We drove five hours from Chisinau, crossing an international boundary and navigating a few stretches of shoddy pavement on both sides of the border to arrive in Gura Humorului, in the heart of Romania’s Bucovina region. It seemed like a lot of distance to cover with an infant, but in the grand scheme of things we hardly left at all. In fact, the bulk of our route lay through Romania’s Moldavia region, the arc of our travel tracing the vicissitudes of history in this bucolic corner of Eastern Europe.
Before we started dating, got hitched, and made our parents happy by giving them a grandson to spoil — in what seems like another lifetime, but actually was only 7-8 years ago — we both took long backpacking trips through South America. S started her trip in Ecuador — where our paths crossed briefly for the first time — armed with a return ticket from Buenos Aires and eight unstructured months in which to explore the continent. D’s trip likewise took him from Ecuador to Argentina over the course of five months the following year. An entire life crammed comfortably into a backpack, and few concerns other than how best to stretch a limited budget and where to swap books so as to always have some good reading material…Having just returned from our first tourist trip with Munchkin, it’s hard not to feel some nostalgia for those carefree travel days.
With exciting tourist possibilities – the opportunity to see a pack of wild dogs polish off an impala or to watch elephants at the watering hole while hanging out with the safari camp’s pet kudu – we had a veritable parade of visitors when we lived in Kenya. Far fewer people appear to be tempted by Moldova’s wineries and pastoral idyll, but we are hoping that Munchkin’s cuteness lures at least a few friends and family to visit us in Chisinau. Thus far, we have had just one visitor – S’s mom, who helped her make the daunting trip from one little-known place in northern Maine to another in Eastern Europe.
At Munchkin’s one-month appointment, the nurse asked us if we had seen him smile. We answered in unison, D in the affirmative and S in the negative. The truth is we had seen his face make all the right muscular movements that would in an adult translate into a smile. But these smiles were unconscious, and S was not sure they counted. It was as if Munchkin’s face was trying them on for size while he slept to determine if it was an expression that suited it. Sometimes his lips would curl up in a fleeting moment of dreamy joy. At other times, he would break out in an ear-to ear grin that lingered a little too long, giving his sleeping countenance a cute but rather maniacal look.
S had been looking forward to her trip back to Moldova with equal parts anticipation and dread. Just the mere prospect of flying with a newborn seemed daunting in and of itself. Moving a 6-week-old to a different home overseas — and all the additional luggage such a move entails — added an extra dimension to the madness.
In the weeks after Munchkin was born, we were all too happy to spend every waking moment of our time with him. In fact, we found it difficult to put him down even when he was asleep, preferring to let him slumber peacefully in our laps while we watched a movie or tried to multitask on the computer. But then there were two of us sharing parenting duties — with no other responsibilities to think of — plus we had many visitors who were eager to cuddle Munchkin and take him off our hands.
He grunts. He snorts. He simpers, whimpers, and moans. He squawks, and clucks, and oinks. He wheezes and pants, and sighs like a wounded badger. If not an entire menagerie, then Munchkin certainly resembles a small, feral animal. S may have anticipated this, but for D the biggest surprise of parenthood has been just how noisy our baby is — especially when he is not crying. When he sleeps his breathing is so loud that it calls to D’s mind his step-grandfather, who literally shook the house when he snored.