After months of nagging and a tumultuous couple of weeks, Gabe finally conceded that it was time for a trip. So last weekend the Kerr family skipped town for the Czech Republic. Destination Prague. The plan was fairly simple, aimed towards relaxation, new sights, and some much-needed time away. We would rent a car in Vienna, drive 4 hours to Prague where we had rented an apartment, and spend a couple of days taking in the old world architecture of the Golden City. I am not sure where in the planning of said trip we forgot that we a.) had a child, b.) had a child who doesn't like the car, and c.) had a child who likes to run around and isn't all that interested in looking at buildings, no matter how magnificently well-preserved.
It wasn't that we didn't have a good time or stand back in wonder at the beauty of it all. It's just that after all was said and done, the sheer uphill battle of making what are normal day-to-day operations happen under weird circumstances wasn't worth the nominal enjoyment we got out of the couple of hours we looked at buildings in the rain. Brutal, yes, but then so was watching Jude eat nothing but crackers (once even dipped in ketchup) for three days straight. The car ride histrionics alone were enough to make us never want to vacation again.
However, what we did get out of the trip was a walloping heap of learning and some good laughs. Here are some of the highlights...
Not This "Mother's Choice"
I haven't gotten a huge safety vibe from my experience living in Vienna. We've seen playground equipment that appears engineered for kids to hurt themselves. I've been in two Strassenbahn accidents in 3 months. Each time I came home and told Gabe that I had a sneaking suspicion that people/cars must get hit by these things everyday. Most recently Jude has been invited to go for a spin on several carnival rides at a seasonal festival that are clearly intended for much older children. There was never the requisite sign off to the side posting the minimum height for all ridegoers. All sizes welcome, I guess. "Jude, wanna ride Santa's Train of Death?" However, it was the Mother's Choice child seat experience that truly confirmed my fears when it comes to safety precautions. There are none. Thank goodness there is a social safety net here for the battered and bruised of Vienna because apparently there has been no Austrian equivalent of Ralph Nadar.
We arrived to pick up our car rental, baby in tow, and were expecting to drive out of there without incident. We had filled out the request for an age/weight appropriate car seat when we reserved the car online and assumed that the facility was prepared to fulfill this request. Sitting in the smoke-filled room, after we had signed for the car, we inquired about the seat for Jude. The women helping us stared at me with an implied eye-roll. I later described it to Gabe as the, "You're really going to press this car seat thing, lady?" look. She fully intended on letting us drive off with the baby in my lap! When her piercing glare didn't work, she snapped something in German and a second women reluctantly walked over to a drawer, unlocked a set of keys, and went to the back to fetch our car seat. She returned and laid it on the floor at our feet.
I muttered something about checking for the weight limit and as I bent down to do so, I noticed that all the straps had been removed. Really? Come on. 30 Euro for a seat with no straps? But there was that look again. It said, "We've already locked those keys up. You're going to make us go back there and look for a different seat?" But the protectionist in me and the cheap skate in Gabe agreed, go look for another seat. The dance repeated itself, and this time the women returned with a large booster seat, brand name, "Mother's Choice." I did some quick cost benefit analysis in my head. Would making a greater fuss produce a substantially more safe car seat? Would the time spent on such an endeavor be worth the additional time out of our brief vacation?
I quickly converted Jude's lbs. to kgs. and we took the "Mother's Choice."
Just to clearly explain how problematic this seat was for us, I have to note that Gabe and I are kind of car seat fanatics. We actually carried a study exposing the vulnerabilities of infant carriers to the birth of our child, prepared to fully defend our choice of using a convertible seat at birth in the instance anyone gave us trouble when we tried to leave. We were crusaders for getting the thing professionally installed, making call after call to Chicago Fire and Police stations. Stubbornly, we refused to move it someone else's car for the many trips back and forth to Michigan. Usually, this meant having to suffer driving in the Jeep sans AC during the summer humidity. Forgive me if I am making a huge deal out of nothing as I itemize the scary features of the M'sC... the seat was medieval as far as I was concerned.
The only way to secure it to the car was to run the shoulder strap behind our child, leaving the lap belt as the only device holding Jude in and "protecting" him from injury. Whenever the car would make a turn, the seat would shift from its prefered location on the middle seat to halfway over onto the seat next to him. Of course, this was after we moved it from its original position behind the passenger seat because there were no child locks on the doors and Jude made several moves to open the door while the car was in motion on the brief drive to our apartment. However, to be fair, I have to award this feature of potential traumatic injury to the Fiat and not the Mother's Choice. For the duration of his naps both to and from our destination, I got to make up for the M'sC lack of a chest harness and hold Jude into the seat to prevent his head from flopping over into his lap. At least when things got dicey navigating our way through the outskirts of Prague, I didn't feel too awful taking our agitated toddler out of his illusion of restraint to hold him on my lap for a short period of time. Conclusion, Jude was possibly if not probably in greater danger affixed to the M'sC than if we were to allow him to crawl about the car as the women from the car rental had intended.
All Maps Are Not Created Equal
Those who know me would kindly say that I am a bit of a control freak. I often think to myself that it's probably a good thing kids need structure and routine because if it were bad for them, Jude would be pretty screwed up. Schedules and lists are the very mortar that hold this family together. Yet, try as I might to let down my guard and play the role of the laid back mom, I am constantly (re)learning the lesson that it is best to do things yourself.
Enter lovely, adored husband.
Yes, it is the ultimate payback for this checklist loving, uber-clean, hyper-organized woman... I married the absent-minded professor. In an attempt to "fill the gaps" of Gabe's regular oversight of the details, I encourage the making of lists, try with follow-up phone calls, and in the end just wistfully hope that everything will get done. In some cases, ok, most cases, I have learned that it is probably best if I just take the helm. The map for how to get to Prague was one of those cases.
I made my case for an in-car navigational system- the convenience, the precision, the English, but Gabe refused to spring for a Garmin. So I delegated the responsiblity of either buying a map of both Austria and the Czech Republic or printing some clear directions from Google. I should have known that he would opt for the later. When he came home from work and handed me a small booklet of printouts, confirmation for our apartment/ car and a series of maps, I shouldn't have ignored the part of me that wanted to make sure we had adequate info to get us though not one, but two foreign cities.
The next day we managed to return to our apartment to pick up our bags and make our way out of the city through a combination of signs and familiar landmarks. We were on a roll. Maybe it was dumb luck, but driving abroad wasn't as foreign as we had expected. Once we were out of the city, the signage was still pretty good. At times Gabe would ask me to consult "the maps", but it was fairly clear we were headed in the right direction. Part of me dreaded looking at that mess of papers tucked neatly in with passports. About 30 minutes outside of Prague, I got nervous enough that I finally "consulted the maps."
First off, they were in German. Even more disturbing, they appeared to be the directions from Vienna to Prague if you were looking down on Earth from the moon. To add insult to my meager attempts to read these cryptic directions, the line that was intended to illuminate our path actually obscured any ability I had to make out numbers of highways/ exits. As navigator, the only answer that I could be completely confident in giving was that yes, we were somewhere between these two cities.
As is to be expected, Jude is wide awake at this point and clearly perturbed by both his mom and his Mother's Choice. We were running a tread back and forth on a 10 kilometer stretch of highway, unclear where to get off. The intensity level was clearly coming to a head in the Fiat. Gabe continues to ask me questions like, "What is up ahead?" and "Where does it say I should get off?" To which I reply, in a combination of perfect German,Czech,and smart-ass, "Leicht rechts auf Karlovo nám?!"
It was madness.
I took Jude out of the car seat to let him nurse and demanded we stop at the next gas station to purchase a detailed map and pinpoint our current locale, muttering "Garmin" under my breath. As if we needed any assistance in assigning blame for this debacle. Fortunately for us an angel appeared. At this moment it took the form of a short, bald man exiting a gas station bathroom with the ability to speak fluent English. In under 6 hours we concluded the first leg of our journey.
Sitting back in our Vienna apartment Monday evening, I popped open one of the Czech beers I smuggled back with me from our trip. Exhausted and throughly unrejuvenated, Gabe and I decided this was the bottom line for Prague (and all future vacations.) We laughed, Jude cried, and we'd totally see it again. However next time, we bring Grandparents.