We made it home. I was worried that we'd, I dunno, alienate everybody on the plane, that I'd turn into one of those frightening screaming mommies that give nightmares to adults and children alike, that Thomas and Bethy would need therapy and I'd end up in the not-so-funny farm. No worries! The kids were extremely, unbelievably good. We didn't have the smoothest trip ever, but we made the best of it and arrived in essentially one piece. There aren't many photos in this post, and I apologise for that.
I've spent two days trying not to fall asleep on the computer here, and not doing a very good job of it. By day three most of the jetlag has passed. I promised a play-by-play of travelling with the kids alone from Seattle to Dubai, and here is how it went down:
Seattle: the barista dropped my iced latte while handing it out the drive through window. This boded poorly; I'd already managed not to get much sleep to speak of and had forgotten to eat breakfast.
At SeaTac the folks at Budget couldn't check in the car in the parking lot for some reason, (Was I sure I'd rented it at Sea Tac? Yes, yes I was.) so they apologetically sent me and our luggage (once I'd run around and found a luggage cart) to the service desk. I was really nervous about how much of a line there would be; when we'd arrived in Seattle and gone to pick up the car it was packed, but fortunately there was only one customer ahead of me this time. An extremely verbal and angry customer, but hey, he got out of the way fast enough for me to check out. The bill for our rental car: $2623.40.
Colleen and Alex kept ahold of the kids while I tried to check in at the kiosk at Northwest Airlines/KLM/Delta (did I miss anything?) I fought with the thing until a nice attendant came over and assisted me, securing out boarding passes. I stood in line with our luggage for a good while, then another employee informed us that international flights were supposed to take their luggage to the other side of the corridor. So I wheeled over to that line. Got to the front and was told that the luggage tags were on the original side where I'd checked in. Oh, for heaven's sake!
Colleen made a small but very effective fuss and an employee took us under his wing. He fended off 3 or four other frustrated travellers looking for help while he helped us; I hope the airline pays their people well. He fetched the luggage tags and got our stuff checked in so we didn't have to wait any longer. I said good-bye to the luggage and hoped it didn't end up in Deluth.
Rounding the corner, now freed of the checked luggage at least, our party was appalled to see the magnitude of the security lines. They went on forever! They had employees holding signs to show where the end of the lines were. I had given us hours and hours before the flight, and now I was glad. Usually I err the other way, but I have a deep-seated fear of not only missing the plane, but then having to explain such to Mike.
Colleen took the kids to the side and set up a DVD for them to watch on her portable player (impressive!) and I waited in line. The line, seemingly endless, proceeded thorough security really fast. Kudos to the SeaTac staff. I had thought it would take hours, but not so; we moved along beautifully. Too soon for Colleen and the kids, I think, it was time for a last hug good-bye, I leashed up Thomas, and we moved out.
The leash works great for going through the metal detectors, by the way. He goes, then I go, and nobody gets lost.
Mike had suggested that a way to make the trip go smoothly was to give lots and lots of choices to the kids. Silly things like where should we sit to put our shoes back on? and elevator or escalator? I was working that angle to exhaustion and the kids totally went for it. Good thing too, because when the train dumped us off at concourse S the doors opened to a solid wall of people's backs.
The escalator had broken and they had one poor employee allowing people to go up the stairs in groups of 3 or fewer with about 10 seconds of delay between each group. (Who wants THAT job?!) Every 6 minutes or so the shuttle train would arrive again and more passengers would pack out into the waiting area. You know it was bad because flight attendants were snarling and complaining. Bethy and Thomas were getting squished and conked in the head by various and sundry parts of people and luggage, but we eventually made it through, still in plenty of time to catch our flight.
The way the first plane (an Airbus A-330) was laid out the seats were in groups of either 2 or 4. Unfortuantely Thomas, Bethy and I make up for a grand total of three. I had mentally tried out various scenarios as to how to seat the kids, but had come again and again to the same conclusion; that Bethy would be in the aisle seat, me in the middle of the two kids as a buffer, and Thomas sandwiched in next to me and beside some poor hapless unsuspecting stranger.
We were in our seat before our victim arrived. A young man, perhaps 30, with pale skin, curly blond hair and a distinctly European look. His accent confirmed that he was Dutch, and a very nice man indeed. He assured me he was tolerant and didn't mind at all sitting next to Thomas. In fact, the stewardess mistook him for Thomas' father, an easy mistake to make as they were so similar in appearance. She asked him throughout the flight what drinks Thomas wanted, whether he needed anything for his boy, and he seemed tickled by that. Five hours into the flight Thomas fell asleep and several times I caught our fellow passenger looking wistfully at the little boy all snuggled up in his seat. Thomas is very cute, especially when he sleeps. I was happy we had a nice fellow to sit beside. This was working well.
The plane was delayed in leaving for whatever reason, and the interior smalled strongly of jet fuel. The stewardesses seemed unconcerned so I followed their lead, though Bethy and I both had headaches. When we finally took off the pilot wasn't messing around; it was the most straight up ascent I'd ever experienced. Kind of fun.
For some reason there were no movies available through the in-flight entertainment with a rating of less than PG. On a 9 1/2 hour flight that makes for difficulty entertaining small children! TV works wonders on our kids -like a tractor beam, but like I said, there was little that was suitable. I read lots of stories to Thomas and we played games and drew and sang songs and did everything else I could think of. As it was, I had a persistant headache and deeply regretted not having had anything to eat besides coffee, now fighting nausea. We were all happy to get a hot meal at 3 pm, even though they ran out of choices for us. No biggie...airline food is more of a survival thing than a culinary experience anyway.
The woman behind Bethy refused to let her put her seat back, childishly pushing on it whenever Bethy tried to recline and saying what seemed to be rather nasty things in Hebrew. I decided not to make an issue out of her ridiculous behavior and told Bethy that she could have my seat if it came down to that. We flew coach this time; Mike's company gives us either 4 first class tickets to anywhere in the world twice a year or 80% of their value in cash. That's a chunk of change and goes into our travel budget for trips and hotel rooms and such. In other words, I was getting paid very well to fly coach.
Somewhere over Iceland Thomas ran out of patience and cried himself to sleep, and I encouraged Bethy to take a nap too. No such luck, so I had to stay awake too. The breakfast biscuit was so soggy it made me more nauseated and I ended up not touching it. Bethy made friends with the little boy in the seat in front of us who blissfully told us his phone number (turns out he was from Seattle too) and the two of them ended up exchanging gifts; she gave him a special pen and he gave her a shiny purple slap bracelet.
Amsterdam: Arriving at Schiphol Airport, we said goodbye to our friendly fellow passenger and Bethy's little friend and went into the airport. My plan was to store the carry-ons, head out on the train into the city for a few hours, then come back to the airport and weather the time as well as we could until it was time to board. As we'd arrived an hour and some late, we only had 5 hours and the long lines through security both out of and back into the airport decided me that we'd stay. I really didn't want to miss Amsterdam again, but even less did I want to stress out about missing the plane.
It was 8:30 am there, equivalent of 11:30 pm in Seattle. Our bodies had no idea what time it was, only that we were hungry. We waited in another huge line at the McDonalds there.Maybe it's just me, but I hate to wait in a line for McDonalds food. We went somewhere else after 20 minutes of waiting and got an omlette. Back to McD's and after another 20 minutes of waiting for an ice cream I threw up my hands and took the kids to Häagen-Dazs. Better choice, and we ate our ice creams and watched the planes maneuvering out on the tarmac.
It would have been a perfect day to wander along the canals, get a cup of coffee, enjoy the amazing clear light, but instead I had to content myself with taking the kids to the play area in the airport. They had been complaining about how their legs hurt, how they needed to be carried (both of them! Didn't happen.) but when they got into the Kids' Forest ("Op Schiphol kunnen kinderen hun energie kwijt in Kids Forest" says the brochure) they played wildly with all the other little children who were also between flights and wiggy. I think we had come the furthest of all the parents I talked to, and I was impressed by how well my kids were holding up, especially watching some of the other meltdowns going on.
Thomas nicely timed his poopy diaper for while we were there, much appreciated, though I'd brought special scented bags should we have needed to dispose of it on the plane. They wore themselves out well, and I got a breather. Thomas got to get off his "tail" (read: leash) and they only cracked heads with other kids two or three times. Bethy gouged next to her eye pretty well, which swelled beautifully, but other than that...
In Amsterdam they have you go through a pre-flight security screen about 90 minutes before the flight and all the passengers are herded into a holding area. Then you board the plane after everyone has been through security. I watched, amused, as one caucasian passenger read his probably pornographic magazine (judging by the seriously smutty cover photographs which would never, ever make it past customs in the UAE), flanked on either side by women in Abayas, their eyebrows raised nearly to their hairlines and eyes determinedly averted away from the publication. A study in contrasts.
I had held back on letting the kids have the final trick up my sleeve: the portable Nintendo Gameboys. I handed them over while we waited to board. On the plane without problems, we all conked out instantly in our row of seats for three. Thank you, Boeing 777!
Four hours later, governed by internal clocks that had no idea what time it really was, we all woke up over Baghdad. The kids were getting excited about seeing Mike and getting home. Poor Bethy said "I can't wait to see Daddy!" and two seconds later was sobbing "I miss Grandma!" They were so tired out.
Dubai: Our KLM flight soared over the welcome lights of Dubai nearly 24 hours after we'd left Seattle, and we landed. The kids ran through the airport, down the long stretches and over the moving sidewalks, through immigration and to the luggage carousels. I was unreasonably happy to see Arab men in their white dishdashes and the friendly faces of Pakistani, Indian, and Nepalese workers. On the luggage carousel two of our suitcases and Thomas' carseat were there going around, but the last suitcase hadn't made it through. We went through the rigamarole of reporting our lost baggage (black, soft sided, looks like all the others on the conveyer belt, er, I'm not exactly sure what was in that one because I repacked...what brand, er...)
Customs didn't even try to look at any of our suitcases. I'd walked through the "nothing to declare" doors, displaying the lost luggage paperwork as a deterrant just in case someone was thinking of randomly choosing us to go though inspection. My mobile phone wouldn't work in the airport but Mike was there waiting for us anyway, a welcome, welcome sight. I thought we were doing really well but he informed me later that we looked like zombies. Thomas took off running to hug Mike, forgetting he was tied to the luggage cart and got pulled back flat onto his back. This didn't deter him in the least and I freed him to go jump on Mike as Bethy was doing. No more leash. Mike and I had to contend ourselves with a more restrained reunion, (Me: Hi. Mike: Hi.) as public displays of affection offend many people in the Middle East. When in Rome...
Outside, past the swamp coolers, the dusty, sultry air felt good, and smelled wonderful as we loaded the suitcases into waiting Bird Car. I took a deep deep breath and felt entirely mellow. A Mercedes sped by in the parking lot, raising a breeze, and on the freeway we nearly got creamed by another speeding car coming up far, far too fast. Yup, back in Dubai. Through the construction, beneath a bright moon, among the palm trees. Finally, early, early in the morning, we walked through the front door of Gecko House. I'd delivered two whole kids, as promised, and even most of the luggage.
I am in no hurry to repeat the experience any time soon, but I've had worse trips to Costco with our kids than that.
Safe and sound
Back in Gecko House Mike had dealt with a major ant invasion and there were sad little ant corpses scattered, ugh. There was black mildew growing happily around the A/C vent in the kitchen ceiling, which I climbed up and scrubbed off as best as I could the next morning. Something smelled a little off coming out of all the vents, which got worse in the next few days until most of the house smelled like an uncleaned fish tank. It turned out to be blocked pipes in the unused maid's room. The A/C in the kids' rooms had conked out and it was a zillion degrees in there. Thomas threw up a lot the first day home, then was starving, then threw up some more, and had a really hard time getting back to a normal-esque sleeping schedule.
With all that, I was so, so happy to be home.
And our AWOL suitcase showed up by courier the very next morning. Now that's a happy ending!