One big, legal thing prevented us from ticking off the list of places we wanted to check out while vacationing on Oahu. Points of interest that when plotted on Google maps seemed doable from our Waikiki base. We had three weeks to get to them all. More time than the 36 hours the average New York Times reader needs. I wonder who travels all the way to Oahu for 1.5 days? Mauians? Californians? Those without car seat requiring kids?
Our encounter with the car seat — that plush, plastic contraption of safety — was the first lesson that taught us, as naive (some might say stupid) new parents, an undeniable truth: kids kill vacations. (Others were learned throughout the trip.) After the 36 hours of travel it took just to get to Oahu from China, the short drive from Honolulu International Airport to Waikiki was the suckiest. No song or toy or even a favorite muslin blanket with its happy, colorful elephants consoled Baby K. Amid her deafening, desperate wails, we realized we wouldn’t be road tripping as much as we’d planned.
We couldn’t blame Baby K for hating the car seat. We live in a country where, because no one is concerned with anyone’s safety, they aren’t used. (Neither are seat belts or turn signals.) Of all things, we’ve gone local with this. I know, I know. What the hell are we thinking? People here drive like my four-year old nephew in his Hot Wheels Jeep — distractedly and dangerously, heavy on the gas and break and horn.
We waited a few days before trying the car seat again. As we got ready for an outing to the Bay of Dreams on Oahu’s west coast, I tried to pump Baby K up using my excited, happy mom voice. My high-pitched, singsong lines about how lucky she was to have her very own special seat didn’t have much effect.
It was touch and go as we set out with the grandparents in the front and Iggy and I in the back serving as her personal entertainers. We made stupid faces, talked in soothing voices, and played a million rounds of peek-a-boo. The tactics mostly worked. We arrived with little to no tears in time for the free paddle boarding lesson we were promised. Iggy’s parents had already met the local known to everyone as Uncle George. He’s a guy with a big heart to match his big, grandfatherly pot belly and big, evangelical belief in God. By enduring his hard luck but in the end happy I found Jesus story, we got our lesson in this postcard perfect Hawaiian setting:
The hour drive was worth it and not just for the paddle boarding. We got to spend our Saturday like real Hawaiians, who call this place Pokai Bay, and who know how to beach it, family-style. Kids had free rein. They ran all around the small curved beach, laughing, splashing in and out of the water, and jumping off the jetty that protected the gentle cove from rough water. The parents lounged under canopy tents, sipping beers, eating picnic-style food, listening to music that blared out of portable speakers. We took it all in as we sat under the shade of a tree in our own tent eating steamed crawfish and corn on the cob out of plastic bags from a take out place down the road. It was a messy but delicious affair.
The ride back was uneventful so we set off on a longer excursion the following day. We did a little loop over to and down the island’s east coast. As we climbed higher up the Ko’olau Range, Baby K let out more epic wails. We stopped when our tricks, including the pacifier which worked on all the plane rides, failed to calm her. She got the boob and then we were able to make our way via winding quiet roads to the day’s first stop: Kualoa Regional Park. The others snorkeled — some more serious about it than others — while Baby K and I lounged in a shady spot.
No, this is not an extra from Survivor, but that is Mokoli’i (“Little Lizard”) Island behind him.
Just down the road, we took more than our fair share of macadamia nut and Kona coffee samples at Tropical Farms. The free snacks and chance to sit out back and crack open as many macadamia nuts as you want are the obvious draw here. Like all the other tourists, we failed to leave empty-handed, forking over almost $100 for the expensive edibles.
From there we headed south to Kailua. This is Obama’s favorite Hawaiian locale and where Baby K’s grandparents used to live. I could see why they missed it, even though it’s often windy and made the news last year for a shark attack or two. It was quainter and quieter than Waikiki. The beach was bigger, less densely crowded, the water was cleaner and clearer, and the views more picturesque.
We made our way back around dusk, stopping briefly along Highway 72 for a photo-op. I can’t tell you where because while everyone got out to look at the view below, I sat in my assigned seat for the vacation — in the back, next to my girl, entertaining her as always. It was only fair. Why shouldn’t I be forced to stay buckled in when she had to too? If only she had wanted to nurse then. We dealt with whines that turned into wails a short while later as we inched towards Waikiki in slow-moving, heavy traffic.
If we were still in China, I wouldn’t have thought twice about taking her out of her “car seat.” She’s normally tucked securely inside her Lillebaby carrier where she nuzzles against one of us. Sure, it’s a risky way to drive around with an infant, but one we tell ourselves is minimized by using shīfu Zhang. He’s more than earned our trust, and we appreciated him even more when he conveniently upgraded his ride to a pretty plush-by-China-standards Dodge minivan while I was pregnant. He got bonus points in my book for the perfectly purple shade of eggplant he chose.
I missed the flexibility that comes with driving in China on another day on another drive to another destination: Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve. On a stretch of the once again busy Highway 72, Baby K demanded a new diaper by using her only means of communication — loud, angry cries. A bus lane saved us by providing just enough room to pull over and take care of the situation. Changing a diaper in the cramped confines of a back seat was less shitty than the arduous trek from the parking lot to the ticket office and then down to the beach of Hanauma Bay.
Wannabe snorkelers find their way here to float over the protected reef in search of colorful underwater creatures. I’d argue it’s not the most peaceful place to commune with nature. Tourists by the busload come in waves, some leaving bigger wakes than others. From our shaded spot on the beach, Baby K and I watched lifeguards freak out on a group of Chinese tourists who ignored the dozens of warnings (in Mandarin and lots of other languages) to stay off — as in don’t walk — on the protected reef. It was a reminder of our life back in China, one Iggy and I laughed about on the quiet drive home while Baby K slept.
The only other destination we made it to beyond Waikiki was Pearl Harbor. The drive there was the easy part even with a hangry baby and her tired toddler cousin. With two kids in tow, we couldn’t dedicate the time or full attention a historic site like this deserves. A tour that included the Battleship Missouri was out from the get-go. We hurried past interesting displays that in my pre-kid days could have leisurely been read. We barely had a moment to reflect while on the USS Arizona Memorial. This was the sight of our most serious of diaper situations with Baby K — made worse by the no bags policy of the complex. Is she the only baby to finish the tour donning only a diaper (thankfully we had a spare and always, always some wipes)?
By our final car ride back to the airport, Baby K made no complaints. We took it as a win. A hard-fought one like most in our parenting experience. Somehow — how?! — we forgot about all the tears shed in the car seat once we’d returned to China. We patted ourselves on the back for making the most of our first family of three vacation. We got so confident we didn’t give a second thought to planning our next: a three-week road trip on New Zealand’s South Island. More on that stupid decision another time.