The alarm annoyed me with its buzzing, a cruel reminder of the day about to start.
4:00 A.M. “Get up,” I told myself. “You can’t miss the first flight.”
I pulled on some clothes, splashed water on my face, and brushed my teeth in a stupor. Man, did I want the coffee brewing in the kitchen. But coffee dehydrates and messes with my stomach when I travel. Better not risk it.
4:15 A.M. I pulled the baby out of the pac ‘n play and nursed him, still in a stupor and forcing myself not to crawl back under the covers with his warm little body snuggled against me.
My kids are troopers. At this ungodly hour, Titus finished nursing and smiled up at me, wide-eyed. Nora, four years old, sat up in bed and said in a far too cheery voice, “Mama, is it time to go to the airplane now?”
4:30 A.M. Both kids were in their carseats, Nora chatting away about something I couldn’t decipher in my early morning fog. The trunk was full of suitcases and strollers. Our incredible hostess and friend climbed into the driver’s seat of the 15-passenger monster van and started us on what would be more than 28 hours of travel.
Missionary furlough was over. Time to go home.
5:15 A.M. We were still wiping sleep out of our eyes. I felt cranky and was taking it out on my poor husband. I don’t deal well with other people in the morning. I know – not an excuse.
We got to the airline’s ticket counter and had an issue with baggage. I tried to push aside my “not-a-morning-people-person” attitude and explain to the ticket agent that I had called the airline that week. They had assured me of the exact number of bags allowed and the costs. The agent was helpful and polite, but the computers were a wreck. Two tries and twenty minutes later, she had checked everything in.
We got some breakfast at the food court. I chugged as much water as humanly possible in the next thirty minutes and then proceeded to relieve myself of as much as humanly possible before loading up to go through security.
The kids still acted peppy and cheerful. Josh seemed groggy, but set the example of a positive attitude for everyone. I still felt like I could throw a fist at the first person who gave me a wrong look.
But, knowing a very long day loomed ahead of us, I apologized to my sweet husband for my mood and promised to do better.
We moved toward security. A pre-TSA agent glanced at our boarding passes and stated, “Go to the other terminal.”
“This is our terminal, Ma’am.”
“I don’t care,” came her curt response. Apparently she wasn’t a morning-people-person either. “Go through the other security and walk to your terminal from there.”
So we did. Along with a backpack, purse, two rolling carry-ons, two strollers, one car seat, two kids, one child’s backpack and a baby doll.
We made it through security and let the kids run around the airport play area while we waited. Titus, one and a half years old, made frequent breaks for the moving walkway, so it became somewhat of a repeated sprint for Mama and Papa.
Sprinting at 6:30 A.M. Not really my thing. Not a morning person.
We made it through the first flight, an easy 45-minute jaunt. Upon arrival, we realized that our anticipated six hour layover was actually a nine and a half hour layover. Nine plus hours with two children under five years at Chicago O’hare airport.
We debated finding a bus into town, doing some site seeing. Anything to get out of the airport. But Titus had no winter coat, and it was literally freezing outside. Scratch that idea.
We had two passes to the United Airlines club. That would at least be a quieter and cleaner place to wait. Titus could walk around but still be somewhat contained. The club provides food and beverages.
The club check-in agent was downright rude. Apparently she was also not a morning-people-person. She tested my resolve to have a better attitude and I bit back the angry response going through my head.
We didn’t stay at the club. We walked out with our backpack, purse, two rolling carry-ons, two strollers, one car seat, two kids, one child’s backpack and a baby doll.
By God’s grace, Chicago airport has the most incredible children’s play area. We spent over four hours there. The kids were thrilled. Mama and Papa were relieved.
After a sit-down lunch to kill another hour, we headed for the long flight. We were the first ones at the empty gate in the somewhat run-down international terminal. The kids dumped toys, crayons and books all over the floor, claiming an entire section of the waiting area for us.
As other passengers arrived, I saw the familiar look of dread on their faces. “Are those kids coming on this flight? This 9.5 hour flight?!”
The gate agents told us they had to check our strollers through the rest of the way. No need to pick them up in Vienna. That airport has strollers free to rent. Josh and I were reluctant, but when you fly, you’re at the mercy of ticket agents, security guards and flight attendants.
We boarded the plane. An angel of a flight attendant rearranged a few passengers so that our family had five whole seats to ourselves! And then the beautiful pilot came over the intercom to inform us that a strong wind was cutting an hour and a half off our flight! This day was finally looking up.
Our daughter slept at least half the flight. Josh slept a few hours and then got sick. I nursed the baby, and he slept fitfully for about three hours. I developed a nose bleed and between that and a kicking baby at my side, I didn’t sleep much.
We arrived in Vienna. The promised airport strollers were outside security and passport control. We weren’t going through either of those, which meant a five-hour layover with no stroller at all. Big deal, you say?
Well, now we were each carrying a bag, pulling a rolling carry-on, keeping tabs on our daughter’s bag and baby doll, and trying to keep our little ones from running all over the airport like screaming banshees. Titus nearly fell down a huge flight of stairs in his excitement over the freedom.
Five hours in Vienna airport. Josh and I took turns napping. He still felt nauseous, and I was just exhausted. The kids were in great moods and had boundless energy. It is a mystery of life to me – where kids get their energy, even without sleep.
I took Nora and Titus for a walk at one point to stretch and find some food. Pretty sure Titus could have broken something at every airport shop we passed.
I finally found a fruit salad and small sandwich. I was in the middle of paying the exorbitant airport prices when I turned to see my son, toddling around with a glass beer stein in his hands, dangling it precariously over the tile floor. I flew to his side and interceded the drop, muttering under my breath about airport strollers and having no way to corral my busy, curious son.
Finally it was time to board the last flight. Titus ran solo past the waiting passengers and under the gate agent’s counter. I muttered a grumpy “thanks a lot” under my breath, wishing for my confiscated strollers.
We got through the ticket counter and found the only way to our plane was down three sets of stairs. No escalator. No elevator. So, we carried a backpack, a purse, two rolling carry-ons, a child’s backpack, a baby doll, and a squirming one and a half year old down three flights of stairs. At least we didn’t have the strollers.
We got the front row on our last flight. Most of us slept.
We arrived in L’viv’s airport and were ushered to the front of the passport control line, because we had two small children. “Thank you, God, for a little break.”
Passed through passport control, picked up all our luggage. Walked through the sliding glass doors and met eager family and friends on the other end. Josh and I were relieved to hand over babies for someone else to hold and hug for a little while.
We loaded into the cars and finally headed home. We reached our house, dirty, sick, and exhausted. The trip was 28.5 hours from door to door.
But, we made it. With two small kids, a backpack, a purse, two rolling carry-ons, a child’s backpack, a baby doll…and even two strollers.
And that, my friends, is missionary travel.