We arrive at the Mayberry airport and Subway (the sandwich shop, not the trains) complex two hours ahead of time as the airline recommends. I refer to it this way because the Subway sign is just as large and with bigger print than the Airport sign and the establishment receives more traffic than the terminal. I set J Bean on a bench with a pile of bags and drive (20 feet) to the rental car return, which is a parking spot that says “Park Rental Here.” The contrast with O’Hare is stark, but hey, it’s here and it saves us a drive from Jacksonville when it works out. After returning our car and receiving great ticketing service we sit down to wait for the security area to open. Yes, security is closed. Apparently, with only three flights a day, they only open security 30 minutes before boarding to screen the 15-25 passengers who will be flying in the puddle jumper. We know this, but I forgot; My first slip of the day. Oh well, we’ll have a seat and wait. I let the little one’s walk around as I can literally see the entire airport from my seat. No sooner do the tyrants walk across the room than Officer Friendly comes out of his office (which is far too large for such a small building) and tells me my son’s sippy cup is upside down and might leak and that I should take it from him. “Thank you, that one actually seals up pretty well and doesn’t leak, but I’ll keep it over here if it makes you feel better.” I’m rolling my eyes on the inside, but the man seems like a nice guy and has been almost helpful and only occasionally annoying on previous trips. I wonder what you have to do in a medium sized south Georgia county to be banished to airport duty indefinitely? It wasn't punishment for lack of potential milk spillage diligence; I can tell you that much.
I receive a text from the airline 15 minutes before the local airline personnel inform us our flight will be delayed an hour; meaning security will not open yet either, apparently there is no need to bother until it is confirmed our plane is in the air (plus there is no Subway beyond security). Later we learned it would be an hour and a half, putting me into Atlanta a full 11 minutes prior to our connection. Oh joy. During our wait we took advantage of the onsite sandwich artist’s shop and watched with amusement as J Bean shared art work (scribbles on Post-It notes) with strangers and Officer Friendly paced around calling people to task for one thing after another. He nailed us for walking 15 feet from our luggage and indicated I needed to stay close before the guys in the blue shirts started running around and screaming. I don’t bother pointing out that he knows it’s my luggage and he knows where I am and that he could potentially share that information with the Blue Man group (TSA's) who don’t seem to be noticing anything other than the delay in their lunch break.
Later, on the plane, it becomes evident Link is in an overtired and manic stage. This is bad news. Normally, this doesn't happen until later in the day if we miss nap time and it usually involves much head shaking, screaming and grabbing, destroying and/or throwing anything and everything he can get his hands on. It’s a short ride to Atlanta, and we arrive and collect our fold up wagon which had been checked plane side (as in on the Tarmac in Mayberry) a full 12 minutes (score!) before our connection is supposed to depart. This means, conservatively, I have 7 minutes to get from the end of Concourse C to the end of Concourse A. I won’t make it. There is little doubt of that, but just enough hope that I tell J Bean to scream at me if Link tries to stand up and to hold on. I run at a good pace past about 15 gates before slowing for a breather (not wishing to have a heart attack in the middle of Hartsfield International). J Bean pipes up from the wagon, “Daddy! We only have a few minutes, why aren't you running!?”
“Daddy can only run so far kiddo. We’re hurrying as fast as we can.”
We ride two elevators, a tram and cross the distance of about half a mile only to arrive exactly at departure time. “Is there an airplane heading to Chicago still at the end of that jet-way?” I inquire with the gate agent, gasping for breath and drenched in sweat. “Sorry, just missed it, she’s gone.” He replies. He becomes the 4th person today to compliment on my fold-up wagon at the exact moment I managed to pinch my daughter’s arm (hard) between the handle and the front support bar. J Bean, of course, goes into hysterics as if her arm was actually just removed from her body by a passing train. It’s a good pinch, I try to comfort her and we make a pit-stop in a family restroom to pat it with cool water (they only have warm), change Link’s diaper and dole out the first sucker of the day in an attempt to cease the crying of my firstborn. Once the sobbing subsides, we are able to grab a bite. Despite the offering of healthy choices, my children seem to never swallow anything but junk food on travel days. They just won’t eat any of the things they usually would. Instead of happily devouring a banana, Link will squeeze it and paint himself with it. J Bean will make outlandish proclamations like, “I don’t like chicken. Never have, never will.” What the Hell? Chicken is the most common meal in our home. Oh well, “have a yogurt parfait with 5000mg of sugar instead. I’m going to have a tall iced coffee and see if I can find something your brother won’t throw on the ground.” That thing turns out to be pretzels, he sucks on them first getting all the unhealthy sodium he can before handing them back to me in a soggy heap. Time to go, connection flight is boarding soon.
We find our seats on our backup flight (which is only an hour later thankfully) after a Battle Royale involving Link and my cup of coffee. No. You might eat shit all day, but you cannot have my coffee, sir. Turns out this flight, or at least our section, is the Chuck E Cheese of air travel. Of the 9 seats in our row and the two in front of us, four of the seats have children under four years old and there are three “lap children” (Link is a “lap child” and all lap children are under two). There are four parents in the section and one random young guy dead center of it all whom I actually have pity for, in spite my own rough luck today. “Excuse me, I don’t mean to offer unsolicited advice… but if there is an empty seat or cargo space anywhere onboard, you should seek it out. This could be an ugly ride. Look around you,” I offer to the twenty-something. He tries unsuccessfully to relocate and now I wish I hadn’t said anything. Link looks at him as if to say, “Oh yeah! You’re my Huckleberry. Ever tried to catch chewed up shortbread cookies? Do you enjoy having your seat kicked? This guy can't stop me for long.”
As we take off and the landing gear retracts, I realize simultaneously that Link has crapped himself and that I did not update our car service (no we’re not loaded, but it’s safer than a taxi and cheaper than parking at the airport for a week) with our new flight information. If I don’t inform them, I’ll probably be charged for not being there when we said we would and we will have to wait for them to dispatch another vehicle for us (one that can hold me, our luggage and our two car seats). The fasten seatbelt sign will be on another 10 minutes, diaper has to wait. Sorry, random dude sitting in kiddie Hell; Let the hazing begin. While holding Link, whose only goal in life is to get underneath the seats and figure out how to inflate an emergency life vest, and dealing with the barrage of questions and requests from J Bean I realize I can connect (and pay for) in-flight Wi-Fi and have someone call for me or maybe email the company; so that is good news and thanks to some good online friends, we make that happen. Once that is handled (which takes far too long on a mobile device with two squirmy, tired and cranky kids) we wait for an opening in the bathroom line. There is no line really, because you can’t wait in line at the front of an airplane (federal regulation after 9/11) so what you really do is wait for someone to come out and make a mad dash with two kids in tow and hope to reach the bathroom 25 rows up (the rear one is blocked by the caravan of beverage service) before some oblivious yuppie in first class stands up and walks into the lavatory just as you are within reach. During one of these sprints, the forward flight attendant steps into the aisle ahead of me asking the first class citizens if they would like a hot towel, cool cucumbers for their eyes or a nice foot massage. As I approach and wait patiently for her to finish an interaction she looks at me irritably (with a toddler in hands and pre-schooler tagging along) and asks sharply (as if I were being rude for not interrupting and saying excuse me), “Do you need to get by?!” It takes every ounce of will power in my possession not to retort with, “Nope, we’re just out for a stroll, wanted to check out the first class accommodations. This is nice. Ya’ll got any of them good cookies up here?”
Instead I say, “Yes, we are trying to get to the bathroom and we're going to have a problem if we don’t make it before another passenger does at this point.” She wisely lets us by and I shoehorn myself, my daughter and my son into the 2x2 “room” with no changing surface. Even when there is a changing counter that folds down on an aircraft, it is far too small and within reach of all paper products and assorted buttons without one all hope is lost you might as well change a child in a port-a-potty it has just as much utility for getting the job done. With a 4 year old added to the party, you might as well try to change a child in a sardine can. By the way, why are there ashtrays and razorblade discard slots on airplanes? You just told us it would be a federal offense to smoke on an airplane so why do you tempt people? Who uses a disposable square blade these days anyway?
The flight is mostly uneventful beyond the normal screaming (harmonized with the other nearby children), a few items thrown, a sippy cup pressurization incident (think “Old Faithful”) and wrestling with the tiny ball of tyrannical ball of energy that is my son. It does appear J Bean’s fascination with the airplane safety card and “Urgency Landings” is making some nearby newbies nervous as we encounter some turbulence. “Won’t it be fun to go down that slide on the wing after we have an urgency landing Daddy? Look there is fire in this picture! Do you smell smoke?"
In order to ward off the coming tantrum and to help with hurting ears during descent, I offer suckers. Yes, I gave a small sucker to my toddler. Sue me. His lips are blue from eating it too, so he wears the evidence like a scarlet letter of my bad parenting the rest of the day. That doesn't phase me at this point, we are in code red after 10 hours away from our departure from my Mom’s place so I have no regrets. I do what I have to do. On the ground now, the ordeal is almost over; or so I think.
Must be the airline calling to tell me about my bags again, oh well, I’ll answer. Instead of a friendly airline employee, I find myself on the phone with a frantic woman who seems to think I have her bag and that she definitely has mine. My mind replays the bag pickup in slow-mo. “I’m terribly sorry, that is entirely possible as I am an idiot. What can we do, where are you?” I say. After she calms down a bit we figure out she is where we were picked up and we need only circle around. It is kind of an adventure in itself due to the hoops taxi’s/limos in Chicago must go through before they are allowed to pick up someone at the airport. As we approach the loading zone I informed J Bean, “I’m going to get out of the car for a minute and a woman out there might yell at me a little bit, but it’s OK and I’ll be back in here and we’ll be on our way momentarily.” The woman was forgiving and I was apologetic and we now have the correct bag and are on our way again.
I look at the time as we hit a wall of traffic on the interstate. 5:25pm. Rush Hour. An hour later we have traversed the 12 miles home with a very unhappy Link. I ordered pizza (this trip is getting expensive) so we’d have something to eat at home after being gone for a week and I tip the driver for the headaches I have caused when we arrive home. I am fortunate in that our friend and pet sitter shows up soon after our arrival (because I forgot to tell her when we’d return, what is wrong with me?) and she helps me with the pet care and the kids (even reading a bedtime story to my eldest) and makes a great batch of Bloody Mary! I highly recommend you have a friend who knows how to make a mean cocktail meet you at home if you have been traveling with children alone and will be coming home to an empty house. Friends are great! I also recommend you find a few thousand people to read your inane complaints about first-world problems and who will support and encourage you and validate your fury with those who cross your path along the way. It is a boost which is hard to describe during travel. Thank you for reading, Parenting Partners, it means a lot to me and I hope you continue to enjoy the mishaps, successes and failures of a Dad on the Run for many moons.