“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”
Charles Dickens, in A Tale of Two Cities
Three weeks ago, my grandfather was admitted to the hospital. Two days later, surrounded by family and friends singing hymns and sharing memories, he slipped quietly into eternity. My mother, the middle of his three daughters, had been caring for him and my grandmother in her home on the East Coast for the past year.
She called me in tears to share the news and my heart was ready to do whatever she needed from me. Somehow, a mother’s tears have magical motivational properties. At least, my mother’s tears do. They must. Because it turned out she and grandma wanted me to come for the services and bring my four young children across the country. And I agreed. What in the world?
Before really thinking it through, I scoured the internet for some reasonably priced tickets from California to Washington D.C., found a good deal, and purchased them quickly. Only then did I get a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach and visions flashed before my eyes. Airport Security. Busy airports. Bathroom breaks on tiny airplane facilities. Young children sitting for 5 hours on an airplane. Carrying a car seat (with which hand exactly?). Short layovers. Snow storms.
Two days after that, my husband took me and the kids to the airport, helped me check my bags, helped me get everyone to the bathroom and walked me right up to airport security. He could go no further. From now on- for the next 10 days- I would be on my own.
Thankfully, the Lord provided a couple right behind me who were about to become grandparents. Bless them, they helped me wrangle children through security and then carried my car seat to my gate (before it had been wedged in the back seat of my double stroller -I do love my Joovy Caboose!).
I did get a lot of comments from parents taking fewer than four children through the airport: “Wow, you have your hands full!” (Yes, quite literally) and “You are so brave!” (Yes, I heartily agree).
While at the gate, the kids watched the airplanes take off and land, ate snacks, colored, played with their toys, cried for water, tried to go down forbidden stairs and attempted to enter locked doors. Meanwhile, I talked to the airline employees to try to arrange my seats so that I would be sitting by my children. I wasn’t too worried though- I figured even if it didn’t work, once I got on the plane, no one would want the children sitting by anyone but me.
When it was time to board the airplane, a very kind man carried my car seat to the front of the line and then one of the flight crew carried the seat onto the plane for me. The flight attendant worked out all the seating arrangements so that we ended up with one whole row- three seats on one side and three seats on the other- to ourselves. I was very thankful.
X-man and Princess K spent the next 5 hours happily coloring, doing sticker books, and playing with their toys they had in their backpacks. I spent the next 5 hours trying to keep Z-urchin from climbing over the seats and running down the aisle and unbuckling his seat belt when the light was on and trying to keep Shortstop from crying and kicking the seat in front of him. Snacks worked for awhile. Shortstop liked to color. But almost nothing helped Z-urchin for long. I’ve blocked much of those 5 hours from my memory.
What I do remember is crowding Shortstop and Z-urchin into the airplane bathroom when I had to use the restroom. It worked better than I expected. I remember that Shortstop did not take his nap at his normal hour and then when he finally did fall asleep, Z-urchin thoughtfully woke him up so his cries filled the cabin for a short- thankfully- while.
I also remember spending all of those 5 hours worrying about making my next flight. Due to airplane repairs and the snow storm that had hit the East Coast the few days before, my first flight was nearly an hour delayed. My layover in Charlotte was only 1 hour long. The next flight up to D.C. was at 7:30 in the morning. We would arrive in Charlotte at 11 pm. What was I going to do with tired cranky kids in the airport? Certainly not try to go to a hotel for 4 hours. And also I worried about how on earth I was going to get off the plane with four children, four backpacks, four blankets, four coats, a doll, a diaper bag, and a car seat?
The pilot’s voice was finally heard over the loudspeaker, “We are beginning our final descent. Prepare for arrival.” Immediately, Z-urchin takes off down the aisle. He gets halfway up the airplane when I call his name. He looks back and says, “What are you waiting for?”
My answer: “The plane to land, you crazy child.”
Once we touched down, I noticed that would have about 15 minutes to wait for our gate-checked stroller and make it across the airport to our next flight. There was no way we were going to make it. The flight attendants had requested that anyone not trying to make a connection remain seated to let those who were get off the plane first, so I decided to be one of the ones who waited. Me and the four children would only slow everyone down.
So, I took the time to get everyone’s coats on, backpacks on, Shortstop’s monkey backpack leash on, their blankets wrapped around their necks or in their backpacks, and made sure Princess was holding tightly to her doll, Rose. I got Shortstop out of his car seat, put my own backpack on, and then hoisted the car seat upside down over my head. I felt a dusting of cracker crumbs land in my hair and trickle down my back, but I was in a hurry and didn’t even care.
With one hand holding Shortstop’s leash and the other hand holding a diaper bag, I followed my running children (whom I could not see due to the car seat hat that covered my eyes) down the aisle and out of the plane. I was the object of many laughing cheers. I was quite a sight for sure. I would have laughed at me too.
When me, the four children, and all of our junk loaded up on the stroller arrived at the gate, I breathlessly asked, “Where is gate 26?” A very kind pilot surveyed the scene in front of him (cracker crumbs in my hair, children running circles around me, a stroller loaded with carseats, backpacks, and blankets) and took pity on me. He walked me over to the computer screen and directed me to my flight. When he saw what time it was scheduled to leave (only 5 minutes from then), he told me to start running and he would call ahead and see what he could do.
I started running. They held the plane for me. When I boarded the plane, sweaty and out of breath, I was never more thankful in all of my life. I would not have to manage any details with small children trying to escape and I would not have to try to get my children to sleep on airport benches. Praise the Lord!
That second flight was actually much better. For one, it was only an hour. Two, Z-urchin was actually sleepy. He laid down across two seats and dozed. Shortstop was not, but he happily colored on a drawing pad. My other two were happily occupied again. Though my daughter was very loud with her delight at take off. It is like a roller coaster, apparently.
Once we landed and reached the baggage claim, my brother and sister were there to greet- and help- me. My checked bags had not made it, but I didn’t even care because we did. That was a victory right there.
Outside, in the parking lot, there was snow. My two older children squealed with delight as they stomped in the snow, covered by jackets my sister had borrowed for their use. ( We got to play in the snow for the next few days and it was a lot of fun!)
We took two cars to get my brood to my mom’s house. My Grandmother’s delight in seeing her adorable (if I do say so) great-grandchildren- some for the first time- did not wipe the memory of the day away, but it made it worth it.
Stay tuned for the next installment of my Tale of Two Journeys: The Return.