When we booked our tickets for a family trip to Santa Barbara, I couldn't believe it had been over a year since I had last flown. A stark difference from my life the last 10 years, jetting around Europe and the world, always with another trip or two waiting ahead. I hadn't anticipated that the arrival of Elena, with all the joy and beauty that she brought into our lives, would also put into question the confidence and ease with which I navigated the world.
There were uncertainties. How would Elena handle the flight? Would she stick to her regular nap schedule or be too distracted by all the new sights and sounds around her? Would she sleep through the night in the hotel room, in a new space and bed? Would we be able to get her to nap during the day? Would we get sleep and be able to enjoy ourselves? But we didn't really give form to the questions, opting simply to leave them unsaid and see what the trip would bring.
We flew down on a Thursday afternoon, without much anxiety about the flight. When we are out, Elena quietly observes everything around her, only occasionally trying to grab at a curious object. We went through security and boarding with ease and, after charming the cabin crew during the first half of the flight, Elena fell asleep on me until we landed in sunny Santa Barbara.
After dropping our bags off at the hotel, we walked to the beach and had an early dinner on the pier. We returned to put Elena to bed and then Marcus and I sat in the hotel lobby, watching the baby monitor and wondering what the night would bring. A few hours later, we tiptoed quietly into the room, slipped into bed - held our breath to see if Elena would wake - and then slowly relaxed into sleep.
Santa Barbara is a sleepy coastal town in southern California. With a city ordinance dictating that all buildings must be in the Spanish-style design, it feels quaint and European. Friday held a walk around the city. Lunch at Tacos El Rey. A visit to the Santa Barbara Public Library. Dinner at Zaytoon. We planned everything around trips back to the hotel and Elena stuck to her nap schedule like it was a regular day at home.
On Saturday we started the morning with coffee at French Press, wandered around the farmers market and then drove over the hills to go wine tasting in Los Olivos. We took the long way, winding through the back roads while Elena slept. The landscape was so beautiful - grassy hills with old, knobby trees, a mixture of dusty desert and lush land. When Elena woke, we headed for lunch and a taste of the Santa Ynez wine, followed by wine tasting and cupcakes at Saarloos. That evening, while the hotel babysitter watched the monitor in the lobby, Marcus and I snuck out for a long walk and dinner.
Sunday brought grey skies for our last day in Santa Barbara. We started off the morning at Handlebar Coffee Roasters, followed by a nap for Elena, and then a long walk down to the beach and marina. After getting caught in a downpour, we spent the afternoon walking and lunching on State St. and then headed to the airport in the late afternoon. The return flight took off right at Elena's usual bedtime. She fed and then got fussy before finally falling into a restless sleep. It was less relaxing than the trip down, but we survived and so did the people seated around us.
The whole trip, from the flights to the hotel room, went so much more smoothly than we could have imagined. It was a simple, two-hour flight in the same time zone, but it was just what we needed to help us feel more prepared for our trip to Amsterdam in April. Ten hours in the plane and crossing nine time zones does sound more intimidating. But I have made the trip dozens of times and will be returning to a place I called home for many years. I have that confidence to draw on when the questions try to surface.