Summer vacation time is here. Kids are out of school and it’s the time of year when many families start thinking about travel adventures. Having family living in France gives us the opportunity to make the journey every few years. Not often enough for our boys to see their “Meme” and “Pepe”. I wrote this story a few years ago when I traveled alone (my husband was to meet us later) with my two sons, then aged 4 and 6, on the long flight from Phoenix to London, then on to Lyon, France and finally a two hour drive to Fontaine a suburb of Grenoble.
After a long and somewhat uneventful trip, here we are in France! We are staying at my in-law’s home in the Alps region of Southeastern France. The trip here was smooth, at least for the most part. The overseas leg went well. The kids slept for most of the duration of the flight. And they were genuinely entertained by the tiny screen on the seat in front of them after the dinner was served. For all of which Liam exclaimed, “This place is awesome!”
When we arrived in London’s Heathrow airport things got a little trickier. The kids were slightly harder to contain, and we were all tired. (but for kids that means hyper!) “The place is massive, yeah?!” This is my attempt at writing in a British accent. Once we got through the lines and security, we were basically in a huge shopping mall surrounded by coming and going airplanes. We began wandering around because we had just been cooped up in the airplane for 8 hours. How I wished I could go and browse Dolce & Gabbana, but somehow that didn’t quite seem like a great idea with a rambunctious 4 year old. We did stroll into a fine jewelery store only because there was a gigantic salt water tank that caught Luca’s eye. It was full of such pretty fishies and all the fine sparkly jewels were in cases after all, what harm could it do? Well, after gazing at the little yellow ones and the big stripy ones for all of two minutes he started trying to jump up on the glass cases of million dollar, diamond encrusted watches. Okay, we’re outta here! What’s next?
We managed to find a little cafeteria to eat lunch; it was 4 pm (London time) by this time, we had just had breakfast on the plane a few hours ago, and at home it was just 8 am. (Luca had a minor freakout when he discovered that it was already dark, “but it was just day! Where did the day go!” …Much crying ensued.) Lunch. Food always makes it better. Well, it’s a distraction anyway. I chose a Welslydale cheese sandwich (no idea what that is) but it had spiced pear chutney and rocket (arugula). It sounded good and is apparently a Christmas specialty. The kids mulled over various items that looked “disgusting” and settled on ham and cheese toasties. Luca being more adventurous ordered shrimp cocktail of which he ate exactly three of the miniscule crustaceans.
Lunch ingested we had only a few hours left to kill. That’s right it was a _ five. hour. layover. By this time the kids had another burst of uncontainable energy. They were either going to kill each other or I was going to do away with one of them. Aha! I spied a set of stairs away in one corner of the concourse with almost no traffic. Off we went to improvise a jungle gym.
They spent a good 40 minutes playing together, ( a God send for an exhausted mom). Up-down, on, around and under the staircase they crawled. It was great, however they were filthy, dirty as most of their activity had been executed on their knees or stomachs. Finally we had to find the bathroom to change into our emergency clothes.
And then suddenly it was 30 minutes before the plane was to take off!
Ack! We hurried to Gate B, as I has read several times on the connections signs, the gate was BA346. As we are taking the elevator then the tram and following the crowds to the gates B & C I start noticing that the numbers are two digits and not three. The gates have names like B23, one letter, two digits. Suspicious, I pulled out the boarding passes and look, no gate numbers but there it was plain as day – FLIGHT number BA346! (Eyes pop out of head here.) Heart starts racing, beads of sweat, the whole bit. I quickly find a gate agent and ask where is it that we are supposed to be exactly. Of course it turns out that we are supposed to be exactly where we had just come from and, “Oh, possibly you will have to pass through security to get there”! Gasp! Wheeze! What!?
But then he gives us an alternate route, “Take the lift down to the fourth level underground, ask the man at the desk, and he will provide a trolly and escort you to the proper gate.” It sounded so simple in that British accent.
But no, simple it was not. First, we got on an elevator that did not have a button for -4. (Was this a nightmare?) Back we went up to level 2. Run to the next elevator! Down to level -4! Doors open. No man, no trolly. Of, course! We start walking. There are, at least, signs that say Gate A this way. This hallway was literally the stuff nightmares are made of. There was absolutely no one. Bare, concrete walls; eerie, blue lights; It was bizarre. We are running down this hallway. I am carrying all the bags, by the way. When suddenly, we turn a corner and up ahead there is the lights of the trolly cart. “h_e_l_p”, a whisper comes out of my mouth. They are too far off to hear us but we start shouting anyway. Stop! Help! Wait! The cart goes on its merry way not even breaking for our distant cries.
At this point I am close to having a heart attack. My out-of-shape ass has been running for over 5 minutes, and I am pooped! I give one small backpack to Liam and like a trooper he donns it and keeps running. We finally make it to the end of the hall, we board another elevator and there we are back at where we started, exactly.
We continue running and make it to our proper gate (A22) just as the last few passengers are boarding. In line we are behind a very kind American business man who chats with me and the boys. After heading down the jet-way, he comes back to offer to carry a bag for me.
Finally! I fall in to my seat on the plane. My clothes are damp with sweat. I am a bit shaken, to say the least. But then my sweet Liam leans over, looks at me with a smile and says “Good job, Mom!”.
*DING!* *Please fasten seat belts*
About Wenonah Michallet
Married for 15 years and mother of two boys, age 8 and (almost) 7. Work my day job being "the Glue" at a freestanding birth center. "I support midwives" should be tattooed on my forehead.