Friday, November 30, 2012

Planes, Trains, & Automobiles

Thanksgiving has come and gone.  We made it to Iowa and now we are back home in Cleveland.  If only our travels were as quick and painless as reading that sentence...  Before I begin our story, I will preface it by saying that until I can find a stockpile of inner zen, I won't be flying alone with little Finn until she can understand the words that are coming out of my mouth.  I will drive 10 hours solo with her -- but our little solo feet will be firmly planted on the ground until the kid can pop her own ears.  Our travels were a hodgepodge of bad ideas all rolled into one muddled nightmare (I will state that it was only a nightmare and not a night terror -- there were some positives.  It just seemed that the negatives severely outweighed the positives).


So my story begins on Tuesday evening as E dropped us off curbside at the Cleveland airport.  I had to check a bag for our five-day holiday and was shocked to learn that United now charges $25/one-way for the first checked bag.  What a rip-off!  Another rip off?  Economy seating.  I upgrade our seats, figuring that we would need the extra room as well as needing to get off the plane as quickly as possible to catch our connection.  Each seat was about $10, but when you have a connection on a round-trip ticket, that's another $40 that they are gouging you for.  Anywho, E dropped us off and we were able to drop our checked bag off relatively easily.  Security at the Cleveland airport was a breeze as I came prepared.  No liquids save my two bottles of breastmilk, yoga pants & yoga jacket (aka no metal to set off detector), slip-on sneakers and only a cloth sling for carrying the little lady.  We were through security in under 5 minutes -- the longest was waiting for the agent.

 We find our gate about an hour before take-off.  I decide to feed us before we get onto the plane.  What can we eat at the airport that is healthy and both she and I can eat?  I decide on a salad.  Bad idea.  As I'm sure many mothers out there reading this would already know -- it's really difficult to eat a salad with a squirmy 9-month-old sitting on your lap and using the seat next to you as your table without looking like a complete mess.  Then I decide "I'm going to try to tire her out by walking around the airport and looking at all the holiday decorations so she will sleep the whole flight."  Another bad idea.  Sister was severely overstimulated & overtired by the time we get onto the plane.  We sit down and I'm praying for a sweet old lady to be sitting next to us.  What do I get?  A college dude, great...  I felt uncomfortable trying to breast feed in such tight quarters with a nursing cover to begin with (as I know that she is going to try to rip that thing off as quickly as possible -- she doesn't usually nurse with a cover over her head and has tried to pull it off each time I tried to use it), so I whip out one of our bottles of milk.  The minute the cabin door shuts, she begins to whine and squirm and fuss.  I only have 2 ounces of breastmilk in the bottle (because I didn't think I was going to use them anyways and didn't want to waste my milk) -- so I'm trying to wait until we take off to give it to her.  Bad idea #3.  By the time that I give her the bottle, sister is screaming because she isn't actively sucking to make her ears pop.  She wouldn't take the bottle -- she is throwing her head back screaming because she doesn't understand what's going on.  She's tired, hungry and confused.  So survival takes over.  I turn my back to the college dude (we were sitting in the window seat), try to throw a blanket over our heads and desperately try to get her to nurse.  And when I say desperately, I truly mean desperately -- I wouldn't want to see my face at that point, because I'm sure that it was drawn tighter than a bow.  The only thing that I wanted was for her to stop screaming.  Within 2 minutes of trying to get her to nurse, she is drinking like a champ and falls asleep before we reach our cruising altitude.  And she stays asleep all the way until we pull into our gate in O'Hare.  One down -- three to go.  New gray hairs?  20 at least.  Ugh.

We park at the gate and I sling up her and by carry-on bag.  We jet as soon as our feet hit the jetway.  I get to the departures board -- United flight 6168 to Moline --- CANCELLED.  WHAT!?!?!??!?!  And of course, our gate is located in the furthest reaches in the Siberia of O'Hare (also known at the C Terminal).  Sister and I are hauling tail to get over to C to see what's going on -- my rational was that I needed to get to my gate to see what they were going to do to reschedule us out.  Because as you remember in my earlier post, ours was the last connecting flight out of O'Hare that night.  I quickly call my parents, tell them to turn around from driving to Moline and that I would contact them once I found out what was going on.  We get to our cancelled gate at C4 -- no attendant.  We wait for about 10 minutes, still no attendant.  By this point, it is 30 minutes from when our flight was originally scheduled to take off.  So I walk over to the nearest gate with an attendant and explain our situation.  The attendant informed me that it was cancelled due to weather (dense fog) and that there wouldn't be anyone at the gate.  I needed to go to Customer Service at C18 to reschedule.  Now from C4 to C18 really doesn't sound like it is very far, but it seemed like miles as I was trying to hurry across the airport, already sweaty & lugging a heavy carry-on and my baby.

We get to Customer Service probably looking quite disheveled.  The attendant tells me that my only flight option is leaving O'Hare the next morning at 6:00am.  She also tells me that I can rent a car or take the bus to get to Moline.  I asked if there was any other flights that would get me anywhere closer that evening as I juggling Finn a little higher in her sling.  Again, she said my only option was to take the 6:00am flight and sat there and looked at me.  I knew that the airlines don't offer to put up passengers in hotels for an unexpected overnight stay due to weather conditions, so I didn't ask.  I just assumed that if it was possible, she would offer because I was traveling alone with an infant.  No such luck.  She informed me that my bags would continue onto Moline the next morning and that they wouldn't be pull that night if I was going to take a car or bus.  I would have to go to the airport in Moline the following day to retrieve my luggage.  I started to cry and we stepped out of line.  I felt completely lost and not in control -- I felt like a terrible mother because not only did I subject Finorah to an ill-prepared flight, I didn't know what to do.  As a mother, I'm always supposed to know how to weigh out the options and choose what I deem the best.  At that moment, I couldn't.  I just wanted to be home in Iowa.  I just wanted someone else to take care of things.  I wanted my mom.  And when I called her, she came through for me (as she always does).  She said that they hadn't turn around when I told them to and that they were already past Dubuque and on their way to Chicago!

I went up to a different customer service representative and asked where the children's play area was.  Finn was getting a little antsy and I didn't feel comfortable letting her crawl around on the floor of a major airport. I knew that most major airports have a fenced in children's area to let the little travelers stretch their legs in between their flights.  She also gave me advice on where to meet my parents when they arrived.  And so we trudged back across O'Hare, but this time, we weren't in a hurry.  We stood on the moving walkways, watching the dancing neon lights above us in the tunnel between terminals.  Finorah loved it.  We easily found the children's area and set up shop there, fully thinking we could hang out there until my parents were to arrive a little before midnight.  Finn crawled all over the play area, tiring out.  I fed her and she fell asleep in between the two carry on blankets that I brought with me.  She continued to sleep when the cleaning lady came and in very broken English kept saying "11, 11, 11".  I realized then that she needed to vacuum the area, she would come back at 11, and we would need to leave then.  She was very kind in that even after 11, she didn't come over and continued to clean where she could to not disturb us.  I realized at about 11:20 that we should let her do her job.  So we got us all packed up again and with Finorah still sleeping in-between her two blankets, we walked into one of the terminals to sit and wait for 11:45, which was only 15-20 minutes later.  As we were sitting in the terminal waiting, a United attendant came up to us and asked if we had missed our flight.  I explained our cancellation due to fog and she said that she would put us up in a hotel that evening -- that I shouldn't be spending the evening in the airport with a baby.  I explained that my parents were arriving very soon.  She shook her head, telling me that the customer service rep should have used her head and gave us a hotel room because I couldn't stay overnight in the airport with a baby.  It was very kind of her to try to help us even though we weren't her problem.

Finorah slept in my arms until my parents came at midnight.  She also slept the entire car ride home.  We arrived home at 3:30ish with my parents having to get up at 5:30 for work the following morning.  I felt terrible that they were going on so little sleep, but also was thankful that I was safe at home and not flying out the following morning (we had thought with the dense fog that the early flights would be cancelled or delayed as well -- we were wrong).  I had packed a change of clothing in our carry-on for Finn -- but I must not have screwed on the cap tight enough.  When I pulled them out of our bag the following morning, they smelled of bad milk.  Ick.  I washed them in the sink and dried them, so by mid afternoon, she had a semi-clean pair of clothes on.  I, on the other hand, had to wait for the luggage, which arrived Wednesday night past midnight.

 Finn didn't really take to anyone right away (stranger danger was just setting in) -- but she did take to Uncle Tim immediately.  We were thinking that it's because he looks similar to E.

Home was fantastic.  I can't put into words how amazing it was to have family for five days straight.  I can honestly say that it is something that I miss every single day.  Most people try to run away from their family as soon as they are old enough (guilty party right here) -- I'm among the minority that would run back in an hot minute if it was possible.  I didn't get to see everyone I wanted, but I got enough of my family-fix to last until Christmas.

As for our travels back -- take out the cancelled flight, add another flight in and you about got it covered.  I was able to nurse early enough before takeoff on the first flight that Finorah was a perfect angel.  She was practically sleep by the time we flew past Cedar Rapids.  I was able to sit in a row by myself (which was unusal) but I was thankful the flight attendant moved me to my own row.  We arrived in Chicago and hurried to our connecting flight 45 minutes later -- I was able to change her diaper in the bathroom right outside our gate before our plane even started boarding.  I thought I was smooth sailing to Cleveland.  I thought WRONG.  I fed Finorah some rice puffs while waiting for the cabin door to close.  I started nursing once the lights were dimmed, but we were about fifth in line for take off.  Sister was almost asleep when she opened her eyes as we were rounding the corner for takeoff and something spooked her.  I don't know what happened, but she was screaming even before takeoff.  No boob was going to quiet her.  No pacifier would silence her.  No amount of shushing into her ear.  10 minutes straight screaming as we climbed and climbed.  Nothing I was doing helping -- I felt embarrassed, frazzled, and helpless.  After 10 minutes of screaming, she tired and fell asleep.  She slept until touchdown in Cleveland.

She was an amazing girl in the airports -- while waiting for both initial flights as well as hauling across O'Hare twice.  She was amazing when we were sleeping on the floor of the airport.  She was actually amazing on every single descent that we had.  It's just that ascent and her are NOT friends.  I don't know if it was simply the ear popping or if there was something else.  I don't know if she wasn't completely over her ear infection from two weeks prior (we go to the doctors Wednesday evening for a check-see).  My parents said they saw her second lower tooth looking like it was going to be coming through soon.  I don't know if it was just too many strange places and not enough routine.  But those 12-15 minutes of screaming out of the 7,200 minutes of our holiday in Iowa completely ruined all thoughts of future solo flying for me for a while.

Despite her screaming, I am grateful for our Thanksgiving in Iowa.  So I took the bad with the fantastic.  But next time, I think we'll be leaving our feet on solid ground.

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