Sunday, February 20, 2011

No Place Like Home

I just go back from a trip to Phoenix, AZ where I traveled alone with the kids to visit family.  Talk about fodder for a blog about being a mom...yikes.

We started off last Thursday morning.  We had to leave the house by 7 a.m.  We had to drive to my mom's, who lives near the airport, and have her drive us in the minivan to the airport and then park the van at her place for the next 6 days.  This way, Tom could take the train to my mom's house, which is walking distance from the train station and then pick us up with the minivan when we returned.  Why the elaborate "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" scenario?  Well, let me break it down:
1) Taking a limo 40 miles is expensive, assuming you can find one that provides car seats, which they charge extra for.
2) The same goes for a cab.
3) Parking at the airport is frickin' expensive, unless you do remote parking and schlepping two kids on the monorail from remote parking would add just one extra step to an already potentially exhausting day of schlepping.

OK, leg one complete.  We pull up, put kids in Sit-and-Stand stroller, and get our luggage checked.  Miraculously, we only needed one suitcase and it came in under the 50 lb. limit...but just barely weighing in at 47.5 lbs.

With one less heavy item to lug, we make our way to security.  This is one of the most challenging aspects of traveling alone.  Luckily, I had already done this once before.  On our trip to Disney World in the September, I had taken the kids through security by myself while Tom parked the car in remote parking and met us at the gate.

So, here's what has to happen.  Step one; remove carry-on bag from the stroller handle that happens to weigh more then Colin.  How do I know this?  I learned the hard way when I put it on the stroller before putting Colin in and it tipped the stroller.  Then remove every one's shoes, jackets, laptop, cell phone and put in appropriate bins.  The last thing I do is remove Colin from the stroller to avoid having him run off.  Luckily friendly stranger number one has already stepped in and asked how he could help.  I took advantage of this and asked the man behind us to simply hold his hand and make sure he didn't run off.  From there I folded up the Sit-and-Stand and put it on the conveyor belt to be scanned along with a Princess wheelie backpack, my purse, the 35+ lb. carry-on and 3 bins full of miscellaneous shoes, jackets and electronic devices.  They even had to scan "Bubba," which caused a slight temper tantrum.  All the TSA workers and surrounding travelers stood at the other end of the X-Ray machine waiting for it to give birth to "Bubba" and we all cheered as he was reunited with Colin.

On to the gate.  Luckily we didn't have far to go and we got there with plenty of time to spare.  Next priority is to get Colin some breakfast and coffee for me. I had already given him a cereal bar and banana en route to the gate, but an oatmeal cookie rounded out the meal nicely and Maddie scored a chocolate chip cookie too.

It turns out that despite the fact I picked our seats out when I booked our flight online, our tickets show that Maddie is sitting in the back of the plane while Colin and I are in row 6.  The same thing happened the last time we flew.  I went to the ticket counter and they said the flight was full and there wasn't much they could do.  So, for those of you without children who have ever been approached by a frantic mother on a flight to switch seats, have a heart and switch with her.  She may look like a crazed lunatic who is far too frazzled to be organized and book her seats properly, but I can assure, it is likely the airline's fault.  OK, said my peace.  Luckily they were able to seat us the last row.

I let Colin out of the stroller to run around the gate for a while, knowing he would be strapped down for the next 4 hours on the plane.  He drove his cars around on the ground, watched the planes and crawled under the seats where he managed to find a peanut M&M, which he promptly put into his mouth.  I was able to sweep it out, but pretty sure the damage was already done.  Then he made sure he licked the window just to make sure he got his daily allowance of germs.

OK, time to board the plane.  Everyone and everything is loaded on my semi-tractor trailer (AKA the stroller) and we head to the plane.  We get to the end of the Jetway where I have to unload the kids and stuff one more time.  Two women behind me offer to help.  They were both moms, so they understood what I needed. I tell the best thing they can do is make sure Colin doesn't run off while I fold up the stroller and gather our stuff.  The one learned very quickly why I asked this of her as Colin started to run towards the plane ahead of me.  She looked at me seeking my permission to touch him and I just said, "Go ahead and GRAB HIM!" She smiled and managed to get a hold of him before Colin could fly us to China.

We board the plane and as we walk down the aisle all the way to the back and Colin tests out every seat along the way and almost ends up in the lap of a guy in First Class to get a peek out the window.  I tell Colin we didn't pay for First Class and have to head the cheap seats.

We get settled in our seats and I begin by apologizing to the man who is fortunate to be sharing our row.  He assures me it will be fine and promptly puts his iPod earbuds in.

We haven't even left the gate and Maddie asks if we are flying yet.  She asks this approximately 15 more times before we actually take off.  Finally we are in the air and I can turn on the sacred portable DVD player.  Colin is not 2 yet, so I don't have to buy him a ticket, but that means he gets to sit on my lap for the next 4 hours.  After a few alligator rolls on my lap, I situate him between Maddie and I and they watch their movies.  The other key to having them behave is to continuously feed them.  They dined on cereal bars, Goldfish, fruit strips, pretzels, suckers, M&Ms and Colin ate half of my sandwich.  After a major carb load and nowhere to burn it off, they settled into a nice food coma and they didn't make a peep for the rest of the flight.

I kept thinking Colin had a dirty diaper, but realized it was just the smell coming from restrooms we were practically sitting in. I did have to maneuver the bathroom with both kids at one point to change Colin and make sure Maddie went potty too.  I wish I had a video of that because I still can't believe I was able to change him, have Maddie go and then go myself and wash our hands without someone getting sucked into the "Wild Blue Water."  I did have to send Maddie out of the bathroom before us so I could flush since she is afraid of loud noises.

After asking 347 times "Are we there yet?" we finally landed and now it was time to get off the plane.  We waited 15 minutes to exit and then it was time to get the stroller, load it up and head for baggage claim to get our suitcase.  I promptly went to the gift shop and bought Maddie a stuffed animal and Colin a toy plane for being so good on the plane.

From there we had to get on a shuttle bus to go to the rental car depot located 2 miles from the actual airport.  Again, I had extremely nice people assist me in getting Colin out of the stroller once again, loading the luggage and said stroller and make sure Colin didn't run away.

A woman on the bus was traveling with her husband and two young children and essentially told me I was crazy.  Oh well. What doesn't kill ya makes you stronger, right?  Unfortunately, my trip was only beginning and there was still a good chance it would kill me.  Right before we got off the shuttle I found a penny, heads side up, and had Maddie pick it up.  There may be hope after all.

We get to the car rental depot and just for effect, will mention that I had to unload the kids and all of our luggage and stroller and load everyone and everything in it and on it while dragging my 47.5 lb. suitcase.  The Hertz counter has a line a mile long and Colin has now fallen asleep in the stroller.  Suddenly a Hertz employee approaches me and asks if I am traveling alone.  After I tell her I am, she leads me to the elevator downstairs, takes my credit card and driver's license and goes ahead of another line of about 10 people and checks me in immediately.  Afterwards she hands me my paperwork and points to the brand new Camry with both car seats sitting next to the car that is only steps away from where I am standing.  I was expecting to have hoist two car seats off of a giant rack and then schlep them 14 rows to get to my car like we had to do in Orlando.  Lucky penny?  Travel Gods looking down on me?  Whatever the case may be, I almost cried and hugged this woman.  Once I installed the car seats, we were on our way.  We arrived at my brother's house 25 minutes later. 

At this point, I had been traveling since 7 a.m. and it was now 3:20 p.m. Mountain time.  I've been traveling for over 9 hours.

I have to admit; I had a little bit of anxiety about how the kids would adjust to being off schedule for the next 6 days.  I am somewhat addicted to routine and having the kids veer from their normal sleeping and eating schedules gave me the hives.  The first day, both kids napped for no more than a half hour and since we were all sleeping in the same bed, and Colin normally sleeps in a crib, the first night of sleep was "interesting."  We survived, but were slightly sleep deprived in the morning.  Between lack of naps and a poor night sleep, it took several days for the kids to adjust.  Luckily they still fared pretty well and Colin only got thrown out of the gym daycare once for being super crabby, out-of-sorts and hitting other kids.  (Yes, I was fortunate enough to find a Lifetime Fitness in the town my brother lives in and yes, I did workout while I was on vacation.)

After 6 days of hanging with family and soaking up some sun and enjoying 78-degree temperatures, it was time to head home.  I started to get anxious the night before as I began to pack.  Collecting all of the "paraphernalia" including baby monitors, stuffed animals, shoes, blankets along with the idea of setting out to do the whole trip home was enough to give me a panic attack.  I am shocked I actually slept that night, but I think I was so tired from worrying I managed a respectable 6.5 hours of sleep.

As I was packing, I realized that I forgot to bring something very important on this trip, my Ruby Slippers.  All I wanted to do at this point was click my heals three times and say, "There's no place like home, there's no place like home, there's no place like home." 

I collected all of our belongings and headed off to the airport at 7 a.m. and ended up hitting traffic due to an accident on the freeway.  I was stressed to the max knowing that once I got to the airport, I would have to go through the whole rental car return followed by a 2 mile shuttle ride before I could even check in.  Luckily nice stranger number 6 stepped in. He said he had 3 kids and simply asked, "What do you need me to do to help you."  I put him in charge of making sure Colin didn't run in front of a bus.  He simply said, "Alright, guys let's go!"  When I got on the bus he had Colin on his lap and Maddie sitting quietly next to him like he was long lost Uncle Joe.

By the time we got to the ticket counter, I only had 1 hour and 10 minutes before my flight left.  With 25 people in line at the ticket counter and my inability to weave throughout the serpentine line with my Mac Truck of a stroller, 47.5 lb. suitcase, princess backpack, purse etc., I sought out a U.S. Airways worker.  She looked at me like I had 7 heads, but sent me to a line with two people in it.  Unfortunately for me, one of those people was moving to Poland with her 18 month old daughter and was checking 3 gigantic bags, a car seat, stroller and had also failed to realize that despite she was a lap child, she had to pay 10% of the ticket for an International flight.  The other person in front of me was paying to check his bags in Pesos.

At this point, I had 9 minutes to check in and I frantically looked around for someone to help me.  I saw a U.S. Airways employee directing people in the regular line that had I weaved through, I would already be checked in.  I told the man my situation and said I didn't realize I had been put in the International line.  He gave me a dirty look and said, "You weren't put in the International line. You were put in that line because you have too much CRAP."  The only response I could manage was, "I have two kids. What do you want me to do?"  From there I burst into tears.  The man snatched my credit card and driver's license from me and went to the computer.  I grabbed my stuff and tearfully made my way to the counter.  I managed to call the guy an asshole to the nun in line behind me.  Oops.  Although I am pretty sure she would agree.  Maddie saw me crying and then she started crying and wanted to know what was wrong.  At this point Mr. Asshole didn't know what to say especially after his coworker explained why the line was moving so slowly and that most of the "crap" he assumed was mine, actually belonged to the woman in front of me going to Poland.  A couple who was also traveling with a young child stopped me and said they heard what the guy had said to me and filed a complaint for me.  I got my tickets and my belongings and trucked off to security. 

Shoes off.  Stroller unloaded and folded.  Nice women behind me helped control Colin.  Sippy cups tested for potentially lethal skim milk and we made it through security.  We got to the gate with just enough time to hit the potty and grab some food for the plane ride.  We started down the Jetway and were greeted by a flight attendant.  She asked if I was "Mrs. Stein."  At that point I chose not to correct her and just said "yes."  She said she had heard we had a hard time checking in.  I was waiting for her to upgrade us to First Class, but all she could offer were stupid stories about her four boys and how poorly they behaved.  Little did she know my kids misbehaving was not an issue, it was the Asshole at the ticket counter who misbehaved. 

The only thing they did was let the kids in the cockpit to meet the pilot and Colin promptly pushed every button he could.  They told me to get my camera and take a picture of him sitting in the captain' seat.  Really?  You expect me to dig through my bags right now and find my camera for this photo op?  I managed to find my phone and got a picture.  After 10 annoyed people behind me made their way around my stuff to get to their seat, I just wanted to sit down.  We made our way to the LAST row.  I could tell all the people watching us board were hoping and praying we weren't sitting next to them.

We finally sat down, took off and I happily turned on a movie for the kids.  Colin fell asleep and I read my People magazine.  Three-in-a-half short hours later we landed and I was never so relieved to see my minivan pull up outside.  More importantly, I have never been so relieved to see my husband. 

So, we survived.  All I can say is thank God for portable DVD players, M&Ms and the kindness of strangers, especially one's with kids who didn't hesitate to lend a hand.  I wish I could say the same for the U.S Airways employees who will prevent me from ever flying their airline again. 

1 comment:

  1. Hi! Stopping by from MBC. Great blog.
    Have a nice day!