Monday, August 25, 2014

Travels and Tribulations

My Uncle Harold died on Wednesday.

I'm not quite ready to write about that, but feel I need to write something, so I'm going to dive back into my neglected blog to describe just the logistics of everything we experienced last week.

My uncle was 90, and he'd chosen to go off dialysis, so we knew the end was near we just didn't know when.  He knew.  He apparently predicted Wednesday, and had time to talk to my dad (his younger brother) and others on the phone who couldn't get to Florida to say goodbye.

We got the call about his passing on Wednesday afternoon, right as I was preparing to take the kids to their violin lessons.  Ian was out of state for Army work.

My dad's side of the family is Jewish, and in Jewish tradition funerals happen within 24 hours of a death.  Wisconsin is a long way from Florida (as we discovered firsthand back in February).  But our household was the only one even remotely available at that moment to go there to represent my dad, so I was determined to make that happen.  There had to be a way to get us down to Florida for a service the next day at 1:00.

Thankfully my brother, Arno, frequent flyer that he is living in New York and working in Seattle, offered to go online and find us tickets and a hotel.  I don't think we could have done this all without his help because we only had a couple of hours to get to the airport, and I had lots of arrangements to make at my end (making sure someone could cover the store, figuring out what to do with the dog, moving appointments and swim lessons...) in addition to packing and helping the kids find any clothes appropriate for a funeral.  (I didn't realize just how many tie-dye shirts my kids owned until we tried to find anything in their closets that looked serious and actually fit.)

I'd made crepes for breakfast in the morning, and had a stack of them set aside for a baked chicken-mushroom-crepe dish for dinner, and I just shoved those into a ziplock bag for snacks.  I'm glad I did, because all plans for eating in airports wound up being dashed, and aside from the paltry treats offered on the planes that was all the kids got to eat until we arrived at our hotel.

This is the point where I am going to say I have the best kids in the world.

I'm sure for many people the idea of dragging three kids along on such an impromptu journey would make the whole thing sound harder, but the truth is they turned what would have been an utterly dreary trip into something decent.  They only met Uncle Harold in person for the first time back in February, but they were instantly taken with him and Aunt Lila and there was no question that they wanted to be at the funeral to show proper respect.  They understood this trip was not a vacation and that it was not going to be easy, and they stepped up to the occasion better than I could have hoped for.

My kids did not complain.  They did not ask for anything, even food.  They took care of themselves on flights where none of us got to sit together.  They ran when I asked them to run, they stayed put when I asked them to wait for me, and they helped each other and hugged me when I needed it.  I can't imagine trying to have done any of it without them.  I am seriously one lucky mom.

We parked our car in a lot across from the airport and took a shuttle.  Our flight was for 6:40, and we got into the terminal a bit before 5:00 so I thought we were doing okay.  But then when we tried to check in at a Delta kiosk there was some sort of alert in red about a change and we had to find a person at the desk.

Turns out there was bad weather in Atlanta, and they pushed back our flight to 6:00 a.m.  That was not going to work.  I explained we needed to be in Florida in time to find the funeral, so they said we could take our delayed flight, spend the night in Atlanta, and they would fly us the rest of the way to Florida early in the morning.  It was cutting it close, but it was better than nothing so we took it.

But then we got to our gate, and there was a flight next to it leaving for Atlanta earlier than our original flight.  We got four standby tickets for that (and were told that we still couldn't have the original connection to Florida for some reason, even though this flight was earlier--??) and managed to make it on the plane.  Mona and Quinn were together, and Aden and I were each somewhere else.  (I could hear Mona a few rows behind me thank the flight attendant profusely for her drink and cookies when she discovered they were free.)

The flight to Atlanta took a long time because they had to fly around storms and make some odd turns in Mississippi, but we got there.  And moved on to the most confusing part of our flight experience.  We wanted to get a flight to West Palm that night, and if nothing worked we'd go find the hotel reservation Delta was holding for us somewhere in Atlanta.

We got out at gate A9.  The connection to West Palm on my original itinerary said we needed to be on Concourse D.  I had no clue how to find that, but I noticed the gate where we were said it was going to West Palm next.  I asked the lady there if we could take that, and she tapped at her keyboard and said what we should do was run to gate A24 because there were definitely enough seats to West Palm there.

We ran all the way to A24 where they shut the door right as we arrived.  (Two other people trying to get on that flight told me they were treated very badly by the attendant there, who wouldn't even acknowledge them, so I don't know how much difference it would have made if we'd gotten there any faster.)

At that point I didn't know what to do.  So I started wandering back toward where we'd come from, and found a bank of Delta Help Phones and decided to try one.  I explained our situation to the nice man on the other end, and he tapped away on his keyboard, and he told us to run as fast as we could to gate A9.  You know, where we STARTED.

Halfway there I realized Quinn was crying, but trying not to let me see.  At first I thought he was just anxious about the whole flight thing because I was acting anxious, but then Aden explained to me that no, he'd lost Hopster somewhere.  Hopster is Quinn's special stuffed bunny I bought him back when he was in the hospital one time.  Somewhere between gates A24 and A9 he'd misplaced the bunny and it was gone.  My poor Quinn.

We arrived out of breath at gate A9, Quinn choking back tears, which made me start to cry.  I hugged Quinn and told him I was sorry.

I explained to the woman at the gate that we'd been sent back to her.  She was starting to board people, and she tapped away every few moments between passengers, and eventually she printed me out four standby tickets.  We watched as all the people in line got on the plane.  And we waited with other people and their standby tickets.  And eventually we were allowed on the flight!  All split up, but that was fine.  We were going to get to Florida that night, and have a chance to sleep in the hotel Arno had reserved for us, and not have to get up early to get on another plane and scramble to find the funeral.

The next puzzle in our travels was figuring out rental cars in the West Palm airport after midnight.

All the counters were empty.  But I noticed electronic kiosks that looked promising, and sure enough the one for Hertz when you touched it made an attendant appear on a screen, so it was like doing a rental through Skype.  I swiped my credit card and held my driver's license up to a camera and a receipt printed out in front of me, and the next thing we knew we were getting on a shuttle and heading for Hertz.

By then it was very late, very humid, and we were all really tired and hungry.  But again, the kids never complained.  They helped me laugh about the weirdness of the rental car instead of letting me get too frustrated with it.  We had to find a guy twice to help us, the first time because we couldn't find the keys, and the second because the engine started with a push button and I couldn't figure out that you had to step on the brake to make it work.  The kids laughed as I kept turning things on and off, Aden made the wipers go by mistake, we couldn't figure out the trunk....  And the car came with a GPS that every time we turned the car on would say, "Hertz!" and Quinn kept cracking up telling me that, "The car says it hurts!"

(The car, by the way, was a 2-door Nissan Altima, and we hated it.  It was black with black interior, which in the hot Florida sun made it unbearable every time we got into it, the seats were really low, and Quinn and Mona thanked me when we got home for buying a car with doors in the back.  The GPS was good, however, and its voice didn't have the weird speech impediment ours seems to.)

We found our hotel on Hypoluxo Road.  Hypoluxo!  It sounded like some weird Japanese animated character, or some kind of super fancy thing of the future.  We never tired of saying "Hypoluxo."  The hotel was a Comfort Inn Suites that Quinn kept referring to as "Comfort In Suits."  When we checked in the night manager was kind enough to let us raid the breakfast fridge and take some yogurts to our room.

We crawled in bed about 2:00 a.m. and slept late.  I took the kids out for breakfast and tried to give them a crash course on enough Jewish traditions to prepare them for the funeral.  We found everything on time, and only got lost after the internment when we tried to find Lila's apartment and didn't realize we'd made a minor mistake when entering the address into the GPS (hurts!), and wound up at a Women's Cancer Clinic first.

But we did find everyone, and after one more night in our hotel (or "home-tel" as Mona referred to it) we found everyone again the next day, and by the evening had a relatively smooth trip home actually taking the flights we were scheduled to take (for a change).

We had planned to visit a cousin out in Minnesota that weekend the day after we returned, but Aden had a sore throat following the last plane ride and we had to cancel, which worked out for the best.  That was a lot of travel in a short span of time, and to follow it immediately with a road trip would have been pushing it.

I'm still impressed with us that we were able to pull off such a trip with short notice and down one parent.  It wasn't easy, but it was worth it.

And it's good to be home.


  1. Wow - your kids really are exceptional! You have many reasons to be proud of them, and of yourself! Thank you for sharing your blog - it is a pleasure to read.

    1. My kids certainly aren't perfect and often drive me up the wall, but in a pinch they have never let me down. It helps so much that I can count on them when it matters. (And thanks for reading!)

  2. It is always so complicated to travel when grief adds that additional component. Your children are amazing. And so are you. Hugs.

    1. When Quinn started to cry over his lost bunny my own tears started to flow for so many reasons. But it's amazing what you can do when you have to, and you get a grip and keep going. Thanks for the virtual hugs.

  3. I found myself reading faster, because it felt like everything was happening so fast. Kids deserve credit for being what we need them to be when we need them to be it, but remember you and your husband deserve part of it for raising them that way. Some things are innate and some are taught so I'm imagining their handling of the situation was a combination of both. I'm sorry about your uncle, but I'm really glad you were able to make it.

    1. Thanks, Arnebya. I'm sorry about my uncle, too. He was a sweet man.

      I never know how much credit or blame to take for my kids. Sometimes I feel like I understand what I'm doing, but most of parenting remains a mystery when I'm honest with myself. I'm grateful for the kids I have, that I get to observe up close such kind and creative people as they grow.

  4. I'm so very sorry for your loss. You all are an amazing bunch to be able to pull off what you did. Your children are angels. I'm also very sorry for Quinn's loss. Losing a lovey is so very hard at that age.

    1. Thank you, Rach.

      Quinn's being good about Hopster. We emailed the Delta Lost & Found, but I can't imagine that bunny will find its way back to us from the depths of the Atlanta airport. I'm going to tell Quinn that probably some other kid who needs it more picked it up and is taking care of it. Which is insane because would you let your kid cuddle a worn bunny found on the floor of an airport? But we can hope. (Maybe--in my *spare* time--I can write a little series of children's stories for him about all the possibilities of where Hopster has gone and the wonderful things he's doing.)

    2. Now doesn't that just sound like fun! My mom does something similar, with Lily's Bear. She's been telling Bear stories for years now and he's a rather mischievous bear--rather like Curious George. Bear is typically spotted whenever Mom travels overseas and she'll send Bear sightings and stories to go along with the area she's visiting. It's delightful!

      I do hope they find Hopster. We lost Ellie's lovey bunny in CW and he was never found. I figured some other kid picked him up and had the exact same thought process--what mom would let her kid take that worn out bunny home with them? :oS

  5. I'm so sorry for your loss! I'm so glad you were able to go- and so impressed with how you and the kids survived that travel nightmare! (It is reminiscent of our trip home from Italy, but with the added stress of grief and the little people along. I really, really hate airports sometimes!!). Sorry also about Quinn's bunny. Although Adventures of Hopster does sound like an excellent series of short stories ��).

    1. Thank you, Lisa.

      Maybe a "Choose Your Own Adventure" set of stories with Hopster, where different people pick him up and we find out new adventures with each reading....

      (And you may have gone to Italy, but I got to visit Hypoluxo Road!)

  6. So sorry for your loss and so proud (but not suprised) by your kids rising to the challenge...I"m actually reall sad about Quinn losing his kids would be devastated.

    Thanks for your kind words for me...means more than you know.

    1. Thank you, Peg. You've been in my thoughts lately. I hope you're doing okay.

      Aden has a pink bunny that if she lost the world would end. Mona has things she likes but nothing particularly special that we have to worry about. Quinn has a stripey blanket that is probably above and beyond all snuggle items and it has a twin! (Quite a bargain all those years ago at Walgreen's when he was a baby.) So Hopster was special, but Quinn's got pretty good perspective for a seven year old. He's sad if you remind him about it. Good otherwise. Besides, he still has his Mold-A-Ramas, so how can he stay sad?