Since travel season – both near {we leave tonight to celebrate Pete’s grandma who turns 100. That’s 1-00, yo!} and far {more about that next week} – is upon us, I’ve started having travel-with-kids flashbacks. The kind you need therapy to recover from. The kind that remind me of something I wrote a couple years back –

You see, the more articles I read about how to plan for that “4 hour road trip” or that “3 hour time change” the more I felt the urge to whack myself in the forehead and blurt out, “but, that’s basically the amount of time it takes us just to get to the airport, clear customs and pre-board!”

So, unfortunately, if your travel plans are under 8 hours, we have very little in common. Because on a flight home to South Africa, at the 8 hour mark – if you or your kids have been lucky enough to actually sleep – you wake up and “hey, presto” just another 8 hours to go!

If your travel plans creep up to the 10 hour mark, we have a minuscule amount more in common. But, bear in mind, I have on more than one occasion spent that amount of time in an airport with my main man and my kids before the international flight even began boarding!

Now, if your travel time hits the 12 hour mark we both appreciate the fragile air ballet involved in trying to negotiate children to sleep in cramped quarters. It will have you mastering the art of contortion by the end of the flight. And about this time, when the in-flight entertainment has been used up, the snacks eaten, and the benadryl offered a miracle might occur – one and sometimes even two of your children will – against all odds – fall asleep. And right then, when bliss is within reach, your flight will pitstop. At 2am. On an island in the middle of nowhere. To refuel. And while no one will be allowed to disembark, all overhead lights will be turned on. All bags will be searched. All seat cushions will be pulled up, examined and replaced. All bathrooms will be cleaned. All passengers will be identified. And all sleeping children will wake up.

If your travel time inches up to the 18 hour margin, we begin to have quite a bit in common. Because then you too know what it’s like to fake sleep so that your husband will be forced to change yet another poopy diaper in the confines of the bulkhead toilet, beg the flight attendant for yet more apple juice, or apologize once again to the business traveler in front of you who continues to stare pointed daggers at your toddler who has to have something to bang his head against. I mean, at this point in the flight, who doesn’t?

If your travel time gets close to the 36 hour mark, we may become bosom buddies! Because then you too will know what it’s like to have lost track of terminals, time zones, and your mind. You will know how it feels to have your contact lenses suction-cupped to your eyeballs and how quickly you lose any sense of dignity and are no longer embarrassed by those T-Shirt stains you got during the previous 4 meals eaten on cramped knees between crazed kids. You will understand the sweet torture of being within site of your domestic gate only to get pulled aside for a spot security check, which includes waking the infant finally slumbering on your chest after crossing multiple time zones so that you can both be subjected to a pat down.

And you will know the sweet revenge when said infant pulls a Jack-Jack and screams the frustration you can’t express. And once given the all-clear, you will smile sickly, clutch your babe to your chest, abandon whatever dignity you may have had left, and sprint for the gate because there is no way you are spending another night away from your own bed!

So, it’s hour 36 of our nightmare trip home from South Africa a few years back. It’s 7am New York time; it’s dinner time in South Africa, and we’re still one more flight away from our final destination. Jackson is ravenous. But breakfast fare won’t do. All he wants is “chicken nuggets and chocolate milk.” Ugh. Anyway, believe me, when you are approaching two full days of travel you give your kids whatever it is they want, and you give it STAT!

One order of Mcknuggets and chocolate milk later I am facing the gate agent and requesting our seat assignments. Jackson is perched on the counter top between me and the attendant. When – how does the old rhyme go again – if you see a brown stream, and you know you want to scream: Di-ahrrea, Di-ahrrea!

That brown trickle running down the check-in desk and gaining speed as it poured toward the floor was not the stuff of great seat assignments. It was not the kind of sugar and spice I had envisioned my little one working for the nice check-in lady. It was not the brand of toddler magic I was hoping he would wield. It was the cherry on top of the nightmare trip. And it was gaining momentum!

I raised my eyebrows at my beloved. I smiled. I beckoned him over. And I thrust our child at him with one whispered, desperate phrase, “You will need the wipes!” Then I swept up the rest of the evidence in his once light blue sweater and asked, “could you be sure one of those is an aisle seat?”

She did. It was. We made it. Most of Jackson’s clothes did not.

OK, your turn. I double dog dare you to top that.

{All photos from a trip Pete and I took across Europe before we had kids!
Keleti station in Budapest;
Me on the train to Budapest; Ukrainian-Hungarian border}

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