Saturday, July 4, 2009

Getting There Is Less Than Half The Fun

We had a four-hour flight from Atlanta to Los Angeles, then a three-hour wait at LAX, then a 14 hour flight to Sydney. It was more difficult than I thought it would be, but not in the ways I expected.

Here's what went right:

  • I had good plane activities for Hank. I figured that now that he's three, we wouldn't be in for the potential nightmare that traveling with a younger toddler could be. I knew he could be reasoned with (mostly) and that he wouldn't wail the whole time or kick the seat in front of him. In my tote bag, I packed a few flap books for him that he'd never seen. I learned when Laura was little that regular books are nice for toddlers, but flap books, or books with something extra for them to manipulate, like stickers, are even better.

    I had two little Transformer robots that I bought just for this trip, and I didn't let him get his hands on them 'til he was strapped in his airplane seat. A smashing success--he played with them continually.

    I had also sprung for a new portable DVD player, because neither of our laptop batteries can go the distance. I got Hank and Laura each a set of child-sized headphones, because I learned the hard way once that the little earbuds they give out on the plane will not fit in a kid's ears.

    Finally, I had some snacks and candy, as a last-resort child-muting device. As it happened, we barely touched the candy.

  • Both kids did great and behaved wonderfully. At age 8, traveling with Laura is like traveling with another adult. She totes her own carry-on, reads a book on the plane, takes herself to the bathroom, and puts up with Hank's feet in her lap or in her space. She whined and complained less than I did.

  • Both kids slept about half of the long flight. Actually they were both asleep before we got off the ground in LA. Hank is small enough that he could lean over, put his head in my lap, poke his feet a little into Laura's seat, and zonk out. Laura made a stack of pillows on her armrest and snoozed her way west.
What did not go so great:

  • We started this journey with Matt sick. Actually, he's still not back to normal. You may recall that early last week I was on my own with the kids while he went to California for work. He had a good trip but arrived home at 3am Thursday morning, exhausted, with a little cough. This blossomed into a full-blown respiratory infection, with coughing and fatigue. Swine flu? I don't know. But by the time we were setting off on Friday afternoon, he was in bad shape. It meant that he wasn't really able to do his share of the parenting logistics, locomotion, and kid-management. In the airport, every time I would leave him to take the kids to the bathroom or something, when I came back he'd be sitting on the floor, leaning against the wall with his eyes closed. That is not normal. And here he is at our gate in LA. That's not normal either.

  • We were misdirected in LA, causing us to walk all over creation with increasingly tired kids and a barely functioning Matt. The dude at our check-in in Atlanta said, "When you get to LA, you'll have to go check in with Air New Zealand for your flight to Sydney. You'll come out of the Delta terminal and go to the left." So we made our way to the Air New Zealand check-in, and they had no knowledge of our reservation. The dudes finally figured out that our flight was actually operated by United, even though it said it was ANZ, so we needed to go check in with United. They told me that if I had read my itinerary more closely, I would have known that, but I swear to the Lord, it only said "Air New Zealand."

    So, if the airport were a clock face, we arrived at the 2, and walked to the 5 to check with Air New Zealand, and were then told we needed to go back to the 12. To the kids' bodies, it was about 1am when we got that news, and it was all Matt could do to stay upright. A couple of times, Matt broached the idea of just staying overnight in a hotel and flying out the next day. He was just looking for an escape hatch, he was feeling that bad. I told him that if he could just get himself to the gate, I would do everything else.

    When we were almost back to where we needed to be, Hank complained of blisters on his feet. His crocs had rubbed both feet raw, so I started carrying him. When we got into the check-in line, I took his shoes off of him and let him go barefoot. So yes, I was the person in the airport with the barefoot child. I was just thrilled he wasn't having a meltdown, because he was pale with tiredness. When the self check-in didn't work for us, even though they told us we HAD to start in that line (I hate air travel now), a really assholish guy told us that he couldn't help us and we had to get in another line, the line for people with special problems. I moved my sick and exhausted brood into the other line, the line of the damned, and my generally positive attitude began to crumble. Normally, I am all buoyancy and flexibility when in transit, but for a moment I understood how those passengers on the reality show about the airline wind up screaming and having to be restrained by airport security. I just thought, "Um, this is really hard."

    But we just kept on chugging. The barefoot Hank sat on the floor and played with his robots, scooting forward in line when I told him, Matt remained vertical, and Laura hung in there. Then somehow we all kept chugging through security, then we made it to our gate and Matt grabbed a nap. It is crazy, but the getting on the plane to start a fourteen-hour flight actually seemed like a relief. At least it meant we were all in the right place and could stay there a while.

  • I never really got to sleep on the flight. It's just not that easy to sleep sitting up, even with a magical neck pillow. Hank fell asleep with his head on my lap, and you know how it is when you want one of your kids to sleep at all costs, even if it means you have to stand on your eyebrow and hold your breath. I just didn't want to disturb him much, and then when they turned off the cabin lights, they left the big video screen on. That thing was so damn bright that it was boring a hole in my skull. I felt around as best I could. I didn't have anything I could use for an blindfold. I felt my pocket, and remembered that when I had changed Hank into a pull-up before boarding, I'd stuffed his underwear into my pocket. I was desperate, people. So that's how I found out that his underwear won't fit over my head. Or they did fit, but the waistband was uncomfortably tight over the bridge of my nose.

  • Early in our day, I let Matt put a bag of leftover garlic bread from Sbarro into my purse. Ladies, do not let someone put leftover garlic bread into your purse. The entire trip, whenever I opened my purse for anything, a noxious cloud of garlic wafted out for the enjoyment of those around me. I share this so that others may be spared.

But you know what? We made it. Matt had an empty seat next to him, and I relieved him of parenting duties for the duration of the flight. I think he slept okay. And we all got here. Of course, I lied on our health declaration forms, because I was afraid that customs would quarantine all of us. And indeed, since we've been here, the rest of us have come down with Matt's affliction, and we brought the Black Death to Amy and her family. They're so happy we're here! But all is well, and next I'll start sharing some of the sights.

Happy Fourth of July, y'all! I hope you have a great weekend. Strangely, the holiday is not such a big deal here.


Coffee with Cathy said...

Becky -- Oh my goodness! Bless y'all's hearts. So glad you got through all that -- hope you all start to feel better soon so you can enjoy your trip. Thanks so much for keeping us updated. Can't wait to read more.

Bex said...

its a good thing you are such a strong woman. i was waiting for you having to carry matt, hank AND laura!

i cracked up about the standing on your eyebrow comment, so true!

as for your kid running around the airport barefoot: i think that's one of those before you have kids things that just takes a while to let go of. you know? you are single, you see that kid and think, "my child will NEVER be allowed to do that." and you hold on to that dream for what, 8 years? for me, it took much less. my children are almost always running around the airport barefoot. there are bigger fish to fry when you travel with family.

but i am so proud of hank for doing so well on the flights! woo hoo!

Maggie said...

I would have paid huge amounts of money to see Hank's undies on your head!! I do, however, remember what it is like to do a LONG flight with kids. My kids would be airsick the entire time, what a joy. I hope that yall have a wonderful time and I hope everyone is feeling better. Hugs to all.

Sara said...

Sheesh! I don't know how you did it!
I liked the image of you wearing a pullup on your head...You are so right about not waking a sleeping child!
Sorry to hear about your garlic purse.
Happy 4th!

Michele said...

Goodness, that was quite an adventure. Hopefully the flight home will be so much less trouble. Try having a good time. Post pics, please!

kathy said...

Becky, our trip going to Australia was pretty smooth. However, the trip back was what I would classify as hellish! So hopefully the reverse will be true for you. Matt's recovery alone should help the return trip be smoother. I know you're enjoying the sights, weather,and great family time. Keep us posted on all the Down Under happenings.

Bren said...

My fear of air travel has nothing to do with the possibility of crashing. It's a fear of massive inconvenience. I'm totally serious. It's not such an irrational fear, is it?

Jane said...

Wow. That is some Supermom story! Have a happy 4th, and here's hoping your trip back goes a bit smoother!

Cassie said...

Oh Becky... what a trip. I hope you guys feel better soon. if you can get your hands on some Umcka the stuff is like a miracle. I'm praying that your travels home will be smooth.

Bren... I agree with you 100%.

Casey said...

I'm so envious that your kids are old enough to be entertained through the flight. We haven't traveled since Graham was 6 months old because I KNOW it'll be hell but I can't wait until they're old enough to go see family up north.

I'm sorry your brood is all sick, that must have made it ten times worth. Airport people are either really nice or blatant assholes, never somewhere in the middle. Sorry you got stuck with an ahole.

The Dental Maven said...

Sounds glorious. And I'm sure ya'll can't wait to queue up and do it all in reverse for the return trip!

Hope you all recover and have a great time down unda!

Scott said...

The biggest contrast in LAX and Sydney's airport (and between the US and Australia) is how friendly everyone is. Everyone we encountered in Sydney (airport and otherwise) were more than happy to accommodate us with nary a snarl or ahole comment. Quite refreshing.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad that you got there in the end. I think the decision not to stay in a hotel and fly the next day was the right one - think of all the extra hassle that would have been.

I'll try and remember not to put garlic bread in my handbag. Thanks for the tip.