Bringing the baby
(or taking the tot)
to San Francisco

by Jane Turner Goldsmith

If you have a partner who is always off to conferences in thrilling locations, why not accompany him to the next one – and bring the baby. I wasn’t going to be left out this time, not even with our fourteen month-old, and not when San Francisco was the venue. After all, we had managed London and Paris en route to our temporary home in Toronto, made enough friends there to be able to leave the older boys (aged nine and eleven) for six days and, well, it was just not likely that I was going to be in North America again for a while. So we checked airline points (not quite enough) and credit card limits (enough) and booked, rather, I booked, waving aside (OK, reasoned) arguments about the hassles of babysitting availability and costs, the floundering Australian dollar (a pitiful 50 against the greenback at the time), conference dinners I would find boring, and so on and on.

And so we took off! The plane didn’t explode on take off or crash land (always a fear) and for six whole days there was no seismic activity, at least none reported, in San Francisco. I felt guilty for a whole 24 hours about leaving the older boys but reminded myself that at nine and eleven, when scooter-wheeling and downloading stuff from the internet are the reigning passions, the presence or lack of nurturer/conciliator/juggler was hardly going to occupy too much of their worrying time.

And we had a ball, it was just such fun that I now think everyone should try it. Here are a few of my tips in case you are teetering over the decision line. But first, a disclaimer: if you feel tight-chested at the mere suggestion of a change in routine, for either you or the baby, maybe reconsider this invitation. The baby won’t sleep at her normal times, so you won’t be able to conveniently go out shopping while your partner skips conference workshops. Go with the expectation that she won’t nap at all, then you’ll be pleasantly surprised if she gives you a twenty minute break. (On the other hand, if you are routine-obsessed, maybe this will be good therapy, either way, just go).

  • The baby won’t sleep in, so forget the chic, recently refurbished intimate little art-deco place in a quiet part of town in the hope of a lie-in in the morning. Your partner will be too pre-occupied anyway, too. Go for decent in a central part of town so you can walk everywhere. The one we stayed in was not five star, but it was clean, the staff were helpful and we had a great breakfast thrown in – with porridge and bananas for Jack, which alone almost made it worth our staying there. That is, once we changed from the room on the street across from the karaoke bar and the cable car stop (cable cars jingle and clang).
  • It might sound obvious, but bring food – however ideologically opposed you might be to baby food in jars, if your baby tolerates them, chances are he’ll tolerate them better than the nearest fast food equivalent, which in our case was dried out pizza or greasy hotdog. I neglected to pack jars of baby food thinking I could easily pick them up, but of course in the centre of the city you just can’t find supermarkets, and even if you want to spend half a day finding one, they won’t have the varieties you and he like.
  • If you can afford it, obviously, go for the hotel with all the frills so you can heat up her milk in the microwave, store her half-finished pot of yoghurt in the mini-bar and call room service when you’re exhausted. But most of us on a budget will have to finesse the tricks of asking for a room near the dining room (given that they have at least something) and making friends with the (usually very friendly) kitchen staff (make sure your baby is at her most charming). Then you can store your jars of nutritionally-adequate baby food you’ve trekked miles to find in their fridge and borrow their microwave when you need it.
  • How are you going to transport the bundle? We discovered that you can’t take a pusher-strapped child onto a bus in San Francisco. You have to take out your writhing, wriggling baby, fold up the pusher (one-handed, if your partner is presenting his paper that morning), struggle up the steps, pusher under one arm, child under the other, unroll your one dollar bill - exact change only - with your third hand, place it right side up on the ticket dispenser or it won’t slide into the machine, and finally move on back through the bus, crowded as it will be with a fantastic assortment of faces totally unlike the ones you will see at home. So,yes, go on the buses, it’s fun, but get a back pack for the baby! The same goes for riding those famous cable cars, only the conductors are more used to tourists and make a little more effort (“Make way! Lady coming through with a baby!”).
  • Pushers are of course still the best way to promenade around the many fascinating neighbourhoods of San Francisco, to go shopping at Macy’s or to browse those monolithic museums called Saks on Fifth Avenue or Tiffany’s. With a pusher you just have to entreat others (usually there are plenty of willing volunteers) to help carry your little one, rajah style, up or down uncompromising stairways or through stubborn shop doors which insist on closing back on you.
  • Combine your interests and your baby’s. In San Francisco there are plenty of opportunities for this, though you have to hunt them down – a children’s playground in the middle of Chinatown, a modern, almost futuristic play space at the new redevelopment right in the downtown known as the Yerba Buena gardens. The latter is set against a spectacular backdrop of skyscrapers, old and new (there’s a waterfall and memorial to Martin Luther King here too). Take him to the Museum of Modern Art – there will always be something for both of you to laugh at; huge murals, peculiar sculptures, recognisable figures and objects in otherwise unrecognisable forms of art (his responses will probably give you some insight). Talk to people in the playgrounds and get tips on places to go that will suit everyone.
  • Go out for dinner. Yes! You can. Work out approximately what time he is going to be so exhausted that he will sleep through anything, even if it is ten o’clock in the evening, and then go. We managed to get to three wonderful restaurants (do your homework on these too), both as a threesome and with the (not-so-boring) conference crowd. By all means, go ahead and find out about babysitting (easier said than done, but you can look in the yellow pages). But when it comes to the crunch, are you really going to leave him with a stranger in a big city, albeit screened and checked, and pay more than $A100 for the privilege?
  • Go for a bike ride. If your baby isn’t used to it, this will be a bit riskier, but we hired bikes with a free seat and helmet for the baby, rode around the bay taking in views of Alcatraz in the distance (a glorious clear blue winter day), crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and dropped in to a great discovery museum for kids aged between 1 and 8 years – perfect for him. The baby had so much fun he fell asleep for most of the remainder of the trip around to Sausalito and Tiburon– two gorgeous little coastal towns where you can sit at little bakeries eating clam chowder and looking out through the marina and across the ocean back at the skyline of San Francisco. There was something for everyone – pigeons and seagulls for Jack to watch and chase, fantastic Austrian pastries or a beer if you preferred.
  • Walk – and push - around the neighbourhoods – not only Chinatown and the Bay area but “Little Italy” in the North Beach area has the best coffees, and the Haight/Ashbury area with its adjacent parks is great for bookshops, and seventies nostalgia. I took a walking tour around Victorian San Francisco and saw some beautiful architectural survivors of the 1906 earthquake. We ended up in Union street, a great one for browsing and shopping, with toy shops, teddy bear shops and home shops (with children’s furniture and accessories) to entertain the baby while I checked out the San Francisco interior decorating scene.
  • Go on an elevator ride somewhere – even if you come straight back down again, the view from the cocktail bar at the Grand Hyatt can help you pretend that you will come back and stay there one day (maybe without the tot?).
  • Just go!


© Jane Turner Goldsmith

“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*

I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.

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* Gloria Steinem