Saturday, July 15, 2006

Flying solo ... of a different nature

The homecoming Friday was even better than I imagined.

Mom, Charlie and Jim brought the kids in for a haircut - professional this time - on Thursday ... so I was greeted by three, well trimmed children at the airport. They were absolutely adorable and the looks of recognition, shock, and elation at seeing me again were awesome.

I love being a mom. Have I mentioned that before???

The plane ride home was thankfully, uneventful. I did find a new book at the bookstore, but since I haven't finished reading it... am not yet prepared to give my "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" recommendation. The change in pace from a story about the suffering in Afghanistan ... to a story about a guy who gives up all of his worldy possessions and moves from Washington, D.C. to the South Pacific and enjoys "Getting Stoned with the Savages" is pretty drastic.

With my new book in hand, and a loose grip on the fear that attacks my mind every time I step foot on a plane, I tried to savor this "peaceful" experience of flying by myself. Considering the last six times I've flown, it's been with Charlie AND the babies - this most recent trip really was a breeze. I've decided that the term "Flying Solo" can represent one of two descriptions in our vocabulary:

The first is characterized by being extremely stressful.

The second is characterized by being extremely stress-free.

In this particular instance, the description for "Flying Solo" is best matched by the latter of the two descriptions above. Traveling cross-country with three babies is a lot of work. Traveling by yourself, is a piece of cake.

Because I believe it is important to "paint" a clear picture of our travels with triplets - here's a sampling of what we are up against:

- Charlie and I can't sit together with the kids. Because of restrictions due to the number of airmasks, you can only have four people in one row (there are usually four airmasks in a row with three seats - so that allows one person per seat and one lap child). The first couple of times we've flown, we only purchased three seats. Charlie would hold one baby on one row, I'd hold one baby and the third would be in a carseat. We figured out that this was really tricky because if we needed to get up to use the restroom - we would have to either carry the baby with us - or - leave one person behind with all three kids. The last time we flew - we purchased four seats. One of us held a baby, the other two babies were in carseats. That left one of us "free" so that if necessary - they could hold the "lap child" if the other one of us had to use the restroom. Usually, Charlie and I are on opposites sides of the plane ... or, one or two rows in front or behind each other.

- The clothes, bottles, diapers and baby food that you pack, should be enough to last at least two days. You can always buy more "supplies" when you arrive at your destination ... but you never want to be in need of critical items ... should your flight be canceled during a connection. We came close to this happening. Not once, but twice.

- Toting along carseats, pack-n-plays, strollers and booster chairs, in addition to all of the stuff that you must bring on the plane (typically three carry-on bags). Unless you can rent or borrow these items - you need to bring them with you. We've had to bring ALL of our supplies on two of our three trips. We look like a band of gypsies meandering through the airport with baby gear hanging off our strollers.

- Remembering to pack a change of clothes not just for the babies ... but for us, too. A good friend had her baby throw up all over her, the first 20 minutes into a 6-hour flight. Although she had a change of clothes for Junior, she didn't have a clean shirt for herself. Nice, huh?

- Bringing enough food and toys on board, so that you can keep the children happily entertained for as long as possible. By the time we deplaned our last trip, there was the equivalent to a full box of Cheerios beneath the two rows where Charlie and I were seated. The babies consumed about 4 Cheerios, each. The rest wound up on the floor. Each time someone would walk past you'd hear "CRUNCH! CRUNCH!" The toys should be tethered to the carseats because every single time we gave the baby a toy to play with - within seconds they were trying to throw that toy at the person's head sitting in front of us.

- Even with "pre-boarding" we are always the last to get on the plane. Here's why ... Charlie will run on to the plane with two carseats that he must install. This takes about 3-4 minutes per carseat. Usually by the time he gets off the plane to help me get on with the kids, general boarding has started. So, Charlie is like a salmon swimming upstream trying to get OFF the plane while everyone else is getting on. When he finally gets back to me, we walk the babies down to the plane in their strollers, and then I'll hold ALL THREE kids [two in my arms - one in a Bjorn], while Charlie breaks down the strollers to go beneath the plane. Once that's complete, I'll usually carry two babies on board - Charlie carries one baby on board, and we take our seats ... trying to ignore all the looks of "Oh, NO ... those people are on THIS flight?!"

- Our pediatrician recommended that we give our kids Benadryl before flying because it would help with any congestion they may have (which would affect their ears during takeoff/landing) but Benadryl has the added bonus of making the "recipient" sleepy. However, it's good to test run Benadryl BEFORE giving it to them on a full flight. In 97% of the studies, Benadryl DOES make the child drowsy. The 3% of the time Benadryl doesn't work would have been with our 1, 2, 3 kids. What are the odds of that?! The best analogy for the kind of effect Benadyl had our children ... is imagine holding a wild cat in a bag, on your lap.

For six hours.

Bottomline ... it's a lot easier "Flying Solo" than with three small children.

When I landed in San Diego, it took some time for my luggage to come out on the carousel. Typically I prefer to carry my luggage on board (especially if my trip is only for a few days) but because I couldn't bring my 10.5-inch knitting needles on board the plane - I had to check my suitcase. So as I'm standing there waiting for my luggage to come out, I happened to notice a family collecting their luggage on the next carousel.

Whenever I see a family with small children - they always attract my attention. This family was comprised of a young looking mother and father (early 20's) and a chubby legged baby in an umbrella stroller. They were trying to transport all of their luggage on one of those "Smart-Carts" you can rent at the airport for $1.00. Their luggage consisted of four large suitcases, a pack-n-play, a massive military-style backpack/duffle bag and a carseat. While the husband was trying to load everything on the "Smart-Cart" the mother was leading the way out of the airport, pushing the baby stroller.

I stood there watching them and was thinking to myself, Man, they have a lot of stuff. Almost as much stuff as we have when we travel with all three kids!

Just then, one of the big suitcases shifted on the cart and everything, minus the pack-n-play on the bottom, fell to the ground. The father looked completely disheveled. I could see myself in him - as he struggled to pick up all the items from the ground and load them back on the cart, without drawing too much attention from the 150+ people gathered around waiting for their luggage.

When I noticed that everyone standing around this guy just looked at him and said "Oh, you've got a handful!" but didn't do anything to help out ... I looked back at the carousel and deciding that with a few minutes to spare before my luggage made an appearance, I might be able to lend a hand.

Just as I expected, the guy greeted my request to help push his cart with "Oh no! Thanks so much - but we're fine." I stood back looking at him, and the carseat that was ready to fall off the cart a second time (and then DID fall off the cart) and I said, "No, really. I insist. I've been in your position and it's no fun. Let me help you. You're just going outside, right?"

It turns out, this guy and his wife and baby - who had just turned one, had moved to California from Chicago. He is a Marine and recently returned from a deployment to Kuwait. He was now stationed in San Diego. He thought the military was suppose to send a shuttle for him, but he wasn't sure what, when, how or who was suppose to be here to pick him up.

I pushed his cart upstairs while his wife followed with the stroller, and he struggled beneath the weight of his 80+ pound military-issue back pack while dragging rolling a suitcase, with two defunct wheels, behind him.

As it was happening, it dawned on me that I took charge of the situation. I just felt so much compassion for this young family. I could tell that they were exhausted from a long day of traveling, it was excruciatingly hot, they had a fussy baby, and here they were in an unfamiliar city with no idea how to get to their new home.

First we came across taxis. They wanted to charge $100.00 to take them to the Marine base. I could tell that money was something they didn't have a lot of ... so ... I told the taxi driver "No thanks, we'll try the shuttles instead." I then led the family over to the shuttles where I asked what kind of military discount they would offer. Better than a military discount - they told me that the USO would transport this family, free of charge, to the base.

The drawback was that the USO pick-up was at Terminal 2. We were at Terminal 1. The distance separating the two locations was about 1/2-mile and it was blazing hot.

The husband was really apologetic, "I'm so sorry ... you've been such a huge help. Really, we've got it from here." By this point, his suitcase had lost one of it's wheels and he was dripping in sweat. I could tell that he was just trying to be polite, so I laughed at him, banged a U-turn with the "Smart-Cart" and yelled "HOOYA!!! Come on, We'll be there in 10 minutes."

We huffed and puffed through the heat to Terminal 2, but the USO was like an oasis in the desert. We walked in to a dimly lit, air conditioned room that was stocked to the brink with juice, bagels, donuts and fresh fruit. The young family were finally where they needed to be and there was lots of good food for them to enjoy. Mission accomplished.

I bid my farewell - told the guy he needed to "Stay safe!" and then trotted back to Terminal 1. By the time I returned, my luggage was sitting all alone on the carousel and Charlie had just arrived at the curb outside. Perfect timing.

What this story goes to show is that if I hadn't had the experience(s) of traveling with children, I probably wouldn't have extended my support to this family. Chances are, I would have wrongly assumed that they had *it* under control. If I had lent my assistance, I doubt I would have persisted once I'd heard him say "Oh no! Thanks so much - but we're fine."

See, that's what I would have said ... because the last thing I would ever want to do is inconvenience somebody, especially a stranger. But I've learned that even though I'm not "on duty" as a parent ... I doubt I'll ever be able to look at other parents the same way again.

Charlie and I are the members of an elite group. The few. The proud. The parents who travel with children. Our unwritten motto is that we support each other, especially if we are traveling solo and can see that one of our comrades is struggling.

Semper Fi, Hooya!


  1. and I thought flying with my crew was hard :)

  2. You are such a caring person. They say that God doesn't give you more than you can handle and you are proving him right!! You are a great role model for us all with how much you love your family and how giving you are to others too.

    Keep up all the good work. I'm glad you made it home safely. I bet the kiddos were SOOO excited to see you.

  3. It's so awesome you were able to help that family. It has taken a lot of time and swallowing my pride but I generally accept ALL offers of help from anyone, old or young, because with a rambunctious toddler and a big pregnant belly, I really could use it. I vow to pay it forward (and teach my kids to, as well) because, who knows, the person I help could be the friend/relative of someone who has held open a door for me or blocked my escaping child or carried bags for me.

  4. WOW loved how you helped. I do not know you but I know that you are a terrific person. I enjoy reading your blog.

  5. It is official...our destinations will consist of drivable distances until my kids are all over the age of 6. LOL!

    Joking aside, what you did is what I expect gaurdian angels do! To that struggling little family you selflessly lifted their burdens. Amazing! :)

  6. Wow! I couldn't even imagine flying now with a baby; let alone three! But you never cease to amaze me! I will always look up to you for all that you do and still come out with a smile or your face or a lesson learned!

    Glad that you are home now! I bet that was the best part of the trip.


  7. Jenna-
    Even though I'm jewish, and we're not supposed to bow down to I have to break the law and bow down to you! You are awesome! Thanks for helping out our armed forces! Maybe the US gov't should send you into Iraq to end this whole thing!

  8. Wow! I am so proud of you. I'll say it again: You are an inspiration. Much Love, Susan

  9. That was so kind of you to help that family. It's amazing how much a kind gesture can help when you're having a rough day. So far I haven't really experienced this, yes, there's lots of bystanders who love to stare but genearlly dont' offer help, and often times try to just shove past me (pregnant with twins and with a 9-month old baby). I'm hoping people get a little more compassionate after the twins arrive, but I'm not counting on it.