Oh my. Where to start. How about at 4:15am when my alarm went off? I know, I’ll start with a huge, “Thank you Lord” and “Thank you United Airlines.” We have had the craziest time already, and it’s only 8:14am, but as I write I’m on a plane with the whole family and (maybe) all our bags. We can always hope, right? Here’s how we got here…
I fed Daniel one last time around 12:30am, then put him to sleep hoping he’d sleep til we left the house (goal of 5am), and he did sleep – from 1am until 5am. That was awesome because then I was able to sleep from 1:15am-4:15am. We had the last minute items to stuff into bags – you know the things — toiletries, carryon, dirty clothes, my tempurpedic pillow – and just enough snacks and things left that I ended up having to a) take the pillow out of the suitcase so it would be under 50 pounds and b) cram all the extra things into the pillow case, thereby making an inconvenient “bag” of sorts in which to carry junk that should have been packed elsewhere. Yesterday when John bought another suitcase (putting us up to 14 checked bags – free with our military orders and 8 full-fare tickets) he also bought this really cool suitcase weighing device with a handle for you to pull it up off the ground and a hook that attaches to the bag handle. With this we found one bag to be 60 pounds, another 52, another 54, and so on. Thankfully we did this yesterday – except for the last bag in which I had tried to stuff my pillow to no avail, which we weighed this morning.
Then the driver arrived and loading the van started. When John called to book the car and they said it would only be one vehicle, he asked if it was going to be “a Sprinter or something.” For those of you in the States, that would be a Dodge Sprinter, and in the UK, it’s a Mercedes Sprinter. He told them it would be 8 passengers and bags for 8 (calculate that out yourself, and it’s 16 bags plus carryons.) The guy said something along the lines of, “It will be bigger than a Sprinter.” Here’s a picture of the Sprinter:
Here’s a picture of something similar to what showed up at the door. It was a Ford Transit, or a car identical to it in size and shape. Like this:
Haha – even the picture I found is tiny!!
The packing of the van took a magician – and it took half an hour. So we didn’t drive away until 5:15am. Then, he literally drove 60mph. The speed limit is 70mph. He was a very nice man and was talkative and polite – he even gave us chocolates for the children to take with us as John paid him. But these few things were beginning to stack up and work against us – the extra time packing the totally inadequate van, driving slowly…How did we even all fit in that van?? He managed to stuff most of the luggage in the back, then four kids across the three back seats with a carryon or two, three of us across the middle (Greer in her carseat, me, and Daniel,) and John in the front. John had 2-3 carryons on his lap, and Daniel was in my lap. This is because, although we had his carseat, the top of the Pram had to rest on top of it., and he wouldn’t have been secured in any way had he been just resting in the Pram. The base of the Pram, which folds up to be quite tidy, was wedged behind the driver’s seat and in front of Greer’s feet. Two more carryons were between the driver and John, and another two were on the floor in front of Daniel’s carseat/Pram combination. I mean — what else were we going to do? Not fitting us all in with all our things was just not an option at this point. (In New York they are supposedly sending a “bus limo” to pick us up – whatever that is, it sounds larger I think?)
We arrived at Heathrow at 6:30am for a 7:55am flight. Had things gone according to plan we would have been there at 6am, and alas, we had not factored in extra time for contingencies. Upon arrival, rather than taking us to the curb to drop us off, he went to short term parking to help us bring our bags in. As we parked in the lot, I was beginning to get very nervous, as in – how in the world will we get all these children and all these bags to the terminal??? Would you like to know how we did it? Because this too took some magic. I think we can say that God was definitely watching over us.
We loaded up the luggage trolleys – four in total – with the big bags and carseats, oh, and Greer’s travel bed (smaller than a pack-n-play.) The driver pushed one, I pushed one and pulled a carryon, Patience pushed one (even thought they are very hard to manage) and John pushed one while carrying Greer on his shoulders. Gabriel pushed the Pram with Daniel in it, and Claire and Liesl pulled carryons. We had a total of 6 trunkis to pull (one was packed in a suitcase because we now have 7 trunkis due to the recent acquisition of a Bee Trunki for Liesl), plus my bagpipes in their rolly bag, John’s backpack, and our two messenger-type personal bags. Plus the two carseats, travel bed, and 14 suitcases. Awesome. We made it to the United line where they check our passports for a few minutes, and by the time we got to the desk, it was 6:55am. The first words out of the lady’s mouth were, “The flight is closed already.” Not exactly what I wanted to hear at this point. Now is when I started praying in earnest.
They said they close the flights an hour prior to takeoff, and they had literally just closed it. Okay then – open it – please? It took some maneuvering, but the lady finally got the right help and started checking us in, thank God. And thank you United. These same two ladies then helped us walk to a place where you have to check in your carseats and baby beds separately (we had gathered a third United lady by this time as well.) Then we went through the fast track for security, and John, with Greer on his shoulders again, went ahead to the gate with Gabriel as quick as he could. By the time I reached the gate with the Pram, Liesl, Claire, and Patience all pulling one or two trunkis, it was 7:33am. Not bad since it was, no joke, at least half a mile to the gate. The United lady had claimed it was a mile, but, being a runner, I know it wasn’t that long. It was THE LAST gate in the terminal of course. We jogged the whole way and arrived sweating. Once we made it to boarding the flight, the flight attendants were very kind about helping us to our seats and getting our bags stowed. No rushing us along and giving us dirty looks for being so brazen as to be traveling with 6 children ages 9 and under on an International flight as might be encountered elsewhere. No unspoken admonishment for daring to have arrived so late before takeoff. None of that. Just kindness and gushing over the cuteness of the kids and the fact that Greer waved to every passenger the whole way down to our seats in row 25. The plane took off on time, so apparently we did not cause any delays 🙂
Now, Daniel is still asleep on my chest in the Baby Bjorn but is just starting to stir, Greer recently nodded off in the seat next to me, and the other four are watching “Avengers” and are about to eat breakfast – and it is 8:48am. All is right with the world – until we hit Washington Dulles and have to do this again by picking up bags, going through customs, and making it back through security and on to our flight to JFK. Go Clan Armstrong!! 🙂
Later in the first flight now – 1:15pm – and if I’m able to type something on my computer for a few minutes, things must be going well…(famous last words?) Daniel woke up and ate, then he was super cute for a while, and now he’s resting again. Greer has awoken and is full of energy, but so far it’s contained. The nice flight attendant up in business class brought back white chocolate chip cookies for all the children on the plane – freshly baked. I asked for one myself, and she said that they were actually just leftover from Business Class, so she was bringing them to all the children. Wasn’t that sweet!? On her way back up the aisle, she gave me one since she had more. That was EVEN SWEETER. 🙂
Greer and I just put on some makeup, and we are feeling remade after a bit of a snooze. The other four are still watching movies or are drawing/coloring/reading. Gabriel’s been reading “Danny, the Champion of the World” by Roald Dahl. Patience is reading another of his – “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” The airline video update says we are over Canada now and that we’ll be arriving in 2 hours and 3 minutes. That would make it…35 minutes early, which would really help our connection in Washington. That would be great – less time on a plane!!
Update now – in the NEW VAN heading to my Aunt and Uncle’s house in Connecticut. So happy!! We had an uneventful first flight after I wrote, and we did indeed arrive half an hour early. As passengers deplaned past us (we waited til everyone was off because we didn’t want to hold up the crowds) they kept saying how great the kids had done and what a sweet family we had. It was a really nice end to a long flight 🙂 We had plenty of time to make it through immigration, baggage claim, and then customs, and the rechecking of the bags, and, finally, security one more time. Not only were we at the gate in plenty of time, but to make my day, I was at the STARBUCKS A FEW GATES DOWN FROM OURS exactly one hour before our flight getting us some iced coffees. Oh yeah!!
That plane ride was fun for the kids because it was tiny, so we had eight seats in two rows meaning we had four window seats, one for each child who was awake (Greer napped again.) It was tough getting on and off because we had to board outside and go up and down lots of stairs – especially at JFK on arrival (what is this – 1960?? They didn’t even have an elevator for handicapped people where we came in, much less for a Pram loaded with stuff!!) Daniel had napped from getting off the previous flight until the next one, and he continued to nap through that flight and all the way through baggage until we got to our “bus limo.” Another three hours carrying him in the Baby Bjorn, but hey, I’ll take it, if it means he’s not crying!! The nice ride from the airport in the “limo” was so much more appreciated since we had that cramped ride in the morning. The kids loved it because of the horseshoe leather seats around the side walls and back of the “bus”, the two tvs (we didn’t turn them on, though), and the good American club music on the radio for dancing to the entire ride.
Here’s a picture of a similar vehicle, although it’s a bit larger than the one we had:
Ours didn’t have the bar areas, although he had a small bar in front next to the driver’s seat. Here are the kids right before we transferred to our own van…
It was only about an hour, and then we were pulling in to the parking lot with our “new” van. I think it’s a 2005, and it is a Ford Econoline 350, 12 passenger full-sized van. See my previous entry here if you want a picture 🙂
Pulling out of the parking lot in the new wheels, we spied a…Dunkin Donuts!! Could this day get any better!?! John worked on making our GPS want to navigate around America instead of the UK while I ran in for a quick sugar fix to get us through to dinnertime (Munchkins for the kids, and decaf iced coffee and a chocolate glazed donut for me!) Then we passed a Ben & Jerry’s — New York, you rock!! I’m not quite sure where we are, but we came from JFK over the Bronx Whitestone Bridge, and we’ve been driving through insanely beautiful forest-ey areas. This has really been an amazing day, and the kids could not have done better, especially on so little sleep. No time to blog anymore later because we’ll be visiting with family, so I’m going online now (via our cellphones) to get the pictures for today, and then I will sign off 🙂 More fun things tomorrow!!
Do you always end up with extra stuff after you pack for a trip that then has to be fit into over-packed bags, or are you a much better packer than me?
Have you ever seen a “bus limo?”
Do you normally arrive early to the airport, or are you the person/family running through the terminal to catch your flight?
When was the last time you flew? Was it with children? How did they do?