s to filling my daughter’s fresh one with stamps someday soon.
Top Illustration: Queenbe Monyei