Monday, June 16, 2014

Traveling Alone With Toddlers

I couldn't say goodbye to Paul at the airport. I had to hold it together for the kids and for check in and security and boarding and plastic wrapping car seats and getting four of us and all our luggage into one bathroom stall and not losing anything and everything.

At first I couldn't see him behind the reflections of car rental signs that glowed against the glass partition to the departures lane, but I never doubted he was there. I actually saw Sundar first. He's always there, a little like our shadow, half of the time he is the obedient shadow following along silently, the other, like a cartoon shadow that explodes with activity and dancing while you stand still. He is good and irritating and we couldn't live without him, but we also can't live with him. I can't live without Paul either, for different reasons, of course.

I've never travelled internationally, alone with three children. It was hard enough to do with Paul.

"You are crazy."

"You are brave."

"I would never!"

You've never lived in India before. You've never had to tell your kids they "just can't" when they want to run around outside and play soccer, but not be able to let them because it is so hot that it is dangerous or so filthy that it is impossible. Some days I would walk on hot coals carrying their weight to give them that.

We made it through security and I looked back for Paul, but didn't see him anymore, although I'm sure he was still there. We pressed on through the most dismal international waiting area on earth. There may be prisons with nicer waiting rooms and prisoners with nicer toilets.

We made it on the plane.

The flight was nearly flawless. The kids are expert travelers and with the Lego Movie on repeat in their headrests, I barely heard a peep from them in ten hours. They slept when I asked them to, they snacked when offered and they ordered their own beverages with manners when asked. No one cried.

Except me.

As I watched them sleep and gently help each other get comfortable, situate ear phones and drinks and spread butter on rolls, I wept. Because we are doing this. I am, Paul is, we are as a family.

The food was decent and by the time lunch was served, eight hours in, I was raving about it to the kids like it was a five star restaurant.

"This chicken is AMAZING, you guys! These vegetables taste like my Grandmother's pot roast, they must have been roasting for hours!"

They were. Eight hours to be exact.

The flight attendants were kind and the passengers were, too. They were all Indian. Babies cried, kids ran up and down the aisles (not mine: Lego Movie) and no one glared or sneered or commented. It was as civilized a flight as flying can be.

We exited the plane mid-tarmac. Either the plane was too big for the terminal or they wanted to test my endurance, but they didn't know I'd envisioned every scenario, practiced carrying my bags and my babies in my spare time.

I'd been careful to tie Clem's last paci (the very last one) to the corners of her blanket all day - Brazilian-style - as not to lose it. I slipped her in the Ergo carrier on my back instructed the boys to hold on tight to the railing as we climbed down the stairs toward the bus, a rolling suitcase in each of my hands and my eyes on each of the boys. As our buses hydraulics lifted us back to level,  I looked back to see if Clem was as tickled as the boys by our bus ride, looking first to her tiny hand holding the railing then to her mouth as she peered around my shoulder to see where we were headed. No paci. I searched the floor, but it was gone. We still had nearly two days to go before we reached home.

24 Hours in London

Some people loath "The Stop-Over" saying it is harder than just going straight through. I for one, live and die by the stop over; a bed, real food, a new city, a shower and some fresh air are a few things I'll never say no to.

I passed through customs and gathered our bags again, whizzing our cart through Heathrow with one hand, a baby on my back, the two boys in tow and my camera bag. I was greeted by a tall heavily accented man with a sign reading "Hanna" who was only slightly irritated by the fact that we were late. I worried we were off to a rough start. He zipped us to our nearby hotel and we waited at the concierge desk, just barely hanging on to our pieces that were rapidly falling apart. The boys, being boys after 10 hours of being gentlemen were breaking down. Peter tipped over, landed on his face and burst into tears in the lobby. I tried for the first of a thousand more times to explain to unbelieving onlookers throughout our journey that we'd come all the way from India, we had all the way to America to go. I was by myself. They led us to our room, delivered bottles of water and moments later a knock on the door came with a beautiful, fresh plate of fruit, whole apples, pears, figs, berries and grapes and a hand written apology for Peter slipping in the lobby. They hoped we'd enjoy the rest of our stay. We did.

The first order of business after a shower, of course was finding a new pacifier and some food. Located nearby and just within walking distance was a McDonalds, an accidental stopover tradition. After learning that a pacifier was called a "dummy" through a series of hilarious exchanges we consulted the hotel gift shop, where the shop keeper called the next girl on shift and arranged for her to have a pacifier delivered from the "chemist." I wanted to go on my own, but unfortunately, a cab ride to town from our hotel near the airport was nearly a $100 and further than my weary travelers could sit. My dreamy waltz about London and the kids playing in Princess Diana's memorial playground were thwarted we headed back to the room and waited.

We watched tv and were all sound asleep by 6pm, no pacifier needed. In the morning we picked up the "dummy" and it was not at all what Clementine had in mind. I took a deep breath and sucked it up for my fate: 13 more hours in flight. I'd already made it this far, too far to go back, to close to not go on.

We ate an "English Breakfast" at the hotel restaurant, I still don't quite know how that differs from an American breakfast, but I still don't care. I made sure to eat porridge, beans and toast to try to round out my very exhausted upon expectations of our 24 hours in London with rumors of classic foods from friends around the globe.

After a few rounds of bacon and eggs I let the kids run up and down the empty halls of the conference wing to burn off as much energy as possible as the hours ticked away, but we'd been up since 4:00 and it was only 7:00am.

They were still brimming with energy and our 11:00 shuttle was hours away. We grabbed a coffee at the lobby Starbucks. Yes, I said "Lobby Starbucks." Paul is the best husband and father in the world and even when we are to be away from him, he makes sure our journeys are laden with Starbucks and reminders of him, notes in suitcases, pre-delivered diapers, wipes and toys to Ma and Grandad's house. He made sure I was hand delivered to Starbucks upon arrival.

We are the Hannas though, and we don't just kill time, we find adventure, so I Googled a nearby park and we set out on foot to find it, despite the wary looks of the concierge I consulted. We wandered through magical, yet I'm sure, incredibly suburban, English neighborhoods, rose gardens, vintage cars, double decker buses and grassy pathways. When the boys were just about to give up, I spied the park amidst a circle of houses. Our oasis. 

We spotted a speckled blue egg and pondered it's recently departed resident and examined the shell. The boys pointed behind me yelling "Brazil! Brazil!" and I whipped my head around to see a neighboring window draped in a Brazilian flag. A little park we were meant to find.

We walked leisurely back to the hotel, hand in hand, balancing on curbs, singing songs and learning all we could about London from clues along the way.

When we arrived back to our temporary home, I indulged the kids with an hour of cartoons and room serviced their favorite snacks while I finished packing and desperately breathed through ten sun salutations outside the bathroom door. The shuttle arrived on time and we were off to Heathrow once again.

A kind ticket agent took pity on us, an all but unheard of event these days, we breezed through their finely designed security checkpoint and we hit the gate. A few calls to Paul on her tiny tupperware gummi-bears box and we were boarded up and on the next "long flight" home. Long long flight home.

The first half an hour in the air was a little rocky. Clem was exhausted and had been up since 4:00am and burst into tears and gagging and general fake death. I was beginning to panic, but knew she'd pass out as soon as she settled down or worked it out. After a few uncalled for comments from a couple of snotty flight attendants I knew, despite my lack of concern, that I was in fact on the correct plane back to America. Ahem. No not ahem. Shame on you America for hating children. Children are our future and lest I burst into song right here or on any other future flight, you were all once children and you navigated these same confusing moments and you grew up and someone was tender and gentle with you and if they weren't then I'm sorry, but get a grip. I retreated to the bathroom with her, where I myself burst into tears, thus apparently (note to future self) signaling a problem to Clementine and she stopped. STOPPED. We wiped our eyes and returned to our seats.

Clem fell asleep and so did Sam and Peter and they all slept for the remaining nine hours of a ten hour flight. I watched half of three horrible movies and stared at my kids again, because they are amazing and they already have more tact and love and tolerance inside of them at two, four and six than most of our attending flight attendants and that makes me sad and happy and I may have cried a time or two then also.

We landed in Phoenix. We survived customs #2 and rechecked our bags, re-securitied our belongings re-tied our shoes and nabbed some pizza before part three to Spokane. Clementine slept the entire three hours. Peter and Sam entertained a gentlemen in the seat next to them with laughter and kid conversation. When asked where we were from Peter replied, "America." I contemplated for a moment to explain to the boys quizzical seat-mate, but slumped back into my seat and smiled. On any of the previous 20+ hours in flight 24 hours in London or 6 months in India, that would have been a perfectly acceptable answer.

We're home now and after a brutal week of jet lag are loving every minute of the fresh air, soft green grass and familiar faces.

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