On Sunday morning, December 4th, we woke the kids up and said goodbye to our home for the last 3 weeks in Florida, and our dear hosts, Craig, Michelle, Baby Kenzie, Bentley (the dog) and the Little Blind Puppy (formerly known as Little Dog, clearly also a dog), and were taken by Grandpa (Brian’s dad, Richard) to the train station in Jacksonville. We walked into the station, which had plenty of people in it already, and a woman walked right up to us and said, “Are you the Back family?” I guess we were the only ones traveling with a three-year-old and two two-year-olds that day. The whole interaction was wonderful. She took care of our tickets for us and brought the kids Dinosaur Train coloring books (How did she know?!).
The train ride itself was great (though the food left something to be desired). Big comfortable seats with double the legroom of an airplane, and the kids loved running back and forth between our seats and looking out the windows; riding the rails is so much more laid back than flying in a plane, no flight attendants telling you what to do. We set up the DVD players like we did in the car, and that kept them quiet for a while, and then we laid the boys on the floor, and they fell asleep quite easily (the children have surprised us pleasantly in their ability to sleep while traveling).
Unfortunately, about 45 minutes into their nap, an extremely obnoxious family, fresh from Disney world with middle school aged children, and parents with middle-school maturity, got on and started yelling back and forth to each other, and at the conductor (a situation in which they were quickly shown to be completely in the wrong), and that was the end of naptime. But we made it quite nicely to Fort Lauderdale at 6:00 in the evening, and Piper wished a cheerful goodbye and thank you to “my ductor” and told the assistant “ductor” that she wanted to snuggle him when the train stopped. The kids completely melted down once we stepped off the train, but we somehow managed to find a taxi SUV to take us and our 7 bags and 7 carry-ons/personal items to our hotel.
We put all the kids to bed in one bed (a Back family first), and it would have been successful, except that about 3 hours into the night Toby started coughing that awful croupy cough almost non-stop. I sat with him in the hot, steamy bathroom for almost an hour, but every time I stepped out into the room again, he’d start to cough. Finally I just had to lay down myself, so I lay next to him, propped him on a pillow (that seemed to cut down slightly on the coughing), and spent the rest of the night pushing him back up into a propped position every 20 minutes when he fell over. Needless to say, I had no sleep, and no one else had any quality sleep.
The next morning, I called our clinic in Minnesota, and dear, dear Dr. Hackett was willing to prescribe prednisone for Toby to prevent him from coughing throughout the entire flight to China. The prescription was called in 15 minutes before the hotel shuttle left for the airport (at noon), but while we were waiting outside (and Toby nearly got run over by the hotel shuttle), an independent shuttle drove up, I guess to pick up someone else who never showed, and he was a very kind Haitian who drove us first to CVS to pick up the prescription, and then to the airport, where a kind Sky Cap (or something of the sort), loaded up our (too) many bags on a giant cart and hooked us up with a Delta agent who was also a friend of his. She, too, was very nice and did everything for us while we tried to keep the children (who had been up most of the night and whose naptime it now was) from screaming so loudly. As far as the actual travel to China goes, this was one of only 2 really bad times on the trip. We checked all of our luggage, and then managed to lug all of our carry-ons to the security line, remove everyone’s shoes, both laptops and the liquids, and get everything onto the belt. Only 2 children ran through the metal detector when they weren’t supposed to, and nothing was confiscated and no alarms went off. We limped off to our gate, chose a spot by the wall, and made a barricade out of our luggage around a play area for the kids. They sat and watched Wonderpets for the last time in the US, using the data plan on Brian’s phone for the very last time, while we ate an overpriced airport lunch.
When we got our boarding passes, they had each of the five of us in a middle seat of a different row, so they reorganized our seats so that there were 2 in one row and 3 in another. I took Toby (since he and I got the least sleep), and Brian took Teddy and Piper. Toby and I were next to a very large man who was moved to First Class once the entire plane had been filled, so Toby and I had three seats to ourselves. While we were sitting on the plane waiting for the rest of the passengers to board, we gave them their first present (we packed a few wrapped presents to pull out at necessary moments during the trip), books we made on Snapfish for each of them with pictures of their home and pets and family and friends. As we were taxiing down the runway, Toby bunched his blankie up under his head and said, “I too tired, Mom,” and was out, just like that. Once we were in the air (3PM, December 5th), Piper came and joined me and I told her she had to lie down and try to sleep, too. She wasn’t happy about it at all, but she (finally) obeyed, and was fast asleep in minutes. It’s always nice when your children surprise you by behaving in a way you’d only dream they’d behave in a high pressure situation. Teddy was fast asleep with Brian, and they all slept until 20 minutes before the 3 hour flight from Fort Lauderdale to Detroit was over.
In Detroit, we had just enough to walk to our next gate, feed the kids McDonalds, and then we had to hop on the plane (8PM, December 5th). This plane was, of course, very nice, with touch screens in the back of each seat, and we had three seats on one side of the aisle and two seats in the middle (all in a row), near the back of the plane. The kids were ecstatic to see that they could watch movies, and once we were in the air, everyone picked out their own show.
They each watched one full length movie (during which we were fed dinner, which none of the kids ate, of course, but during which I also spiked their drinks with Melatonin), and then it was bedtime. We were about to lay two of the kids on the floor, when the male flight attendant came up and said we were not allowed to do that, we had to keep them buckled (I feel a little bitter about that). So we somehow managed to get the kids comfortable in the seats, and they were all fast asleep surprisingly quickly, considering how long they’d slept on the first flight. They all three slept for the next 10 hours (I was NOT expecting this, and so I was stupid and did not seize the opportunity to get some sleep myself), except for Piper’s waking with a start every hour, unsure of where she was. Maybe 4 hours into bedtime, Piper begged me to put her on the floor, and I didn’t have the heart to tell her no, so I did, and made a decoy Piper out of blankets on the seat. She slept peacefully after that. Teddy occasionally slipped out of the seat into the aisle, and Toby slept with his head hanging off the seat, but they all slept! I sat between them and watched Crazy Stupid Love and Slumdog Millionaire and some TV shows, and looked at the frozen Russian tundra out my window in the dark (so awesome), until about an hour before they woke up, when I turned Toby into a pillow and took a nap myself.
Two hours before the end of the flight, they all woke up, Piper and Toby feverish (Piper was coming down with what Toby had), and I had to bribe them with presents to get them to take some medicine (Side Note: My children have always LOVED taking medicine, but something terrible happened during our stay in Florida. I experimented with giving them melatonin twice, in drop form, and the first time I gave it to them, there didn’t seem to be a problem, though Brian said it tasted bad. I didn’t taste it, but I didn’t think too much of it. Then the second time I gave it to them straight, Toby started crying and trying to wipe it off his tongue, and none of the kids were happy about it. It turns out the stuff, which is berry flavored, also makes a burning sensation in your mouth. So now none of my children trust medicine, just like that. I have been at a loss for what to do to get them to take medicine, as they have been incredibly sick since we left the US, but have to be forced/bribed to take medicine now, and even that doesn’t always work.) Anyway, they all watched another movie while we ate another meal (Brian and I did, anyway), and about half an hour before the flight Toby started coughing and coughing, and couldn’t stop. Of course I couldn’t get him to take anything, as mentioned before, or even suck on something to stop the coughing, and eventually he coughed so much that he started throwing up. And throwing up, and throwing up. Right as the plane was descending. It was lovely. Somehow the mess was confined to his clothes and the entire container of wipes we used as it kept coming out, and we pulled out a fresh outfit and threw the nasty clothes in a bag. The flight attendants were so helpful and patient (especially after the plane landed and we were the last people by 10 minutes to gather all of our things and get off the plane).
The flight landed (11PM December 6th) and we were so relieved that our journey was almost over, but we got off the plane and found that our gate-checked strollers had been put with our checked luggage and were to be collected at the baggage claim. Let me take that back, we discovered this after waiting 15 minutes thinking they had been left in the US (I have no idea how we’d replace a double stroller in China), so I suppose it was relatively good news to hear they’d been checked, but the next 20 minutes, trying to corral 3 uncooperative, overtired, discombobulated children who did NOT want to walk, while our arms were as full as they could be with our carry-ons, through the Beijing airport, up an escalator that the kids were just not old enough to do on their own, was the worst point of the entire trip. We made this pathetic trail of screaming children through the airport, a fitting start to our important job as ambassador for the one child policy in China. We stood in line at immigration for another half an hour, I regretting my choice to put their winter things on when we got off the plane, and miraculously, even with all the commotion we caused, they still let us into the country. We were finally reunited with our luggage and our strollers, and accomplished the very difficult task of getting two carts of luggage and two strollers with only two adults to push them all, through customs, and into the waiting and helpful arms of our drivers (1:30AM December 7th).
Another side story: We told Brian’s employer that we had a lot of luggage and would need a van or an SUV to get all of it, and us, from the airport to the hotel, and they told us that the person who works for them who arranges the transportation said we would just have to have two cars, but we would have to pay 350RMB for it ($55). We could have taken a taxi from the airport to our hotel for half of that, but we were at their mercy, so we said yes. We walked out of the airport to find a van and a car, and so even though we could have just had the van, we of course had to pay the extra 350RMB for the completely unnecessary car.
Our drivers took the kids from us while we went through customs, and then helped us with all of our luggage (it was definitely a 4 person job) to the cars. The kids and I sat in the car and Brian followed in the van with the luggage. Unfortunately, seconds after the car started, I discovered that Teddy’s diaper had exploded, due to some very negligent parents who forgot that the time we just spent on the plane was actually a full night, and diapers need to be changed in the “morning.” So I held him very precariously on my lap, trying to keep the wet part off of me and hoping the drive wasn’t very long and that he wouldn’t pee until we got to the hotel. I did have some time to marvel at the fact that I was in China, but, in all the fog, the free way seemed no different than any other deserted road in America, except that all the signs were in Chinese. My driver, who spoke no English, pointed out Tiananmen Square as we drove by, and I think he told me to cover Toby’s mouth when he coughed, but I’m not really sure.
Around 2AM, we arrived at our hotel, down a narrow, winding city street in Beijing that was more like an alleyway. We had to wake the person who worked there, who was not very happy about it, and they put us in a room with a single king-sized bed that was, well, probably a good introduction to a Chinese hotel, but kind of a shock to our systems. More about that in the next post…