When I planned a family trip to Greece for June, the last month of my maternity leave, I thought it was a stroke of Mommy Genius. I envisioned my parents babysitting our almost-four-year-old daughter and our just-two-month-old son while my husband, Emilio, and I enjoyed long dinners at outdoor cafés on the romantic cobblestoned streets of Corfu Town.
People told me I was crazy to travel with an infant, but I missed my cousins in Greece and wanted to visit while I was still on leave, so I wouldn’t use up my precious vacation time. With my parents along for the ride, I’d have plenty of help. And this wasn’t my first rodeo; I knew what I was doing. I got the baby’s two-month vaccines and made sure his passport arrived in time for the flights we’d purchased; with all that done, I figured I was in the running for Mother of the Year.
It wasn’t until we arrived on Corfu that I realized I had left the essential funnel/cone components of my electric breast pump at home in New York, on the drying rack in the kitchen. Since I was breastfeeding exclusively, and couldn’t pump milk without these, there was no chance of me leaving the baby and some bottles with my parents and skipping all over the island. My Mommy Genius was starting to look like a Mommy Fail. No big deal, I told myself. My father would be joining us five days later. He’d bring the missing parts. For the first week of our vacation, I never left the baby’s side, but it wasn’t exactly a hardship; he’d sit on my chest as I reclined on a beach chair while my daughter and husband explored sea caves nearby.
Then my father arrived, bearing breast cones. I borrowed my mom’s adapter, plugged my breast pump into the wall of my cousin’s apartment—and promptly blew a fuse and fried the pump. Mommy Fail Number 2. As my husband and daughter frolicked in the ocean, I trudged the suddenly-not-so-romantic streets of Corfu Town going from pharmacy to pharmacy looking for a breast pump. The only kind to be had on the island without special ordering was a manual pump that worked on one breast at a time. I bought one as backup, but saw my imagined footloose and fancy-free vacay slipping away.
After Corfu, we spent a few lovely days introducing the baby to all the retirees the mountain village where my father was born, and where I lived for a year in my twenties. And then, manual pump in hand, my parents, kids, husband and I flew to Athens and picked up a white rental van to embark on the final leg of our vacation: four days at the Costa Navarino resort in the Peloponnese. I’m not a resort person. But everyone told me that with a new baby, I couldn’t be running around from island to island to remote mountain village, as is my wont. I figured we’d sit at the resort, in the family-friendly Westin, take Amalia to the pools, have a pleasant enough time. But I was starting to feel a little disheartened. This was the winding-down, end part of our trip. And I hadn’t had one dinner a deux with my husband, or discovered an unexpected architectural site, beach, or delicacy—something new and delightful about a country I love so much but am so seldom in. And now we were going to be sitting in one place.
Like any multi-generational trip, this one was a bit of a compromise. At a resort on Crete years ago, my father confided in me, “This is my ideal vacation, where you go from the room to breakfast to the beach to lunch to the pool to dinner and back to the room.”
“In that case,” I told him, “You’re going to love the old-age home someday.”
My mother’s and my idea of a great trip is diving into the culture, drinking lots of local wine, and watching the sun set every night. And my husband needs to confront his mortality every other day in order to have fun, whether by hiking to the edge of a cliff (last summer on Paxos), hiking to mountaintop monastery (two summers ago on Hydra), or diving off a sea cliff (our honeymoon on Santorini). As for our four-year-old daughter, she just wants lots of attention and sand toys. The baby? He wants breast milk.
When we checked into the Westin, I knew my father and daughter would be happy. The property is on an incredible sandy beach set below a bluff that essentially blocks any buildings from view when you’re on the shore, giving the place the feel of the magical end of the earth rather than a resort. Seemingly minutes after we arrived, Amalia found the waterpark, where she spent every day careening down water slides (and where I spent my last Monday before returning to work zooming down one with her on my lap).
I worried Emilio and I would feel trapped. But with no one needing to organize activities or plan itineraries, we somehow all felt freed up to do our own thing. We rented a tricycle for Amalia and she learned to ride it along the brick paths. I mastered the manual pump enough to leave one serving of milk behind and Emilio and I took the rental van on a ten minute drive to Voidokoilia beach, a stunning omega-shaped cove at the foot of a cliff with a ruined fortress on the top. Yes, we climbed up to it, although I begged off on the last, hand-over-hand, pull-yourself-up on a rope stretch.
The next day, I pumped even more, and Emilio and I spent five hours learning to scuba dive. Our guide took us to another deserted beach where we floated above a shipwreck from WWII (and, in Emilio’s case, below—I preferred to stay near the surface). On the boat ride back, we passed graffitied prayers and warnings against pirates, left by sailors on the rockface of the cliffs, the versions of ancient, then modern, Greek changing in each strata above the water. While telling my parents about our adventure that afternoon at the kafenion in the replica of a village square in the middle of the resort, I tried spoon sweets made out of candied olives stuffed with an almond; they were the perfect blend of sweet and salty, and my new favorite vice. And one night, when Amalia had spent all day at the waterpark, she and her baby brother fell asleep in Yia Yia and Papou’s room, and Emilio and I ordered room service, which we ate by the private pool behind our suite. It was 11 pm, but it was, finally, dinner for two.
What I thought would be the quiet tail end of our vacation ended up as a blaze of glory. Which is great, except that it forces me to admit, the naysayers were right: with a new baby, and a toddler, you can’t run around too much; sitting in one place is the way to go. As long as it’s the right place. Which, much to my surprise, can be a large resort, provided it’s one that serves as an introduction to the surrounding area rather than a barricade keeping you from exploring it. But Mommy Genius was right too—it’s entirely doable, and wonderful, to take such little ones on vacation, and to have a multigenerational adventure everyone actually enjoys rather than simply tolerates. Just make sure you bring a converter for your breast pump.