Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Traveling with Parents (revised)

'Tis the season to travel! 
Whether driving across town, taking a train across the country, or flying over an ocean to be with family, what's really important is that we get there.
third culture kids, family travel, siblings, cultural differences, patience, grandparents, good night, sleep tight

I was looking forward to this trip. But, my tummy was feeling mushy too. I hadn't seen my grandparents since I was three years old. Would they remember me? Would they still think I was cute? Sure, we see each other sometimes after lunch on weekends through the computer screen. I don't know how they get there but they can't get out. And I, I can't get in...believe me I tried! “Don't touch the screen!” Mommy's shrill still rings in my head. So, I have been waiting for tomorrow since at least the last page of the kitchen calendar.

Daddy said we had to wake up earlier tomorrow than for school.

Saturdays are usually sleep-in days. Usually the clock rings seven times before my eyes open. Mommy says it will only ring five times. The sun, my brother says, won't even be up yet!

I slip on my pajama bottoms and t-shirt after hanging my bath towel back on its hook. I walk back into my room to see Mom putting out my clothes for the next day: socks, undies, orange kitty t-shirt, purple button-down sweater, green pants and red socks. She sees my surprise face and explains, “I have to be able to see you in a crowd!” and goes to check on my brother.

I can see Matt pulling clothes out of his wardrobe.

“That shirt's too tight. You won't be comfortable.” Mom says. “Those pants are too big – get a belt!”

Mom turns to walk out. I see Matt's eyes roll...just like Mom's are.

I grab my stuffed tiger and hold him tight under my comforter, waiting for someone to turn off my light.

I hope I don't forget him in the morning.

“Good night, salty tart. Sleep well.” Daddy kisses my cheek.

Bonne nuit, Papa.” I reply.

I close my eyes and wait for my thoughts to show up. We used to see Grandma and Grandpa every Friday after school. I mean, after Matt got out of school. Grandma would pick me up from another lady's house, then drive to Matt's school. I remember lots of windows in a row between bricks. I remember eating pizza and watching cartoons. Then, we just didn't anymore. I remember a big airplane, little TV screens, and clouds right outside the window! I remember lots of people in a long hallway and a moving sidewalk. My stroller went ahead all by itself. Then, I remember the noise, lots of voices, lots of words, but I couldn't understand even one. Mom told me we would learn how to speak new words. I have. She hasn't so much.
Beebeebeebeep. Beebeebeebeep.
“Get up! Time to go! The plane is going to take off,” Mom slams the shower door. Dad starts the coffee pot. Matt just sits in the WC* for a really, really long time. I run downstairs!

“Hey, girly. What do you want for breakfast?” I run past Daddy to the guest toilet.

“Ahhh...Cornflakes!” I finally say.

I'm still drinking the milk from my cereal bowl when Mom sits next to me and pours her coffee.

“Why aren't you dressed?” She asks.

“I was hungry.”

“Now, you're not.” She takes my dishes to the sink and shoos me away. “Go upstairs!”

Mom is generally a very calm person unless we are running late, actually late, or could possibly be late for a-ny-thing.

I put on my clothes, make my bed, brush my teeth and hair, grab my book bag and wait by the front door, “shoes on, ready to go,” as we say. I feel like we could be going to school, but my bag has only my favorite books in it, my crayons and a fresh, clean pad of paper – love that. It's for writing down what I do every day on vacation.

* WC (water closet)- pronounced [vay say] is a room the size of a closet where just a toilet sits.

What do you think?
  • Do you have family or friends who live far away? How do you keep in touch with them?
  • Do you like going on trips? What makes you excited? What makes you nervous?


Part 2
We climb into Dad's car and... wait. Mom runs back into the house to go to the bathroom. She runs back to check the stove (we all had cereal for breakfast). She runs in to close the curtains. She runs back to open the curtains. Dad leans for a long time on the horn. Mom runs out with her arms above her head. “You're going to wake the neighbors!” She whispers really loudly.

“Ready to go?” Dad asks. He pulls down the driveway before she can answer; before she can get out again.

I'm asleep. I'm awake. The car stops, screeching, outside the airport. “Everyone out!” Mom and Dad call. I stretch my arms only half way across the backseat when Matt grabs me and plops me onto the pavement.

Dad has finally realized how crazy we all are. I watch him pull away, fast.


“Come on, we have to get to the check-in line while your father parks the car.”

Oh, good, he hasn't realized it yet.

Walking toward the sliding doors, a teenage girl with long hair and heeled, pointy shoes is walking out towards us. I see Matt looking at her. I see he doesn't notice the doors, the ones sliding shut. I just slow down and watch....Crash! Matt shakes his nose back out of his face as I run up with Mom.

Gosh, are all these people going to America, too?

“Oh no, you'll stay with us, Matt. We'll have plenty of time for coffee, later.” Mom puts her foot down...on mine.

“Sorry, dear. Where is your father? We're almost next!”

Dad slides right behind Mom just as she is deciding which language to greet the ticket agent. “Hallo. Bonjour. Hi, here are our passports.” What to say is often Mom's problem. We live in Belgium. Matt and I speak French at school. Our neighbors speak Dutch. A drive not long enough for a nap takes us to where people speak German. Mom and Dad are always saying to strangers, “We learned Spanish in high school.”

“Let's go little terrors. Off to Security. ” Dad pokes our shoulders and laughs.

“Dad! Don't say that so loud!” Matt looks right and left.

This is the part where we have to take off our shoes, put all our bags in plastic tubs and watch them slide through a scanner tunnel. Mom pushes the juice boxes down under other stuff so no one takes them.

Dad is through. Now me. Beep. I have to go through the door again. Beep. A lady has a long black wand. She calls me to move over. What did I do? I can't keep my arms up this long. I look at Dad to come save me. But... he's taking my picture!

“Oh, how funny! Look, Caroline's being searched.” Mom tries to join him but she beeps in the machine too.

Madame, take off your belt, please.” Mom takes off her belt.

Madame, take off your watch, please.” Mom takes off her watch.

“Do you have any loose change?”

She finally makes it through only to find the evil look of one of the inspectors throwing away our drinks.

Matt got through the line in no time, bragging. “No watch. No belt. Let's go.”

“And certainly no money in your pockets!” Dad adds.

We run for the elevator. We run down lots of big hallways, past shops and cafés, down the already moving sidewalk...wheeee!... and jump off right by our gate.

Dad gives our passports and tickets again to the same lady from downstairs  (how did she get up here so fast?) standing by the door to another hallway. At the end, is the door to the plane.

“I see we're in row 15,” Mom states and hands out the seat tickets.

“But, this one says I'm in row 21,” Dad points out.

“Yes! I'm in row 10. See ya.” Matt practically sings and walks off.

Where do I sit?

What do you think?
  • Why is the family in such a rush?
  • Have you ever been to an airport? What was it like? (big, noisy, crowded, empty, quiet, small)
  • If you were to go on an airplane, would you like to sit by the window, by the aisle or in the middle? Why?

Part 3
Now, Mom's whispering to Dad as if I can't hear her. “We can't let her sit by herself! What if no one will switch places? The plane is taking off soon.”

“Relax, I'll tell a steward.” Dad reassures her, but not me.

I hope I don't really cry but... I do.

“It's ok, choux*. We'll change seats with someone.” Mom holds me tight against her thigh. I wish she wouldn't wear corduroy pants.

Dames en Herren...  Monsieurs et Mesdames... Ladies and gentlemen, please take your seats. The captain is preparing for take-off.”

A stewardess leads Mom, then Dad, then me to our seats. I can hardly breath. Mom looks back at me from her row as if I have fallen off the plane.

I look for Dad. He's rearranging luggage in the overhead compartment. The man next to him looks as if he wants to rearrange him!

As for Matt, I see his foot tapping in the aisle. He already has his earphones in.

Mais, où es ta maman, ma chérie?” The lady beside me asks where my mom is.

Là-bas,” I answer pointing up the aisle. She immediately gets up.

Madame,” a steward calls. She doesn't come back...Mom does!

I almost bounce out of my seat but the belt holds me back. I lie my head on Mom's s arm and watch the clouds come down past the windows.

I don't know how long I slept, but the meal cart has hit my foot. Although I'm wide awake now, Mom whispers, “Two chickens, please.”

Yeah, we kind of are, I think to myself  even though I know she's talking about lunch.

Mom says I can watch TV while I eat. Wow! I never get to do that at home. She shows me which buttons to push to find all the cartoons. Mom's not watching cartoons on her screen. It must be funny anyway because she keeps trying not to laugh. Her cheeks have puffed up past her hands, trying to keep to her mouth closed. I know this won't last long...

BAAAHAAAHAAAA!

Yep, everyone from two rows in front of us to two rows back have turned their heads towards Mom. She picks up her fork again like nothing's happened. I try to keep my giggle quiet, too.

Dad steps out of his row backwards and turns to come back to us. That's nice. But, the steward hasn't gotten to his seat yet with lunch. He's stuck in the aisle. He tries to go back up the aisle and through the hall with the bathrooms, but another lady is already coming towards him. By this time, the steward is blocking his row and he can't get back. He tucks himself into one woman's seat. She looks up in disbelief...so does Mom. I can hardly see her eyes anymore, so far back in her head they have rolled!
Dad and his very red face finally reach us.

So, how are you all doing back here?”

Fine,” I say.

You've missed your lunch, you know,” says Mom.

What?” Dad turns to see that the meal cart is already in the front section, rows ahead of his seat. “Oh, no. They're going to run out of chicken.”

A stewardess comes up behind me. “I'm sorry. We forgot to give you our special meal for little travelers. Here you are.”

I smile and hand Dad my chicken lunch I hardly touched. Dad grins as wide as I do and returns to his seat.

My lunch, another cartoon, and half a colouring book later, I ask, “Can I go see Matt?”

Are you ok walking up there by yourself?”

Sure.” I unbuckle myself. I take a skip up the aisle but the floor feels as if it is skipping up from beneath me.

Matt turns his his eyes up just enough to see I'm watching his movie. He unsnaps his belt, takes me on his lap and snaps it back. “I don't want you to bounce away if we hit any air bumps,” he says.

I wrap my arms around his chest and fall back to sleep.

*choux – pronounced [shoe], is an affectionate term in French meaning cabbage!

What do you think?
  • Have you ever had to sit by yourself somewhere? How did you feel?
  • Have your parents ever done something so funny that you laughed at them? What was it?
  • Do you have a big (or little) brother (or sister)? If so, how do you comfort each other when you are lonely?

Part 4
Go on. Get back to your seat!”

What's wrong?” I ask Matt, rubbing my eyes on his arm.

Don't you feel the plane going down?”

Before I could question anything, Mom was right beside me.

Come now. We're landing. The 'fasten seat belt' sign is back on.”

Is that all? I take Mom' s hand.
I buckle up and then ooooh owwww! My ears feel like heavy cotton is clogging them up. I grab the sides of my head and bend down to my knees.

Mom hands me a lollipop. Yeah, I only get these at birthday parties! And it's cherry!

My tongue and lips are just about all red and sticky when the wheels pop out from underneath the plane.

Bang. Screeeech.

Dank U... Merci d'avoir choisi... Thank you for choosing our airline,” a voice says from the loudspeaker.

Are Grandma and Grandpa here? Are we far from their house?” I ask trying to stay still until the plane comes to a complete stop.

They're probably on their way. We still need to clear Customs.”

What's that?”

It's like Security again and we have to show that we don't have anything we're not supposed to have.”

Like what?”

"Umm, like cheese, sausage, plants.”

The seat belt light goes off and everyone stands up. The overhead compartments fall open. Everyone is grabbing and passing bags around. A brown duffel bag seems to float right over my head. Louis must not want to lose his bag. His name is all over it.

Now that everyone has a hand on a bag, we stand still in the aisle. We ...stand ...still. I try to step forward but Mom tells me to stay still. Then why aren't we sitting?

Instantly, the girl in front of me moves ahead. We all start to march forward.

Have a nice stay.” “Have a nice day.” “Enjoy your visit.” “Watch your step.” “Have a nice stay.” “Have a nice day.” “Enjoy your visit.” “Watch your step.”

Bonne journée,” I answer when I get to the door. The stewards and stewardesses smile back.

Hallways and hallways later, moving floors and real walking later...

There's our baggage carousel!” Dad points out. But, it has nothing to do with horses. It's more like a huge checkout counter at the grocery store. The suitcases come out and down a slide and continue around a big circle. And, if no one grabs them quick enough, they go right around again.

That's mine!” My favorite pink superwoman flies slowly right past us. At least three pairs of legs are now between the carousel and me. Dad nicks my heel with the luggage cart.

We're at a suitcase superstore!” Only Matt laughs at my joke.

Mom tells us to go sit down. All the legs that were blocking my view are now gone. I see the backs of Mom and Dad, her sweater wrapped around her waist, Dad's jacket on top of the cart with the pink,green, and blue suitcases.

Now what?!” Mom asks. I don't hear Dad' s answer because, unlike Mom, he's talking in a normal voice.

He starts to walk off pushing the cart. Mom follows. Matt nudges my shoulder to follow him.
No one talks. I want to ask if Grandma and Grandpa are here yet. The silence holds my mouth shut.
We arrive in the Customs line very quietly. Men and women in blue uniforms look at everyone's passports. Our turn. Dad hands over our little blue books. The man scans them. We have already bought them, I think.

No, we don't have anything to claim. We are missing one of our bags, though” Dad says.

Is that right? Step over here folks.”

Oh good,” Mom smiles, “This nice man will help us find our luggage. It feels good to be back, doesn't it?”

Matt and Dad nod. 

You'll have to wait here until we find your bag.”

Why can't we just come back for it tomorrow?” Mom asks.

It's regulation, M'am. It should just be a couple of minutes.”

No problem, then,” Dad adds.

We wait. We sit. We stand. We pace back and forth.

Are Grandma and Grandpa here yet?” I finally ask.

Oh, they've been here for a couple of hours now,” Mom answers in her very serious voice.

A different man in the same blue uniform walks over to Dad.

It didn't get on the flight? Will it get on the next one?”

Yes, sir.”

Can we at least go now?” Mom sounds just like my teacher the time she found me lost in the museum.

Well, I'll have to write in an exception in our log book. My colleague will do it 'cause my shift is about over.” I grab Mom's hand because I think she may run after the guy.

We wait. We sit. We stand. We pace back and forth.

A woman in the same uniform hands Dad our passports. “Have a nice night, folks.”

Bye,” I say.

No one else talks. The silence holds my mouth shut again until...

There they are!” Grandma and Grandpa holler running. She might just lose her handbag at that speed.

Are you ok? How was the flight?!”

Grandpa spins me around fast. I hear Mom's voice come in and out. I think she said,

We're all great. It went really well.”


What do you think?
  • Have your ears ever popped when you were on a plane, an amusement ride, or in an elevator?
  • Have you ever seen your parent(s) get frustrated or impatient? How does it make you feel? What could you do to make them feel better?
  • Even after all the hassles of air travel, the family was just happy to finally see the grandparents. Can you think back about a moment that felt horrible at the time, but now doesn't seem like such a big problem?




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