Like everyone, I’ve had my share of bad trips, many of them involving injury or physical calamity. There was our first day of our year of traveling with Tommy, which I have described here. There was the family excursion to Nantucket when my two-year-old nephew barfed blue slurpee all over on the ferry and then proceeded to infect everyone but me with his virus. There was the beach vacation in southern Delaware when my father passed something so horrible along to Tommy that we thought he had appendicitis and ended up at the ER where it took the tech four tries to draw his blood. And who could forget the three week cross-country driving trip that Matt and I decided to take Tommy on when he was three months old? Our first night was spent in a motel in Charleston, West Virginia where I’m convinced that some serious drug deals were going on in the next room. I mean since when does a rockin’ party involve turning the shower on repeatedly?
And of course there is the classic story of the bad flight. Ours was a return from Rome to Delaware, which I described thusly in my book:
It was 9:25. The seats in the boarding area were full of passengers reading or talking on cell phones; no one looked up as I staggered desperately by, Tommy’s car seat banging against my thighs and a full backpack and carry-on bag draped across my body. I had been running for some minutes and sweat ran down my face as I hobbled up to the desk where a woman with long black hair and well-glossed lips sat calmly. If things were as they should have been in the universe, cigarette smoke would have coiled lazily around her head. Staring at me as I attempted to pant out my question, she finally interrupted my wheezes to tell me that “the plane, eet ‘as not left yet.” Without further explanation, she turned and said something in Italian to an equally glamorous coworker, ignoring me altogether. Next to her was a sign where I could see our flight number, our ostensible departure time of 9:30 a.m., and the words “on time.”
Was it just last evening that Matt and I had once again strolled under the soft lights and laundry lines of Trastavere? The morning had been full of incident, from Tommy’s 4 a.m. wake up to our drive to the airport through Roman rush-hour traffic and our two dreamy weeks were fast receding. We had entered the vortex of travel, what would be a 17-hour day across two continents and three countries.
But at least we weren’t going to miss the plane, which I could see through the window although no one was making any move to get on it. When we finally walked onto the Jetway a half hour later I actually relaxed until I saw the attendants looking suspiciously at the car seat as they took our stroller. I had argued violently with the man who assigned our boarding passes about Tommy’s right to a seat (we had purchased a ticket for him) and our intention to buckle the car seat in it.
The plane was small and had one narrow aisle. Realizing that we weren’t going to be able to get all of our gear to our seats at the rear, Matt called to the flight crew for assistance. The attendant who was working in first class refused to help, leaving us to bang our way through to coach. I watched in horror as Matt whacked the shoulder of each seated passenger on his way down the aisle (“What?” he said when we reached our seats, “I wanted them to give that flight attendant a hard time for not helping us.”) We discovered that the way to make “help” materialize was to start hooking up the car seat; no fewer than three people appeared at our side. After a bit of back-and-forth, Matt just turned his back on them and finished putting it in place. A sleek blonde in two-inch heels said that she could not permit us to install the seat “for safety reasons.” Matt just looked at her, said, “that’s precisely why I’m using it,” and continued what he was doing. She shrugged and walked away.
When I had purchased plane tickets several months earlier I thought I was very clever to get the cheapest tickets I could find even though it meant using two airlines. But the flip side of my cleverness was that we had to fly Alitalia (whose downside should already be obvious); go through customs when we arrived in London; pick up our checked luggage and move it from one terminal to another, far distant; and get in the check-in line which must have been 200 people long. By the time we finally got our boarding passes for the London-Philadelphia leg of the trip it didn’t really register when I was told, very politely, that we could not switch to bulkhead seats and that in fact British Airways officially apologized for the seats we had been assigned.
When, after many more hours in the airport, we finally made it to our seats on the plane, I realized why. When I had booked them, we were next to the window. Now we were in the middle row, with the aisle running down either side of us. There would be no tucking Tommy into the corner. To make matters worse some genius had grouped three toddlers in rows right next to each other. Maybe this person thought that we could have an impromptu playgroup on the plane, but I immediately realized that if one child was fussy and began to cry, the other two would soon follow suit, which is of course what happened.
What was worse was that directly in front of me sat a woman I mentally nicknamed the Great Scot. Her brassy blond lay lankly around a ruddy porcine face. She was traveling with her aunt and it seemed that every few minutes, she would bellow, “Are you alright Auntie? Are you cold? Will ya be needin’ some tea?” Her voice was of the volume and caliber to be heard above the largest of airplane engines.
The mother of the two-year-old in front of us let him either wander around the cabin, or, when the flight attendants put a stop to that, lean over the back of his seat and make faces at Tommy. The little girl behind us wouldn’t stop crying. The Great Scot announced that she would have a “wee bit of champayne” before her dinner and “two bottles of white wine wif it (you ‘av to ask for two bottles Auntie, they don’t givva ya enuf otherwise).” We tried to get Tommy to sleep, which he did only briefly, fussing with boredom and exhaustion for the rest of the flight. And the one time I managed to doze off myself, I was awakened by a sense that someone was close to me and opened my eyes to see the Great Scot’s ample waistline inches from my face. She was rummaging for her bag of candy in the overhead bin.
By the time we arrived in Philadelphia, our internal clocks were telling us it was 1:00 a.m. We had been awake for twenty hours. Ciao Italia.
I invite you to share your worst stories or link to them from your own blogs. Because I believe in truth in advertising. Because stuff happens. And because I want you all to realize that even though I had numerous difficult days during thirteen months of traveling with a toddler, I never seriously wanted to stop.