How a 2 year old salvaged a holiday traveling nightmare (no, I’m not kidding)

Much of this blog, inevitably, concentrates on the struggles and difficulties of raising a little one. (Wouldn’t be much of a blog if I regularly posted things like, “This parenting thing’s a breeze! No problems here, no sir!”) But after the day my little family and I had today, I felt compelled to share the way Lily, our 2 year old daughter, managed to make a pretty crummy, delay-riddled day of travel into a tolerable, downright relaxing experience.

In order to celebrate Christmas with my family, Joe, Lily and I had traveled to my father’s home in North Carolina late last week. We’ve done this for many years now (since my parents retired to NC in the late ’90s), and we’re accustomed to getting off the plane to find warmer (than Michigan) temps and sunshine. So it never dawned on us to check the weather forecast before leaving this year. Aren’t there already enough details to worry about during the holidays?

So imagine our surprise as we watched, through the windows in my father’s house, six or more inches of snow accumulate on Christmas Day. Now, I knew from my two-year grad school stint at the University of Georgia that snow both excites and terrifies many folks who live south of the Mason-Dixon line, and judging by the local television coverage of the storm, this notion certainly seemed to apply to the people of Western North Carolina. But Joe and I soon became far more wrapped up in the snow’s consequences for us, specifically. As we checked in on the multiple flight cancellations out of Asheville that day, and heard forecasts calling for another couple of inches of snow the next day (when we were scheduled to fly home), our hearts sank. It’s one thing to be staring down a delay or an isolated cancellation on a regular day; it’s another thing entirely to wonder how an extremely large, upset backlog of people, all of whom would (understandably) be scrambling and jockeying for spots on outgoing flights in the coming days, would eventually all get to their destination – us included.

But despite the bleak forecasts, the snow relented in the Asheville area the day after Christmas – long enough, at least, for scheduled flights to make it out. So with fingers crossed, we packed our worldly goods into my father’s minivan and ventured out to the airport.

We arrived 90 minutes before our flight, and Asheville’s small airport only has a handful of gates, so we thought that as long as the weather held, we’d be in good shape. So we said our goodbyes to my dad and waited to check in at the kiosks. No dice. After initially recognizing my credit card, it asked us to punch in our full names, birthdates, etc. And even though we did that, a screen popped up that said, “Sorry, we’re unable to check you in at this time.” Joe and I both did this twice before we gave up and felt we had no choice but to get into the serpentine line of passengers who were waiting for the help of one person – that’s right, one person – who was working behind the counter. 

But we still thought we were in good shape. We’d allowed extra time as a cushion, right? Not so much. The woman behind the counter – who remained remarkably calm and rational throughout this whole ugly ordeal, I must confess – repeatedly told the anxious crowd that everyone should check in at one of the four kiosks (“Three,” someone in line corrected. “One’s not working”) and that she was there to handle checked baggage. OK. So she helped a couple of people in line, tried to keep those who COULD check in at the kiosks rolling, and before we knew it, it was 12:10 p.m., and we found ourselves still waiting in line, not quite at the front. “I can’t believe this,” I said. “Our plane’s here, we’re here, but we can’t check in and get to our plane.” As a last ditch effort, I tried a kiosk with my SkyMiles number, and the machine essentially said it was too late to check in for this flight. Plus, according to the monitors, our flight was on time. I called my father to update him and tell him he’d likely have to come back to pick us up.

But amazingly, through all of this, Lily rolled with the punches, stumbling forward in the line as we occasionally moved our truckload of luggage, and playing with the two castoff Barbies that my sister’s kids had offered to Lily during our stay. She had the two Barbies giving each other kisses repeatedly, and then got stuck on the idea of one of them riding on the shoulders of the other. Thankfully, she was engrossed by this for about an hour.

And finally, when we got to the counter, we learned that our plane hadn’t even landed yet, so it wasn’t on time (the person whose job it is to update the arrivals and departures hadn’t come in to work, which seemed a running theme following the storm the day before), and though we still couldn’t check bags, even though our plane hadn’t yet arrived (explain the logic of that one to me), she said we could take them all through security and try to check them planeside. Logistically a pain in the tuckus, sure, but what of it? We now had new hope regarding making it home.

So we were a complete nightmare at security – three suitcases, a car seat, a diaper bag, and a backpack with a laptop, let alone getting all our coats and shoes off and removing or bagging up any liquids – but we got through and arrived at our gate. There, we learned it wasn’t necessarily our gate, and that no one really knew where our plane would be arriving. OK. It was lunchtime and we were starving, so Joe sat with our small village of luggage on the floor (several seats in what was supposed to be our gate were blocked off for repairs or something, of course), and Lily and I went to forage for food. A little snack stand was our only option, and it had already been gutted, so that there wasn’t much to choose from. But I spotted a bag of apple slices and some Teddy Grahams for Lily, grabbed a desperate, paltry looking ham and cheese sandwich and a chicken caesar wrap for me and Joe, and ordered a corn dog for Lily – who, of course, wanted me to carry her, along with all the food, back to Joe. The things we do for love.

So the three of us sat/lay on the airport floor, as much out of the walkway as we could manage, and ate our sad, pathetic little lunches. But Lily ate well and seemed happy as a little clam. I told her about a rod-and-bead set-up just down the hall, so she went with Joe to play for a bit; and when they announced our flight would be arriving at the next gate down, I dragged all our luggage there in multiple, hurried trips. There were rows of empty seats in this area, so Lily walked across them and repeatedly ran back and forth through the rows, singing “A Spoonful of Sugar” on her way. You’d think it was the airport version of Disneyland.

She continued happily trotting around as the plane finally landed, the passengers got off, and they cleaned out the plane. Eventually, of course, we got to board, but then we soon heard that the airport was so understaffed that day that we’d be waiting for a good while to get our fuel, as well as to be de-iced, because they only had one machine. Oof. All right, I thought. I’m getting out the big guns.

I pulled out my laptop and loaded Lily’s new “Mary Poppins” DVD in it, and she happily settled in with a pair of earphones to watch. She complied when I explained – well over an hour later – that we had to turn it off while the plane climbed its way into the sky, and once we were airborne, she asked if she could watch “Madagascar” now. The way she was making a difficult day easier, that’s the least I can do, I thought. Plus, Joe and I both got to read our books during the flight – the first time that’s happened on a plane since before Lily was born.

We arrived in Detroit at around 5 p.m., and Joe and I struggled to figure out how to get all our bags – plus Lily, who needed some guidance with all the moving sidewalks and escalators – across the airport from C32 (which is a hike, let me tell you). By the time we reached the parking structure, Lily got on her knees while on the moving sidewalk, and stumbled into the glass barrier when trying to stand. She was about to drop, poor little thing; but she never did throw a fit.

Not surprisingly, she fell asleep in her car seat on the way home (she hadn’t been able to take a proper nap that day, obviously), and we let her sleep as long as we could. Throughout the rest of the evening, we praised her and told her how proud we were of how she had behaved all day.

But as I told Joe later, the biggest wonder of the day was how Lily’s behavior buoyed our spirits and provided us with more patience by far than we ever would have had. Joe’s the kind of person who sees waiting in line – any line, regardless of length – as a cruel punishment; and travel, of course, tends to heighten our natural tendencies. But even he never once lost his patience, despite the painfully slow service we received all day long. And neither of us ever got grumpy. Nervous and worried, yes; but we never turned sour. And I know for a fact that if Lily had not been with us on a travel day like this, the story would be different.

So color me astonished. Having a child, without question, complicates all aspects of your life – and had Lily been in a foul, uncooperative mood on this day, things would have been even worse by a longshot – but sometimes, they’re the very balm you need while navigating your way through the brambles, too.

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One thought on “How a 2 year old salvaged a holiday traveling nightmare (no, I’m not kidding)

  1. Faulkner says:

    I am glad to read this. Mimi was also fantastic on our 11 hour car trip to and from the farm. I forget to tell the good things about the kid. Yeah, Lily.

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