Saturday, February 27, 2016

How to Achieve Enlightenment at an Airport with Children

The kids and I recently went to New York to visit my sister and my nephew. We had a marvelous time and tortured all of facebook with our million pictures. We saw all the things. We did all the stuff. We spent all the money. We touristed and ate and played and it was glorious.

The story I’m going to tell now is not about the glories of a fun NY vacation, however. It’s about the glories of airport travel. It was an experience. It was an adventure. I am enlightened and transcendent. 

Leaving Denver on a sunny Tuesday afternoon in February, I naively anticipated a smooth flight. We dutifully got to the airport two hours early, like 8am-ish, and got through security and to our gate at 9am with over an hour to spare before boarding. My lovely children, almost 7 and 5-1/2 years old, were pleasant and cheerful and well-behaved as they drew pictures in their notebooks while we waited. 

Fast-forward five hours. Yes, five. I guess weather on the east coast was effing everything up. At 2pm we finally boarded. 6pm we finally landed (8pm EST, mind you). SO. Not only did I have to entertain two kids for *five* hours in the airport, but another 4 hours on the plane—because, of course, we had to chill on the runway for extra time, for funsies. SOOOO. 10 hour day for what should have been a 3 hour flight.

And no m-f-ing iPad.
We colored and drew pictures and read books. On actual paper, people. Like barbarians. 

And yeah, DUH we sat at a bar for a couple hours and got lunch. And drinks. At 10am. I tried the "Manmosa". And a beer. But the best part was that my kids were freaking delightful ANGELS and we made it to LaGuardia intact (and they gave me a Bailey's and coffee for free on the plane!).

The pickup area was another story. I struggled to hold on to both kids while dragging a 50-pound rolly bag with two car seats unsteadily stacked on top, though lane after lane of jumbled cars, taxis, and shuttles amid nonstop frenzied honking. We were all wide-eyed as I pressed my phone between my face and shoulder, attempting to talk to my sister about where the eff she was as I looked wildly about for her car, clutching the kids’ puffy coats as best I could and barking ferociously for them to pay attention and stay RIGHT BY ME. It was the very definition of chaos. 

Then of course every parent knows the joys of installing a car seat. Try installing two, in the dark, in a car that is too small, in the middle of that pandemonium…trying to keep kids out of traffic before getting in the car, bearing in mind that we were totally blocking one of the lanes. I hardly even hugged my sister and nephew when we found them, and when I finally sat in the passenger seat with all kids safely in the back (okay, somewhat safely—I may not have installed them to the highest safety standards), I was ready for a stiff drink. Or five.

A week and half later after our wonderful visit and tearful goodbyes, I was foolishly optimistic about the rainy weather and our ability to fly through it on time. 

We left her house around 2pm on a wet, windy Wednesday. At that point our flight had a fifteen minute delay. No big deal. Doing anything with my sister means we’re always running late anyway. Later on that fifteen minutes turned in to 2-1/2 hours. Hmm. Deep breath. Still no big deal. We are pros. We spent five hours at DIA we can spend a few at LGA. Soon it became 4 hours. Deep breath. It’s out of my control. Inner peace. We got some airport snacks. We sat on the floor around an outlet to charge my phone. We drew, we colored, we read books. My daughter sang “One Fish Two Fish” to the whole airport and leapt and twirled with abandon around countless strangers. We did yoga. I made my son do some homework. We read. We painted our nails. 

THEN it became a 5-hour delay. We took it in stride. Breathe in, breathe out. At that point we wouldn’t be getting to Denver until midnight. I kept it together. The kids kept it together. We went to get dinner at the one little restaurant in that terminal that had tables. It was standing room only, but a nice man at one little table took pity on us and gave up his spot. I ordered a $12 German beer and did not regret it. When we finished up and were getting ready to give someone else our table, I found out it was delayed even more, but it was too late to sit back down, heartbreakingly. 

So we walked up and down the terminal some more and sat in all the places. The kids charmed everyone they met with their adorable antics and excellent behavior. They glommed onto a nice gal from Wisconsin who let them play on her computer with her for a while. My girl asked about seeing her way after that. They had bonded. Her name was Maggie.

You know my blog wouldn’t be complete without a poop story so here it is: the boy had a tummy ache. I took him to the bathroom like three times but he couldn’t do it without privacy. At home, he takes all his clothes off and spends like thirty minutes alone in there to do his business; that’s not really an option at a crowded airport. I pleaded with him to go potty before we got on the plane, but to no avail.

Sometime between 11pm and 12am EST, after three gate changes and a plane change or two, we were finally boarded. The parked plane was rocking in the wind. There was lightning. Sideways rain. Apparently wind shear was an issue. Once seated, my little guy was moaning about his tummy. The flight attendant told us once we took off he absolutely couldn’t go to the bathroom because it would be a very bumpy flight. After going back and forth a few minutes, he caved and trotted back to the teeny tiny airplane lavatory and immediately DESTROYED IT. 

Luckily for everyone aboard, after thirty minutes of taxiing around, LaGuardia grounded all flights and we went back to the gate. #brightside 

It was probably almost 1am when I called and woke up my sister to see how she felt about coming to get us. She said she would but was less than enthusiastic about waking up her son and driving an hour in the storm and trying to figure out how to get us back there the next day with work and school to deal with, and the more I thought about it, I was less than enthusiastic about waiting an hour only to go through the all that pickup/car seat chaos again. I just wanted to be done. As soon as f-ing possible.

The airline didn’t offer any hotel accommodations or discounts, so when I approached an airport employee asking about our options, he told me in very broken English to hurry to the third floor if we wanted to get a “couch” before they were all taken. 

At that point I was floating around on autopilot, dragging my bewildered, sleepy children all over the world, and just did what the man said. Let’s just check it out, I told myself. So up we went. 

It was an enormous room, as big as one end of the terminal. It was empty except for the hundreds of camping cots lining the walls. We arrived looking lost and were hastily directed to one of the few spots left with three cots together. I nodded blankly and followed. 

“Isn’t this awesome, kids? It’s a CAMP OUT!” I said. 

It looked like a refugee camp. Bedraggled masses with their luggage. Many people were already snoring, blankets over their heads. Lots of them were reading or looking at their phones. It was brightly lit with intense fluorescent light, which was not dimmed in the slightest at any time. 

Nonetheless, my zombie self spread out the giant paper towel sheets on the cots, put on the paper towel pillowcases, and covered the kids with blue fleece airport blankets. After a few minutes of very excited whispering, my daughter was out almost instantly. My son read Dr. Suess quietly to himself like one of the grownups and then fell asleep around 2am. They slept soundly through the night (if you can even call it night, seeing as they kicked us out by 7:30am). I still don’t know HOW they did it. 

SO. There was the bright fluorescent lighting to contend with. There were whispers and murmurs and giggles. There was the myriad of strangers snoring at a wide variety of pitches and tempos. There was the incessant, frantic honking from traffic outside—also with diverse pitches and tempos—yes, even at 3am. There was the crinkly paper bedding. There was the creaky folding cot that tipped forward if you put too much weight on one end and then came crashing loudly to the cold, hard floor with a metallic clang. There was the airport loudspeaker announcement every 20 minutes: “ATTENTION! Do not leave your luggage unattended…!” I’m surprised I don’t have it all memorized, actually. There was the very nice security guard strolling back and forth with his very squeaky shoes and his loud, startling walkie talkie. Then of course there was the gang of construction workers working on this heavy duty security garage-style door with their FREAKING POWER TOOLS.

But I wasn’t really there. I had transcended the situation. OR maybe I had just gone crazy. But I was laughing as I pulled my beanie over my eyes to “sleep”. It was surreal. One of those “if you didn’t laugh you’d cry” scenarios. 

The earliest flight to Denver on Thursday wasn’t until noon. Like a monk after meditating in a cave for thirty years, I took it all in stride. Or like a brainless zombie. Whatevs. Not only that but it was a flight to HOUSTON…ultimately getting us back to Denver at 7pm. As I see it, we were up at 7am EST, which is 5am MST, so by the time we landed we’d been at it for 14 hours. But on the first flight I got another free drink (a Leinenkugel's cranberry ginger shandy), then we got tasty cheeseburgers and quesadillas at the Houston airport, and I tried a tasty alcoholic beverage with mint and lemon and strawberry, so there’s that.

Shout out to my freaking amazing kids though. I really don’t know how they did so well. They were troopers. I think they actually had lots of fun living the airport for three days. Minimal whining and/or fighting—only adorable awesomeness. They discovered adventure and endurance, and learned how to entertain themselves for days with just two stuffed animals, a drawing pad, and some books; I discovered serenity and fortitude through surrendering to my own powerlessness and rolling with the punches.

What I’ve learned (beyond inner peace and unearthly patience, of course): Never. Travel. 


Never ever ever again.

And maybe, if I do, to pack more snacks. And an iPad.

And that people can be super nice at an airport. Especially if you look desperate and have two kids.

And the boy needs to learn how to poop in public.

So the moral of the story (beyond never travel ever ever ever) is this: to achieve enlightenment in an airport with children, you need the following: lots of booze, sleepless bewildered delirium, and perfect children.


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