21 January 2010

A One Way Ticket to Crazy

The kids and I just returned from a seven week visit to the States. Long visits like this were a promise we made to our parents to try to assuage our guilt about moving to Germany. Paul's German contract promised him six weeks of vacation along with a slew of holidays. A long trip back home would give us more quality time with our families than the occasional weekend visit.

The only way Paul agreed to letting the kids and I go that long was if I was willing to split the difference. So Paul came three weeks in the middle, meaning that I did both flights alone with the kids. I had flown alone with Max once before, and while it was not easy, it was not impossible. When I agreed to doing it with two children, I must have had a momentary lapse of sanity. But what was done, was done, and since we purchased the economy non-refundable, non-changeable tickets, there was no backing out.

Thank God they were direct flights, so I did not have to make a connecting flight by myself. Just like any other day when I am managing the kids by myself, the key to success is organization. So, first I tried to minimize the amount of luggage I was taking with me, which ended up being a car seat and four suitcases, two of which were filled with Christmas presents and other things for friends and family. On the way back, we left the car seat behind, because as it turns out it was only approved for use in the United States anyway, but we picked up a fifth suitcase because the obscene amount of Christmas presents we received for the kids.

Carrying on the flight, I brought only the bare essentials: one diaper bag, one bag of toys, winter coats and trappings for all three of us, as well as necessary restraining devices like the Ergo and the stroller.

The last time Paul and I flew back from the States, we fed Max so much to drink that by the time we reached security his diaper had leaked, and we had no spare set of clothes in our carry on. We ended up running around the airport to try and find him some clothes, and ended up purchasing a tourist sweatshirt four sizes to big, and stuffing him in his sleep sack for the flight.

This time I was careful to monitor both kids liquid intake, check their diapers regularly and bring extra clothes in the diaper bag, just in case. And, it's a good thing considering Maggie had a blow out mid-flight. Getting through security and walking to our connecting flight went fairly well. Max only ran away from me when we were waiting to board the plane.

Another mother looked on sympathetically, and pointing to her teenage son saying, "He use to run away from me all the time." If there is one thing I have learned about trans-Atlantic flights is to depend on the kindness of strangers. I immediately befriended this mother and her children. She had been there before me, and no one can relate to me like another mother. Besides that, her eleven old daughter loves children and babies and could not wait to play with my kids. There were also a slew of other grandmothers on the flight that quickly offered to help me by holding the baby while I rushed to the cramped bathroom to change Max's diaper. I also quickly enlisted the help of a college kid who was sitting next to me to keep an eye on Max when I needed to change Max's diaper.

Max was great for the most part. Yes there was some whining, crying and general disobedience, but it wasn't anything out of the ordinary, or anything I couldn't handle. The only time things got hairy was when Max peeled off, running gleefully up the aisle through business class and straight into first class. I didn't think it was the right thing to yell at him and wake up all the passengers in business and first class, so I followed along as quietly and quickly as I could with Maggie dangling from one arm, using the other arm to try and grab a weaving and dodging Max. It wasn't until we reached the glut of first class flight attendants, that someone intervened, "Ma'am, Ma'am, you can't be up here." As apologetically as I could manage in my somewhat exasperated state, "I know, I'm sorry, he got away from me." The very nice flight attendant grabbed Max's hand and cho-cho trained him back to our seat.

It was on this journey to and back from first class that I noticed that there was a kids movie on one of the channels. When I got Max back into his seat, I tried to find the movie, and when I realized that the channel wasn't working for either my seat or Max's seat, I called for the flight attendant. I should have realized from past experience this call button is completely useless. Either the flight attendants pay absolutely no attention to it, or they just assume that Max is playing with one of the buttons.

So I finally flag down one of the flight attendants, and she tells me that they can't do anything about it until they reset the movies for the next run. The next run comes, and nothing has changed, so I flagged down another attendant. This one tells me, that she can't do anything until they reset the movies for the third run. This time, the desperation starts to creep into my voice, "But I already told one of the other flight attendants this was a problem, it is the only movie appropriate for him."

So, she tells me she will see what she can do, and she comes back to me five minutes later apologizing, saying that she is going to try and reset the movie to another channel for the third run, but she can't do anything until then, because it would disrupt the rest of the passengers movies, and there aren't and other free seats in the airplane. As a conciliation she gives me a postcard of appreciation for my understanding. Great, meantime what am I supposed to do? I know, I'll let Max play with the post card, I'm sure it will entertain him for all of three seconds.

At this point the eleven year old girl comes up and offers to play with the kids in the aisle, and I have a moment of calm. Finally we land, and I know it is only an hour or two before we get through immigration, baggage claim and customs. Max is a champ, the eleven year old girl entertains him while I hunt down a United Airlines porter in the mess of what is Dulles international baggage claim. The porter helps me with my luggage, and gets us through customs quickly to the waiting and very expectant hugs and kisses of grandparents.

Weeks later that postcard of appreciation for my understanding resurfaces, and I visit the United website to claim whatever the voucher is for. Oh fabulous, it is for 10% off any international flight originating in the United States. Too bad, I live in Germany.

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