Yes, yes, yes!! The stars have aligned to grant me a few hours of energy before bedtime, so…time for a bunch of photos and meandering thoughts about our trip to Seattle. We had been planning this trip since before Micah was born–it was for a work conference for Eric, so we had lots of notice. Since it was a full week, I imagined I wouldn’t want to be on my own with Micah that long at home, but also, even more than that, I hoped that I would still be able to find a way to do one of my favorite things–travel–as a mom and with my family. In those early newborn days, I couldn’t imagine going to the grocery store, much less Seattle, but it really DOES get easier, and soon I was looking forward to the trip. Micah and I would go to the aquarium! And walk around Pike Place Market! And, more importantly, drink ALL the coffee and eat ALL the fish (well, those last two apply to me only). I admit to being a little nervous about the airport, but I could pretty easily talk myself down because Burbank, beloved Burbank, is the tiniest and easiest airport. And then…right after Christmas Eric got sick. And then Micah got sick. And then I got sick. And for several days I was considering the awfulness of spending a week in Seattle with a baby within the confines of a hotel room. A sick baby. And a sick me. Thankfully, we all more or less recovered before our departure date, just carrying enough sniffles with us to keep anyone from getting too close. (Also, Micah lost his voice. Poor sweet angel. There is nothing sadder than the sound of a hoarse baby crying). Anyway! Enough prelude! On to the main course.
How did he do on the flight? Kind of amazing! We brought chocolates and earplugs for the people seated near us, and some people took them, but others said they wouldn’t mind. The flight was just over two hours, and he did his usual baby things: ate, slept, shook his rattly toys, protested when he got bored and wanted to be walked around, and threw zero fits. Huzzah! When we got to Seattle, we had to ride the airport train to get to a cab, and I think that was his favorite part of all. The look on his face pretty much said, “Mom! Can we come here every day?”
We didn’t know exactly what to expect, but we did our best to be prepared. The most excellent decision we made in this regard was to stay at a Homewood Suites. It was actually closer to the conference center than the conference hotel, and, for a lower rate, we got a suite with a full kitchen and a separate bedroom, complete with closing door (very useful when putting a baby to bed to have two separate spaces!), a REAL hot breakfast, and FREE DINNER Monday through Friday. What?! I had never even heard of that last one, but it was so awesome to just be able to go downstairs and eat without having to get everyone bundled up. The dinners were actually really good too! They always had a salad, and on bratwurst night I wanted to eat about 80 of those things. Yum!
Another point of nervousness: Micah has never been a HUGE fan of the stroller. He loves looking around, but he gets annoyed after a while and wants to be held. At this point, he is too big and squirmy for me to hold him and push the stroller at the same time, so…woe be to any pedestrians between the point of dissatisfaction and home. Whenever I tell my mom about my worries about how something will go with the baby, she says, “He may just surprise you.” And, thankfully, she is so often right. We bought Micah a bear suit (technically it’s a bunting, but it has little ears, so I feel justified in calling it a bear suit!) and got a waterproof cover for the stroller, and then we hoped for the best. And it was better than we could have imagined. He not only happily assented to be pushed around in the stroller all day, but even took naps in there. Long naps. And then he’d wake up and look at me like, “Oh, hey, you took me to another museum! Cool! How ’bout you pick me up and I’ll give you some adorable smiles?” It was kind of heavenly. We were so grateful. (I don’t usually post pictures of Micah here, but this is too cute not to share. Also, now you all know what a bear suit looks like. The ears are the same gray as the carseat cover, so they might be a little hard to see, but they are there!)
Another wonderful surprise was how kind and accommodating everyone was to our little tiger. I think we hit a world record of how many restaurants cheerfully made space for the stroller in one week. And Micah surprised us by sleeping through plenty of meals, or at least being very content to be passed from parent to parent, based on who was eating.
Eric had a free day to spend with us before the conference started, which was super fun. We went down to Pike Place Market, where Micah slept for two and a half hours in the stroller. Bonanza!! The market was decidedly less fun in the winter just because the flowers and produce are less impressive, and there aren’t any outdoor booths. Oh well. Still pretty cool. After we fed Micah, we headed over to Pioneer Square, where we ate giant sandwiches and wandered around in the rain. On the way back up to the hotel, I suggested that we stop by the Seattle Library, which was designed by Rem Koolhaus and is really fantastically interesting and beautiful. My brother took me there ten years ago on our way from Berkeley to Vancouver (ah, youth!) It was a hilariously steep climb up to get there, but it was worth it.
Monday through Thursday Micah and I were exploring solo, and we were lucky enough to be in a very walkable neighborhood (First Hill). On Monday we stopped at the Honeyhole for a quick lunch before heading down to the aquarium. I walked right in to a storm cloud of incense and Led Zeppelin blaring, and I instantly felt sixteen again. It was kind of amazing. Micah was mesmerized by the red walls, which made it easy for me to eat.
I had been really excited about taking Micah to the aquarium because I knew he’d like to look at everything, but also because…I have discovered that secret goldmine of being a parent: you get to be a kid again! Micah was asleep for the first hour while I ogled the sea anemones (my favorite!) and starfish and seahorses. When he woke up, he looked right at the sea otters and said, “Oooooh, ooooh.” Precious.
He fell asleep again on the way up the hill, so I went another block further than our hotel to have a cappuccino at Victrola. Mmmm.
For the rest of the week, we explored the neighborhood, headed down to the water almost every day, rode the monorail to the Space Needle, and generally put jillions of steps on Mommy’s Fitbit, steps which were periodically punctuated by cappuccinos. It was awesome. I don’t have pictures from my two favorite places we went, but they both get gold stars. Any place that offered indoor sanctuary, restrooms, places to sit and feed Micah, and required no admission fee would already be heel-click-worthy. But these two really were the creme de la creme.
The first was the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park. Eric had read that it was pretty cool (and freeeeee!), so Micah and I trekked on over. It’s actually more of a museum, but it’s part of the national park system, so it was manned by park rangers. The nicest, most welcoming park rangers ever. I asked them about the start times for the short films they show, and they said, “Oh, we can just start one for you anytime you like.” Awesome. Micah and I watched a whole bunch of them, and we spent a good couple of hours learning about the crazy history of this Alaskan gold rush. Seattle was the main departure point, and it was such a harrowing journey that it still gives me chills. That evening at the hotel, I said to Eric, “Hey, how would you like to spend several months on an overcrowded boat to Alaska in 1897, and then spent another couple of months hiking north through the snow, including making 40 trips up and down 1500 stairs carved into a mountain of ice in order to get your 2,000 pounds of required food and supplies up to the top? I forgot to mention that there are thousands of other people there, so there’s a long line and you can only make one trip a day. And then how would you like to spend the winter in a makeshift tent while waiting for the river to thaw, and bide your time by trying to build a boat out of whatever wood you can find? And then how would you like to almost die in the rapids of that river, only to arrive at your final destination and find that there’s no gold left?” That’s pretty much how it went. I am amazed that people made this journey and lived to tell the tale. And the museum does such a great job of presenting individual stories of that experience. After several hours of happily history-ing it up, we hit the gift shop, only to discover that they had National Park passports, so, naturally, I had to get one for Micah and collect his first stamp for him. Awesome!
The second awesome place was the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Visitors’ Center. I had seen a brief mention of it somewhere, and it sounded cool. I wasn’t planning to do any of the other Seattle Center attractions, so I thought we would check it out. As soon as we walked in, we were ever so kindly greeted by a man who led us to the stroller ramp and showed us where the restrooms were for when we needed them. Such kindness. But even that immense kindness was quickly surpassed by all the amazing things the foundation is doing. My mind was kind of blown by all of their projects both in the US and abroad, and the huge range of issues they tackle: homelessness, sanitation, access to clean water, education, disease prevention, women’s health, the list went on and on. Whoa. I was seriously impressed by their dedication to finding innovative solutions for tackling age-old problems such as poverty and access to healthcare. Instead of just throwing money at these problems, they do things like hold design contests for more efficient toilets and work to create drought-resistant plants for the driest climates most in danger of famine. The spirit of creativity was easy to find in the visitors’ center, which had tons of interactive opportunities for kids (and adults!) to brainstorm about how to do the most good with a fixed amount of resources, and about how to look at old problems in new ways.
There were so many things that deeply impressed me. Quite frankly, the Gates Foundation made me feel proud to be a human being. I was tremendously moved by their simple, powerful vision, that every person deserves the chance to live a healthy, productive life. I love that they invest in organizations already in place here and abroad, often giving quietly and without fanfare, so that the people who work for and are helped by these organizations often have no idea that Gates is involved. I was in tears so many, many times when confronted with how easy my life is, compared to how difficult so many others have it. I came away with a much greater awareness of global and local issues and a greater determination to see the needs of the people around me (and those far away) and respond to them with love. I came right on home determined to donate some money to the foundation. Bill Gates is a smart dude, and I would feel so good about how he and his team would spend whatever little bit I could give them. And then I looked it up and realized that it’s a foundation. Which means that Bill Gates does not need my money. However, they list all of the organizations they partner with, so it would be very easy to give to those organizations individually. I am really happy to have that as a resource. Whew, this paragraph has kind of turned into a novella. But here’s the point: I walked into the center grateful for a warm place to spend a cold afternoon, and I walked out shaken to my core. I couldn’t stop asking myself how I should have so much and others so little, and what I could do to bridge that gap. Although that inequality is heart-rending and overwhelming, I came out with so much hope and assurance that it starts with doing what you can and giving what you can. I can’t do what Bill Gates is doing, but I can do what I am able to do. And just as fantastic foundations like this one overlap in meeting the needs of people all over the world, so our small actions are brought together, like tiny pieces in a huge puzzle, to bring what’s needed to where it’s needed most.
There are more Seattle stories to tell, but they’ll have to wait for another post because the hour grows late, and really, I think that’s the best note I could possibly end on. In the meantime, I’ll be doing my best to keep carrying with me what I found there, to keep giving all that I can give.