Exactly one month ago today, I prepared myself for the big trek across the ocean with little r and my fuzzy orange cat to begin a new life in Europe. Many people have asked me to tell the story, so it seemed only appropriate to share the tales from that journey today. (It also helps that we finally have internet installed in our house - yahooooo - so typing a more involved story is much more possible.)
To say the week leading up to my mini adventure was busy would be a gross understatement.
We had grandfolks visiting,
deck construction to complete,
an engagement party to prepare for,
and a toddler to entertain.
It was a whirlwind, to say the least, but I couldn't be happier that I had that time with my family. When the day finally arrived for me to say "good-bye" it hardly felt possible that it was time to go.
Our plane left at 10 p.m., with the need to be at the airport for international departure 2 1/2 hours before the flight. I had imagined, dreamed, planned, and re-imagined exactly how I would fit all my belongings into my bags (sorry, Dad, if I left a few too many things behind), and how I was going to carry them on this big journey all on my own. My mind was spinning playing over and over again in my head how I was going to make it through security with one carry-on bag, a stroller (too big to fit through the x-ray), a carseat, a purse, and a cat. The trick was, both the toddler and the cat had to be in my arms to get through the x-ray machine meanwhile praying that neither of them would get away. Being that this was causing me the most anxiety, I had practiced my "help me" eyes and searched deep for patience. As it turned out, this was by far the easiest part of the trip. My family had all joined me at the airport to say "adieu," which included chasing little r around the terminal for at least an hour.
The plane was delayed (of course), so we had plenty of time to wear him out. I had concocted this plan of attaching the "greatest invention in the world" (see prior post about device used to strap carseat to a carry-on bag) to strap the carseat to my large stroller. It worked like a charm. Every item had its place with no room to spare.
My "help me" eyes worked perfectly, little r was too exhausted and probably a little overwhelmed to squirm, and Lucy cat just relaxed into my arms as if everything going on around her was normal (thank you herbal tranquility!). Yeah, this part of the trip went off better than I could have imagined.
We paced the airport in a ridiculously busy terminal for over an hour until it was finally time to board. At this point it was after 10 p.m., but little r was not convinced he was supposed to sleep. I just kept giving him food. Why is it toddlers are like puppies? Give them food and they are complacent - it can be a very handy tactic. It was time to board, and this is when the panic set in. I hadn't really thought much through this part of the logistics. No more stroller meant everything had to fit into my arms. This was NOT easy. I realize carseats are necessary, but they have to be the most ridiculous inventions in the world to transport. How did we survive on planes and in cars without them when we were younger? It is at times like these I was wanting to be transported to the 1970's again. The flight attendant immediately recognized my anxiety and made sure to get me to my seat. We buckled in and prepared for take-off. As expected, little r was asleep before we even got to altitude. Just wish it had lasted awhile... Less than two hours later, he was screaming. No joke, full on scream like he was being beaten with a spoon. Nothing was calming this child. Except... yes, the airline was playing CARS on one of the of tv channels. There is a GOD! He never did go back to sleep, if you can believe that. An eight hour flight, and the child slept less than two hours.
I'd like to say he was complacent watching CARS the entire flight, but that would be too lucky. It was a little more exciting than that, but I won't bore you with those details. We had a little over an hour to go, the flight attendants were picking up trash and Lucy cat starting howling. Hadn't heard a peep out of her until this point. I looked at my watch, and sure enough, just like clockwork, it was "poop-time"! (I know this because I had been sharing a room with this animal for the past 2 weeks and was woken at 6 a.m. every morning to the pleasant smell of her excrement - awesome!). This was not going to end well. I knew what that howl meant, and my mind started racing trying to imagine how I was going to deal with the miniature disaster about to implode inside the cat carrier. As soon as I smelled the evidence, I busted out of my seat and made a dash for the restroom. Ugh. What a freaking mess. Poor cat, and I felt awful for the poor sap that entered the restroom after we left. It was handled, but the cat was a complete mess, the cat carrier smelled all to hell, and she was still not happy. Somehow not a soul around me had a clue that I just had this mini crisis. Suppose we live in our own little worlds most of the time.
The plane FINALLY landed, and my adventure just took a turn, and it was a not a good one. It never occurred to me that the other side of the trip was going to be the biggest challenge. You ask me why I would think that landing in a foreign country and wrangling all the pieces would somehow be easier, and I can give you no good answer. At this point my blood pressure was too exhausted to rise. We were in Germany, and one way or another we were going to make it to Big R.
I strapped the child tether around little r, unleashed the carseat, and put the other carry-on luggage (including Lucy) over my shoulder. All was working perfectly until little r had a panic attack and stopped in his tracks. Just stopped and sat down in the aisle. The flight attendant behind me realized that I had just created a people-jam and nearly 100 people were stuck on the plane unless he could act quickly. He tells me to take the carseat and grab little r, as he quickly grabbed my carry-on luggage and Lucy and tossed them over his shoulder. I shuttered and said "MY CAT"!!!! Pour guy was so mortified that he might have injured my little fuzzball that he didn't even notice he just got a bath in cat piss. Yes, I wish I were making this up, but Lucy had peed all over her carrier and it was now all over the poor guy trying to help me. I'm not sure he ever figured out what hit him, and I'm honestly glad he has no idea who I am. There is no doubt in my mind, he told that story at least half a dozen times that day and it probably took him a week to figure out what that smell was on his uniform. GROSS!!!
So, the fun continues. United somehow does not have first class status at Frankfurt International Airport. In fact, they have no terminal - you just get dropped on the tarmac and leave the plane by means of "air-stairs." Fun. My chest was squeezing and I was losing the ability to breathe. My child finally found comfort in my arms and relaxed, I recovered my stroller and got the whole system put into place to carry all my crap. The flight attendant stayed with me until he was certain I got on a bus to take me to the terminal. We made it. Now it was time for customs. Oddly, this was the easy part. Passports handed over, door opened, and we were officially lost. I could not find an elevator to take me to the baggage claim area if it killed me. Luckily there was another military family in a similar situation, so we stuck together. Turns out we had to leave the secured area, get on the elevator, beg security to let us back into the secured area through these doors that were at least a story high and gave off this vibe that once you enter you'd be greeted by men with machine guns. Haha, suppose I was feeling just a tad bit dramatic at this point.
By the time I made it to our baggage claim area, the bags had probably gone around a dozen times. Unlike Big R's luck, we were reunited with all our luggage. I got a large luggage cart and stacked the luggage high (really should have taken a picture of this). I pushed the huge cart carry at least 200 pounds and pulled the stroller with all my precious belongings behind me. I saw Big R right away holding a bouquet of beautiful flowers and a cup of Starbucks (love that man), and he had to stand there and watch me struggle through the gate because he was not allowed to cross the line. It must have been a scene because everyone watching me come out the door opened their mouth's so wide their chins hit the floor.
After 2 long months of planning, strategizing, and preparing, and we had finally made it to our destination. Nothing could rattle me at this point. I was too exhausted to care about anything else going wrong. Instead we got all our things packed into our little race car, and I watched out the window as little r slept on the ride home.
The rest is history :)