A few years ago, I could be heard saying I would never, ever, and I mean ever, fly with the kids without another adult beside me. Pardon the fixed mindset statement, judge or not there are some things in life that feel too far from reach, be it from a safety perspective or a ‘that’s way too far from my comfort zone’ to even consider it. Now, I have friend’s taking their son’s to chemotherapy, I have friend’s facing challenges that the one I share below would seem like a challenge they would happily trade theirs for. I don’t see this as anything extraordinary or that difficult, it’s a part of our journey and as our life has its ups and downs to, we cherish the success of each one we face no matter what it looks like. OK, where was I… Right! I’ve also said I would stop eating so much sugar, try lifting more weights and I did say I would never ski, but it looks like this winter my son’s are getting me on the slopes. There’s that, see you later, fixed mindset again!
This summer I flew from London to Boston, 6.5 hours in the air with the 4 boys, ages 9 – 2.5 years. It felt like it was time and I honestly yearned for the challenge. Pete flew us to London where we met with some of our dear Bangkok Bestie’s who now live in and around the area. The days shared was another reminder of how deep the bond of friendship goes and the years that have passed between us mean so very little. The children picked up where they left off and the women were laughing with glasses in hand just like old times. After two days, Pete flew to Ireland for work. The boys and I stayed another 2 days and enjoyed our friends, the beautiful weather and fresh, fresh, fresh air. Late nights and early mornings with jet lag were embraced and welcomed. The night before our departure reality began to set in. I would wake and have to tidy the Airbnb alone with the kids asking for toast and berries. Then, I’d wait for the driver to collect the 5 suitcases, 5 backpacks and 4 energetic boys to get to Boston in time for a swim. Luckily, my friend Elyssa is one of those friends you can share anything with and while she’ll tell me it’s going to be OK she”ll also remind me it won’t be easy but that it is possible. We had a teary goodbye with 7 boys between us and squeezed each other’s shoulders hard enough to know that we were always supporting one another, no matter the span of miles between us.
Restless sleep followed with a message before I put my phone down from the owner of the house saying he’d likely be by in the morning before we left at 8am as his next guests were arriving earlier than planned. Nothing like adding more sugar to an already sugary drink. Panic and ‘Oh my gosh’ what if the house is a mess when he arrives, the trash system alone had me dreaming of colours and bins and recyclables galore. Morning came, the trash was in its respective bins, the suitcases were outside in the driveway and I had only lost my patience twice that morning. (Considering it was only 8am, I’m not sure if that’s something to be proud of). Pete was sending positive and encouraging texts knowing that was the best approach for that day. The owner of the house came and we shook hands and had a lovely chat and the last thing he said to me was “I can’t believe you are going to do this flight alone with them.” The game was on. The challenge was in motion. If I stayed in a mindset of competition, it helped. The flight was the game, landing in Boston was the victory dance, the trophy was the hug from my Dad and brother who would collect us.
Once we arrived at Heathrow, the driver unloaded the luggage, helped me put them on the trolley and lingered even after I handed him the cash and a tip. He said “Are you going to be OK to get inside with all of this?” I nodded, and smiled and a wave of emotion hit me. He cared about the boys and I, but how? I gulped down a few tears and said we’d be just fine, I had lots of helpers today. For a few months I had envisioned the journey and most of those visions were of us on the actual flight. I failed on that aspect because what ensued threw me off track a bit. This day and age, service staff are becoming less and less in places like grocery stores and airports. Self check in is the name of the game. I quickly realised that this would be a bit of a struggle, but I gave it a go. After scanning in all 5 passports and seat selection I received an error message! Only 4.5 minutes in, Brody and Parker were playing bumper cars with the trollies, Ryker was licking the floor and Cam was the chosen helper and rule ‘obeyer’ for that task. It was then, I asked the one person I could find if there was a place I could do the check in with an actual person. She replied, “Yes, at that counter there, but only if you are elderly or with a group.” Immediately I categorised the 4 energetic and lively boys and I “a group”.
We stood in line, stood, as in, someone was climbing up the suitcases, one of them was chasing the other and the last one was still licking the floor. There were 15 of us at that stage all waiting in line for one, patient, lovely woman who had the job of handling all of “us” who couldn’t get through on the self-check in machines. An 82 year old woman put her hand on my shoulder and asked me if I was travelling alone with “all of them”. I smiled and said, yes, I was. She told me I was brave and I told her she was brave when she said she was travelling to Amsterdam alone to visit her friend. We are all brave, we agreed and exchanged a smile I’ll hold onto forever. Once we got through with our tickets will you believe this comedy skit when I tell you we then had to then self-check in our luggage? I honestly thought this was a practical joke! There we were, setting each bag on the belt, holding our breath while we waited for the weight to register and get clearance, then the receipt came through and the luggage was gone. We did that 5 times, only two went smoothly, the others with complications and the possibility of me sending the entire system off kilter when I stepped on the belt with all my weight. Twenty minutes of sweating and jumping around and asking the only person for help to help us, while everyone was avoiding getting in line/queue behind us.
Thankfully, security was a breeze, although that’s when the onlookers and whispers began. If they were curious enough to ask if I was flying alone with them, they would. I began to laugh after being asked 4 times in a row. Was I alone with them, I thought in my head? Weren’t we all in this together? I couldn’t feel any less alone with 4, energetic, loud, playful and chatty boys. I was with them, they were with me, we were and are a team, alone didn’t even make sense anymore. Our seating plan meant one of the boys had to “take one for the team.” I didn’t doubt who it would be, Parker is the family caretaker and these types of roles and situations he thrives in. He sat on the isle opposite me with a 70 year old man who shifted his head, helped him with his food tray and picked up his blanket when it fell. Our guardian angels were all around us this day… sending help in any possible way to remind us that we weren’t alone.
The flight attendants in our section were a mix of all business and fun, which is just my style. They jokingly told me I couldn’t indulge in the free flowing wine and I came back with “I’m saving myself for a nice cold beer with my Dad by the pool at 5pm.” Each hour he came by and reminded me how close I was to that moment. The time in the air was one of ease, even with it being Ryker’s first flight being toilet trained. Once we landed, due to the timing of the flight everyone was wide awake and full of energy. Immigration in Boston is also a self-check in kiosk station with a photo taking process that just yourself will make your head spin. This caused more sweat to rise from my brow and more people avoiding getting in line with us. After we collected our baggage our sights were set on the traditional stop at Dunkin Donuts. This year though, only Brody ordered up his favourite, the others choosing a drink from the shop and their sights on the final stretch, finding Poppie and Uncle Russy.
While I waited in line to pay for our treats, the boys were running around, they picked back up with the trolley bumper car game and this time Ryker was heading for the exit. I looked up and saw people staring, looks of annoyance and shock. Four boys running unattended while a Mom stood in line to get them a treat they greatly deserved. While it stung and I wished for one minute I could explain our journey and that they were celebrating a victory! I took the learning for myself, to never judge anyone for what their children might be doing or how they are misbehaving. To remember this as the boys grow older how obvious the challenges with little ones are seen. I was trying my best, we are all trying our best, taking each adventure and journey as it comes, the good and the bad and crossing that finish line no matter what it took you to get there, to place that medal around your neck, grab that trophy or feel the long awaited embrace of the people you love.