(written Dec. 30, 2012)
Well, we made it back to Kenya, thanks to the grueling necessity of air travel with a baby on our laps (okay, okay, mostly Heather’s lap). We found ourselves repeatedly saying, “We made it!” as our journey progressed through various stages.
Which made me realize—it’s not really one big trip but a series of tiny tasks which can each individually sink you along the way. Hercules probably thought he was a tough guy when he took on his twelve tasks, but that softy didn’t sit in close proximity to his own young ones for 36 hours straight.
Task 1. Packing 50 pound bags. Hercules was probably best suited for this heavyweight task, yet could he have simultaneously entertained his children while packing and weighing and repacking and weighing over a dozen pieces of luggage? The task is no easier as you reach the end, as the children’s toys and books are all zippered away for the journey.
Task 2. Loading the vehicles. Again, I wish I had Herculean strength for this one, but it takes more brain than brawn to stack up bags while leaving room for the little ones and making sure the stack doesn’t collapse and crush anyone essential to the trip.
Task 3. From curbside to Check-in. Not losing track of a bag or a wandering child is an equally taxing job. We’ve never lost anything or anyone during this task, but Heather’s mom once had a camera stolen in the chaos in San Diego.
Task 4. Security checkpoints. Valuable electronics and precious breakables all overload our carry-on luggage and backpacks. Each one must be unpacked for scanning. Coats and shoes must be stripped. Strollers must be broken down. If one escapes further scrutiny, simply repacking four carry-ons and redressing multiple human beings are your next tasks. If one arouses terrorist suspicion with scrapbooking items and baby bottles, the task may be lengthened by twenty minutes for extra dissection and reassembly.
Task 5. Plane boarding. The parade of people and possessions is narrowed to the slim aisles of an airplane. Children are corralled into proper rows. Sufficient bin space is sought and—if found—luggage is hoisted high into the overhead space for precise positioning. If space is not found, valuable breakables are chucked underneath the plane by airplane staff, voiding all earlier hopes and efforts.
Task 6. Sleep/awake cycles. You want babies to sleep. But not too much. You want kids to stay awake. But not the entire time. It’s a delicate balance where no one is completely fried to the point of meltdown but no one arrives to the destination on an entirely different sleep cycle than the rest of the family.
Task 7. Layover endurance factor. We’ve had international layovers as short as 4 hours and as long as 12 hours. Exhaustion has fully set in as you now want to sleep but know you should stretch and walk. It feels like purgatory. At least when you’re on a plane you know you’re moving; terminals are terminally hellacious.
Task 8. Layover city routines. Tasks 4 and 5 repeated. Every European stopover we’ve had has required a second trip through security, and of course another re-loading of the airplane. No easier than the first time.
Task 9. Customs and immigration. They have you fill in these forms declaring what kind of produce and imports you’re bringing with you, and you probably won’t have a clue what exactly to “claim” and what not to. It’s pretty serious business and probably can land you with heavy fines or jail, I guess. Do your best on the forms. And pray for a fast-moving line and cheerful custom inspector once it’s time to de-plane. Otherwise, you and your small children may spend the night in the clink.
Task 10. Luggage retrieval. One day—I dream—this will be a less difficult experience. I’ll have two strapping sons and an eagle-eyed daughter to locate our bags and haul them to our getaway van/truck. Right now, this is a ridiculously impossible task. Even if all the big luggage fits on two carts, you still have carry-ons that needed wheeling. And—if you recall the fact that you’ve just traveled for 36 hours—it’s likely that your small children, neither strapping nor eagle-eyed, are probably crying passionately in a heap in the center island of the baggage carousel. Did I mention this is all “best case” scenario? Some of your luggage may never even arrive.
Task 11. The final leg. One more time packing up a car, and then unpacking. One more time arranging children in car seats, and then carrying them in the house asleep (or carrying them into McDonald’s asleep where they will then precede to sleep under the table with face on the floor). One more time fighting off sleep to entertain groggy or spastic children. If you’re lucky, it’s a short ride. If you’ve angered the gods during the first ten tasks, you’ll get a ticket for going down a one-way leaving the airport, your church’s old van will break down, or you’ll lose a piece of luggage off your roof. Or all three.
Task 12. Sleeping through for two straight nights. After 36 hours with little to no sleep, you’ll want to sleep for 16 hours the first night. And you will. And after sleeping for 16 hours the previous night, you’ll only want to sleep about 4 hours the second night. And you will. But if you can manage to not oversleep the first night too much and not under-sleep the second night too much, the third night should be a decent night.
And sincere rest is all you’ll beg for after completing your twelve tasks.