Prior to Mikaila Willow Moon’s birth when I was 28, I had roamed the Earth for around seven years. I thrived on the encounters and experiences that a simple backpack and map provided and wanted to instill a similar appreciation and love of our world’s diversity and beauty in the heart of my child. Fate intervened and answered my dreams unexpectedly. When I was 8 months pregnant in June 1997, another driver crashed into my parked car; it was a write-off. I traded in my insurance payout for a cheaper car and with the difference, I had enough money for an airline ticket and spending money for an international holiday when Mikaila was 9 months old.
The destination chosen was Canada for a variety of reasons. Firstly, a dear friend, Karen whom I had met in the tiny village of Tulum (Mexico) when I was 24, had married Rob and given birth to Zorah in the past few years and was living in Vancouver. Secondly, I had experienced a very awakening year of my life in Toronto during the same period and I wanted to return to introduce Mikaila to her godparents – Sherry and Mike – and other dear friends with whom I had stayed in touch over the years. Thirdly, I felt a sense of familiarity in Canada; staying with friends would also support this feeling and provide a ‘home base’ when we needed respite and solace from the winter cold. Fourthly, by travelling to a western society, I would not need to take extra food and other supplies for Mikaila, I could speak the language and medical assistance was easily accessible if required.
With passports in hand, two small bags filled with warm clothes and blankets, pram and ‘baby pack’ for the aircraft, I was a very excited mother with my happy ‘Little Puss’ boarding the Canada 3000 flight from Sydney International Airport. The long journey was broken with stopovers in Fiji and Hawaii and the opportunity to disembark and stretch our legs. Mikaila was at the stage of standing up and holding onto furniture to move around and put on a delightful display of her expertise for other passengers. On the flight itself, Mikaila either played, ate, slept or rested on my lap whilst I read her stories; I was very lucky and relieved she felt comfortable flying.
On arrival in Vancouver, Karen and her daughter Zorah met us at the airport and with ‘the girls’ strapped in their baby seats, we reminisced and shared stories, thus setting the scene for a relaxed and enjoyable three days.
Vancouver is in the southwest corner of British Columbia (one of Canada’s ten provinces) on the western-most part of a peninsula that extends from the Fraser River’s delta. The City of Vancouver is one of the 18 municipalities that form Greater Vancouver. There are numerous attractions and sights to visit in this beautiful city (a great website for further information is: http://www.tourismvancouver.com/) to suit a variety of tastes and styles.
Although March initiates the official beginning of spring, it was still very cold so we always made sure the girls were rugged up from head to toe on our outdoor adventures. Karen and I both love being surrounded by nature so we took the girls to Stanley Park, the third largest park in Vancouver. With Mikaila in a baby backpack and Zorah in a sturdy stroller, we enjoyed a wonderful walk that included hugging massive trees, playing on the beach and breathing in the crisp, serene air that being immersed by plants provides.
We all enjoyed ourselves so much that we decided to extend our ‘nature’ experience the following day with a visit to Vancouver Island. Vancouver Island is separated from the mainland by the Strait of Georgia, part of the Pacific Ocean. On its southern tip rests Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia. We drove our car onto one of the gigantic ferry’s that makes the journey along the Strait and for the next four hours, were greeted with a majestic array of islands and birdlife as we slowly headed to Vancouver Island.
Our first stop was at beautiful, historical Victoria, with its easy walking paths and streets along the waterfront and in the downtown area. We strolled around for a while and visiting the famous Empress Hotel and totems and longhouse in Thunder Bird Park, before discovering a small café where a bottle could be heated and delicious lunch served.
Refreshed, we drove the 21km north to the breathtaking Butchart Gardens, where fifty-five acres of stunning gardens, meandering paths and expansive lawns awaited us (www.butchartgardens.com). Visiting a garden such as this in winter filled me with peace and I felt as though I was quietly walking through the home of a magnificent, slumbering giant that was patiently waiting for the warmth of spring.
As we made the return journey to Vancouver, the sun began to set and the four of us snuggled whilst drinking in spectacular views that accompanied the end of a special day.
The next morning, Mikaila and I were on a plane again, this time bound for Toronto and the reunions with friends that awaited us. I highly recommend booking the bulkhead seat in advance (ie: the one in the front row of economy) because on some airlines, a hammock style structure is provided that hooks into the wall and allows your baby to rest in comfort and safety.
Our first sight at the airport was of my best friend Sherry, with her body plastered against the glass and a huge grin on her face. Mikaila and I absorbed her excitement and the three of us laughed and carried on all the way to her home. We stayed with Sherry and her cats during our time in Toronto; I still can’t thank her enough for the warmth, friendship and how she looked after us continuously.
Toronto is a bustling, multicultural city that is great for sightseeing (it features the world’s tallest building – the CN Tower), fantastic restaurants, sporting and cultural events and activities to delight both parents and children (http://www.city.toronto.on.ca)/. As I had previously lived in Toronto, this visit was not for sightseeing but for catching up with friends. Over the next ten days, I experienced the joy of Mikaila meeting her godfather, Mike and my other friends for the first time, some of whom now had small children too. Many wonderful interactions and storytelling took place in a variety of homes and other locations including dinner in favourite Ethiopian restaurant; a symbolic tattoo by my artist, Carl at Way Cool Tattoos whilst Mikaila bounced on my knee; the Comrags Fashion Show with Sherry.
We were also blessed with falling snow. How wonderful to watch as the soft white flakes first touched Mikaila’s cherub face and her delight as she reached up to catch them and taste the coldness. This was further enhanced when, on an overnight visit to stay with a friend in her village in West Ontario, there was a huge snow storm and we awoke to a white fringed world. Of course we rugged up and went straight outside to play and have fun in the snow.
It was with rosy cheeks and a winter glow that we returned to Vancouver for two more days with Karen, Rob and Zorah and the end of our holiday. Fortunately, we had one more full day together so Karen, the girls and I drove to the magnificent Light House Park for two hours of trekking in the forest. With determination, we maneuvered Zorah in the stroller and carried Mikaila over logs, down rickety paths framed by gigantic trees, and over rocky terrain to reach ocean views. It was hard work but the girls didn’t complain once; like us, they were just so happy to be out there with nature.
As a single mother who always seems to live geographically distant from family support, I do not often have the opportunity to go out at night. However, tonight was an exception. Being St Patrick’s Day and our last night in Canada, Rob offered to babysit whilst Karen and I went to a local Irish dance hall for the odd pint and some important time out to celebrate. Needless to say, it was a weary but very happy mother and her content baby, who boarded the flight across the Pacific Ocean the next morning. As with our initial crossing, Mikaila was a lot of fun on the way home.
Travelling with a child is an incredible experience. It strengthens the parent-child bond and leaves a positive impression on the child’s sub-conscious memory and promotes personal growth and development. I would encourage leading your child or children, regardless of age, to other continents and introducing them to the variety of cultures and magnificent array of natural environments on this beautiful planet.