Simply trying to GET to Florida proved to me more daunting a task than even my imagination was able to anticipate! Melina's fever was in high gear and one of my counted on "helping hands" was rendered useless!
Once arrived at the airport, a huge trolly was loaded much as one would see in a cartoon where the height could rival a small apartment building! Duane's skills in this department are rather impressive although the mothering instincts in me shook its head as I imagined those around us in line to check-in being buried by the sudden tumbling of this teetering mount everest of luggage! Had I not been so caught up with getting all seven passports and e-tickets ready, (and telling Melina & Loreena to keep the kids away from our luggage tower) I would have likely snapped a picture!
Instead, we stuffed all winter jackets and boots into a huge bag and watched Pepere (my dad) walk back to the suburban to keep them there until our friend would pick us up the following week... the only thing missing was the red suit and a jolly Ho-Ho-Ho and one would think he was carrying a huge magical bag filled with goodies!
The over-thinking part of me questioned if leaving our warm jackets behind was wise but I could not imagine how we could lug all this luggage AND jackets & boots, to boot!
The check-in line was more than manageable and before we knew it, we were standing before our "ticket guy" who did his best to piece together six people plus an infant, three different last names, connection boarding passes, etc... Finally came printing the boarding passes and receipts which ended up jamming their printer. I apologized profusely as I was convinced it was the size of our travelling crew that caused the problem! The toddlers were good during this long process and even Sivana had smiles in her car seat / stroller duo. Fifteen minutes, thirty minutes, forty-five minutes... the little ones are now trying to climb our mount everest of luggage and that honing device I mentioned about the "Ethan suitcase" quickly put an end to that.
How much longer is this going to take??? It is now 12:30 and the kids' low blood blood sugar is beginning to kick in. This is the phase where we refer to our children as hypo-glycemic demon babies! I cave and turn on Dora on my iPod only to have our guy finish fixing the printer & give us our twelve boarding passes (for connection flights, as well), receipts, and baggage claim tickets. Off we go with our caravan towards customs where all electronic devices need to be turned off...
Have you ever turned off a kids' show not even three minutes into it? Have you ever made this dangerous attempt when your children have not eaten lunch yet and are fast approaching missing their nap time, too? Beware the resulting wrath and impending doom!
Cue the meltdown and Ethan's blood curdling screams... sigh.
The one advantage to this is the impressive collective effort from the customs staff to corral us through very quickly! The stern elderly man in uniform with the serious countenance who was stamping our passports finally cracked a small smile at Duane and my attempt to keep the chaos at a minimum... he looked at me, leaned in and said "my wife raised our six children... I found it far easier to be in combat than to be at home! Good luck with your travels!"
Okay, passed customs without issues and now to security... Dear God almighty, do not let them confiscate any of Ethan's food!
We had to bid adieu to our handy luggage trolly and its impressive balancing act and put our carry-on suitcase boot camp training to the test. Apparently we needed to work on sharp corners...
After the few tumblings of Ethan's suitcase and resulting angry screams (from Ethan, not from me!), we were once again taken through a "special" line where we all scrambled to remove shoes, watches, hair clips, belts, sweaters, took out electronics (which I kept in my designated carry on suitcase) and finally... placed the Ethan suitcase on the scanning table....
I'm sure that my breaking into a sweat was a red flag for these officers... and that conviction was not helping my breaking into a sweat!! Then it was walking through the metal detector. Me first, then it was trying to convince Ethan to walk through this daunting device towards a mom whose look on her face was not reassuring... nor the sweat dripping off her forehead! "Come on, Ethan, walk right through the middle! Come to mommy!" (Nervous laugh).
Did I already mention he was in a "fine mood" at this point? (Twitch, twitch)
Finally, after much coaxing, he ran through that thing like he half expected it to blow up. One kid down, several more to go. Anika was pretty good... then Duane and the baby, Loreena and finally Melina, who looked so sick at this point, I was sure they were about to turn us away for fear of H1N1 or something. No alarms... yet. I look over to the staff scanning our luggage and they are stuck on my suitcase with the cameras, baby monitors, GPS device, batteries, video camera, etc... where is Ethan's luggage?? Still has to be scanned! Gulp!
I have GOT to quit sweating like this! Duane as always is calm, cool and collected... darn it, why can't I be more like him?! Act normal, Rita.. just act normal... crap, my normal can come across as kinda scary... okay, DON'T act normal, Rita... DON'T act normal... ARGH, I'm making this worse!
The electronics finally go through... phew. Here comes Ethan's suitcase...
"Um, ma'am, can you please open this suitcase and remove all the liquids."
"Oh, sure!!" Why is my voice shaky and why did it just go up two octaves?? Snap out of it, Rita! Everything will be just fine!!!
"I have apple sauce here... oh and frozen soups here... I was hoping that because they were frozen, I could keep them in containers greater than the recommended 125 mls... (nervous laugh)... I have letters... oh, the epipen... crap, I'm not making sense am I.... (nervous laugh... oh Dear Lord, I am going to get arrested!)... here's his apple juice but I was hoping that because it's unopened, this would be okay... but I also packed smaller ones in case this was an issue... is this an issue? (Nervous laugh) This is his meal supplement powder... did I mention his allergies? Look, this is his "special bracelet"... (shut up, Rita, shut up)... Is powder an issue? The rest should be dried goods.... are we good?"
Holy smokes, is it just me or is it flippin' 200 degrees in here??? I had better not be getting whatever Mina has!
Would you believe his suitcase went through without a hitch? Nearly gave myself an ulcer... for nothing! And there was my darling husband looking at me with that "See, I TOLD you. When will you just relax?"
Took a deep breath and headed towards our gate. Oh dear, escalators... how on earth do we tackle that with all this luggage, two young kids dragging their suitcases, a stroller and an infant?? Considering I wanted to get far away from security as quickly as possible, Duane and Ethan took the elevator and the stroller while I picked up Anika and two suitcases up the escalator! Almost at the gate... almost there!
It was horribly crowded with no sitting room and I had to find a way to nurse Sivana, feed the little ones and grab a bite to eat, too.
Is it too late to turn around and go home??
Sent Melina and Loreena to buy us sandwiches and drinks... I nursed Sivana while Duane took out Ethan's soup and started feeding him a few bites. The kids came back and I nearly choked as they said these small sandwiches all cost us nearly fifty dollars!! Whatever! "Okay, big girls, chow down your sandwiches, help Anika eat hers..." "Oh, you didn't mention buying one for Anika." ARGH!! "Okay, feed her half of mine."
Five minutes later, the announcer says they are now boarding the elderly and those with small children. CRAP! Half a nursing for Sivana, no lunch for me, Ethan had only a few mouthfuls... toss everything in a bag and let's GO, GO, GO people!
Our plane was so small that we had to gate check our carry-on suitcases... yes, even the Ethan-Suitcase... After hyperventialating only momentarily, I eyeballed the people who were now responsible for my son's food for the week... just in case. Attempting to move down the aisle carrying an infant and carry on bags was down right comical at this point and we could barely fit our carry on bags at our feet! Oh this is going to be a fun hour and a half! Duane and Ethan in two seats, Loreena and Melina in the two seats in front, and Anika and I (with Sivana on my lap) across the aisle from Duane & Ethan. Anika pulls out the safety pamphlet to look at and says in a cheery voice, "look, mom, this plane has fire on it... and this one is in the water!... I love blue."
Great. If I wasn't paranoid about the plane crashing to begin with, this was NOT helping!
The Stewardess comes by and says "Ma'am, are you familiar with the safe way of holding your infant during lift off and landing?"
"Aside from just holding her on my lap?"
"Yes Ma'am, you need to cradle her across your chest to best brace her neck and spine."
Gulp. "Oh, thank you... I did not know that."
Why is everything 200 degrees around here??? Crap, did I remember deodorant?? Will that matter if the plane crashes?? ARGH!!
"Isn't this fun, mom?"
"Yes, Anika, this is quite the adventure, isn't it?" I think I am about to faint. I look over to Duane for that reassuring calmness I can always count on and instead see a look of "I didn't mean to... I'm sorry!"
"I THOUGHT I put the lid on his soup back on properly..."
"Oh please tell me you are joking... please?"
Before the plane had even taken off, we lost Ethan's first meal for the day. Not only did we lose the soup, everything in his carry-on cooler was now buried in soup. "And I can't find his spoon." Thankfully I anticipated these things in my over-thinking process and had a few extra meals (and utensils) which I thought were cleverly placed in side pouches of the portable cooler but apparently were not there. At least there were tons of napkins.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we are preparing for take-off, please take your seats and remain seated until further notice."
Sniff, sniff... I think Sivana pooped. Oh good grief.
"Mommy, I am really, really, really hungry... and if I don't eat, I am going to die."
"Anika, your body would have to go without food for about seven days before it would die... you're good. I'll feed you some of mommy's sandwich when we are up, up, up in the sky, okay?"
"But moooooom! I'm hungry NOW!" Cue crying Sivana... look over to see Duane trying to dig around in the soup-filled bag to find Ethan's needed utensils... what have I done? Why did we think this was a good idea? We have seven hours of travelling still to go!
Finally the plane takes off and we are up in the air... still alive... no one left behind. I shove my sandwich into Anika's mouth as I try to nurse Sivana behind my handy-dandy hooter-hider. This proves unsuccessful as I bang her head on the metal arm rest after she pushed off the other one with her feet. Cue screaming baby... again. Ah screw trying to conceal everything! I need to see my baby and nearby metal objects! Goodbye humility and hopefully no one turns around in their seat or they will get to know way more about me than they bargained for! And at this point, I really don't care!
Mental numbness was beginning to kick in as the stewardess rolls her little trolly down the aisle handing out a) pretzels, a nemesis of mine; b) cookies, and c) PEANUTS. Please, God, keep Ethan safe from any flying peanuts!
Before we know it, we have landed in Minneapolis and it is time to truly put my organizational skills and training to the test. Well, we collected all gate-checked luggage, loaded them with the carry-on bags, everyone grabbed their designated bag, Sivana was loaded in her infant car seat which snapped into her stroller (so smart) and off we went! We had little time to get from one end of this massive airport to the other and it would require several elevators, trams and escalator-type moving floors.
First the glass elevator... We barely fit in it and Ethan was hesitant stepping over the crack between the floor and the door. Once we were finally crammed in, we pushed the button for the lower level... and waited. And waited. "Mina, push it again." The door shuts. Oh phew. We don't move.
"Maybe we weigh too much? Mina push the button harder!"
The door reopens... not helpful. Finally it shuts and goes down to the lower level, does NOT open the door and then takes us back to the floor we had just come from! What the heck??? Is this thing broken? We see a stewardess and I yell out "Do you know how to work this elevator??"
Great, mother of five who cannot work an elevator... do I even want to know what her thoughts are right now?
Finally, Melina points out... "Ah you guys... we ARE on the 1st floor! We needed to push the button for the basement!"
"Ah never mind... (nervous laugh)... we figured it out." All thought of homeschooling going out the window right now given this mother cannot even figure out what floor we are on!
Off the elevator and off to the moving floors. Ethan again is hesitant in stepping onto it, I nearly fall backwards with the stroller failing to anticipate the physics of how quickly one can lose their balance stepping onto a moving floor, and Anika has dropped her suitcase in a pouting attempt to protest any further lugging around. By the time we reached the third "moving floor," we had it down to an art!
Next was the tram. This could potentially be pretty cool for the kids! Finally! We step onto this thing and I notice a few poles. The tram begins to move and I finally understand WHY the poles are there! After I do a crazy dance trying to keep from falling over, I lock Sivana's stroller wheels in place and commend the other kids for having half a brain to figure out holding on would be a good idea. Even Ethan had been holding on... sigh.
We walk past wonderful smells of food, realize we still have not eaten, but arrive at our gate just in time to begin boarding... a much larger plane! Three seats on each side! Duane, Loreena & Ethan in one row, Anika & I (Sivana once again on my lap) in front with a mystery person scheduled to sit at the window and Melina stranded at a window seat with strangers a couple of rows down. Hmmm, maybe whoever sits at our window seat will be willing to trade with Mina!
After we held up the plane trying to place our suitcases & bags in compartments above our heads (and those of our neighbours), we took our seats. Anika is once again fascinated by the safety pamphlet and its lovely colours of red and yellow where the plane is on fire. "Mommy, I really want to sit with Loreena!!" Duane and I make a child swap and Ethan is now sitting beside me. A woman approaches where we are sitting and looks at the window seat... aha! Before she sticks her luggage above us (assuming there is any room) I say "Ma'am, would you be at all willing to trade window seats with my teenage daughter just two rows over?"
She looks at me, Sivana and then Ethan (if that's not encouragement for someone to change seats, I don't know WHAT is) and looks at me rather annoyed. She sighs heavily and says "well, my husband is sitting right in front of me... so no."
Seriously? Wow. Okay... remember to love unconditionally, Rita. God breathed His precious breath of life into her and that makes her on this planet with a purpose. She is your sister in Christ.
Then she sits next to Ethan, looks at him with slight annoyance and says "Won't this be fun." At which point, Ethan glares at her suspiciously, puts his head down on my arm and the woman adds "... or NOT."
Wow, you are a peach, Lady! Suddenly all concerns of Sivana crying or of Ethan squirming and kicking those sitting next to him went out the window.
Before we know it, we are in the sky once more. Ethan is now crying to sit beside Loreena and Anika is nearly fit to be tied. Finally, Loreena and I trade spots and I am now sitting beside Anika & Duane. Anika starts wailing that she wants to sit beside Loreena and for the sake of other people's ears on the plane (minus lovely anti-seat-trading-lady now sitting in front of me), we plunked Anika next to Loreena, gave her an electronic device to play on, plunked our now upset Ethan between Duane and I and started playing an episode of Dora the Explorer on the iPod. All was finally peaceful.
With the plane being as large as it is, a beverage & snack trolly was coming towards us from the front and one was coming towards us from the back. Out of nowhere, Ethan suddenly panics, stands up on Duane's lap and yells "My BUM is hurting! My BUM is hurting!! Daddy it hurts!"
What on earth? This has never happened before! As Duane looks at me not knowing what the problem is, his eyes go big as Ethan unleashes the biggest poop imaginable! Thankfully, his poops are not usually that stinky... usually... but before we know it, a blast of indescribable stench fills my nostrils causing me to throw my head back to get away! Now what? The trollies are closing in, we have no way of escaping and I DARE NOT try to change his diaper on the seat here and unleash the full extend of that stench!
And then an unchristian moment... oh I hope Anti-Seat Lady is regretting her decision right now.
Sivana has now pooped (again) and thankfully I can whip a new diaper on her while lying on my lap in record time! But as the stewardess comes closer to our seats, she also throws her head back and that fake smile turns into a sour mouth as she waves her hands in front of her nose... yes, it was that bad.
I cannot help but burst out laughing (it's either that or cry at this point) and say "I know! We're so sorry! We're just waiting for the trollies to get out of the way so that we can change his diaper."
Before you know it, a few shouts later and they have wheeled that second trolly out of the way to make room for Duane to walk down most of the plane carrying Ethan and the chemical warfare that is his diaper! No one on that plane went without knowing the wrath of stench contained therein!
So we have covered the planes and the trams... how do automobiles fit into this?
When we FINALLY arrived in Florida, it was 8:30 p.m. local time with all of us having only eaten parts of sandwiches. We made our way to baggage claim (which took an additional twenty to thirty minutes) as we would not be able to pick up our rental vehicle without the kids' car seats. We stationed our crew in a corner, Duane parked himself near the mile-long moving track while I tried to feed Ethan his chicken nuggets, fries and veggies. Melina was nearly passed out on the floor but our ever optimistic Loreena was running around with Anika.
An hour came and went as we watched helplessly while everyone found their luggage and kept on with their day. We were the last ones there before Duane finally asked someone "where on earth is our luggage?"
Folks, we had been standing at the wrong baggage claim.
Okay, now things are really starting to NOT be funny anymore. Really. By the time we walk to the other baggage claim area, it is empty of people. Thankfully Duane spotted our luggage and car seats. We changed diapers and had potty breaks while Duane re-created our teetering tower of luggage on a $4 trolly. Now to find our rental vehicle...
At this point, I was not much fun and that unconditional love for strangers had been spent on Lady-Lovely on the previous plane ride and it looked like we had another mile-long area to cover a plethora of rental companies. So when this man approached us to "help" us, I was ready to just keep right on walking! But I did yell back "just looking for our rental van!"
"Which rental company?"
"Oh, they are not located at the airport."
I stop dead in my tracks... "What?"
"You'll have to go to the lower level and catch a shuttle bus outside."
Are you flippin' kidding me? When I booked this rental, I had requested ON SITE for airport vehicle rental services!! How are we supposed to lug all of this stuff onto a shuttle bus?? We start walking to the nearest elevator... "not in service".... move the army to the next elevator... "not in service"... okay, C'MON! Finally we find an elevator that works, walk out the doors to discover it is near record-breaking cold for Florida! Yep, about four degrees celcius and my kids are only in T-shirts and sweaters... great. Not only that, but we realize that the shuttle bus we needed was pulling out of its station! I wave frantically while trying to push the stroller only to watch the bus drive away...
It is now 10:30 pm and I am ready to bite someone's head off. We waited about thirty minutes before another one showed up. The kids were exhausted, I was fuming, we were all starving and I did NOT have a map from the rental company to our villa because I had printed a map from the airport instead!
We got to the rental company and I stood guard around the mountain of luggage on the curb in a freezing frenzy while the teenagers and the little ones went inside to watch the movie playing in the waiting area and to keep warm. I handed Duane the necessary paperwork and was looking forward to calling it a day before too much longer!
Ten minutes, twenty minutes, thirty minutes... nearly forty-five minutes later, Duane finally comes out with a set of keys! "What on EARTH took so long?? I think I just lost a toe to frostbite!"
"Forget about it, let's just get to the house."
After installing car seats, loading up the van with luggage and trying to figure out our GPS device (as this was our first time using it), we were FINALLY on our way to our home away from home. "Duane, we need to eat something! I know it's nearly midnight, but I am starving." We order from McDonalds (you KNOW we are hungry when we are willing to eat McDonalds!) and continue on our way. We reach what they call a "Toll Bridge" or something like that and discover we need to pay $0.75. Duane hands the guy a canadian looney and the guy says "I cannot accept this."
Duane (whose patience is now running out as well... did not think this was possible) says "buddy, it's worth more than your U.S. coins right now!"
"Sorry sir, I cannot accept this."
For crying out loud! Hopefully this kid can break a $50 bill because we did not bring any loose U.S. change! Bless Loreena's heart, she happened to have a $1 bill!
Please, can we just get "home"?
And so we finally did! It was freezing cold as we could not figure out how to set the thermostat (this was definitely the vacation of "feeling dumb") and poor Anika was shaking like a leaf. This would later turn into high fevers, but that will be covered in Part 3.
So there you have it, folks... the journey towards our "vacation" which rendered us numb, starving, grumpy and freezing cold... and with an impending vow that we would never do something this stupid again! Let's hope the rest of the week makes all of this "worth it"!