Friday, February 20, 2015

First Big Family Vacation - Day 1

I bet you thought I fell off the blogging wagon after all that talk of trying to write every day in 2015, didn't you? No posts in a couple of weeks... oops. I should have warned you that would happen. But, I did write before about the big trip that I was super nervous (and excited!) about. I had hopes of writing my posts ahead of time and having them auto-post while I was gone, but that just did not materialize. Maybe next time.

It's my intention at this point to write in detail about our trip. In some cases probably great detail. Much of this might be boring to you, but it was such a big deal to us that I want to document it all while it's still fresh in my mind.

Our flight was scheduled to leave at 9:45 on a Saturday morning. Because we've only lived here for a year and change, we'd never flown out of this airport before and we weren't entirely sure what to expect, especially having never flown with a kid before. (Well, hubby and kiddo did make one short flight before we moved here, but that was kind of an entirely different thing.) Aidan had to find creative ways to pass the time as we finished up our last-minute packing…

We arrived at the airport plenty early, which is an absolute must for me to keep me from getting completely frantic before the trip even starts. It's good we were there so early, in fact, because we had a rocky start. We found long term parking just fine, but getting three suitcases, three backpacks, a car seat and a 4 year old from there to the terminal was not fun at all considering there was 4" of fresh unplowed snow, it was windy, and we had no idea which way to go. We ended up taking some very chilly inadvertent detours. I nearly threw up twice from the combination of shivering and nerves.

We finally made it into the terminal, checked our bags, and learned something nifty - when it comes to getting through security, traveling with a small child makes things quick and easy! The kid was with me for this first trip through security, which meant that he could leave his shoes on and we both got to go through the old-fashioned doorway-type scanner instead of the body scanner. Easy peasy. (As a side note, I had read multiple suggestions that transracial families especially should bring their children’s birth certificates with them for proof of identity at security, so I did. However, we were not asked for Aidan’s. The nice lady at security asked him for his first and last name, compared that to his boarding pass, and that seemed to be good enough.)

After making our way to our gate, I was able to eat a little bit of breakfast, but not much. My anxiety always goes to my stomach and this was no exception. Sitting at the gate and seeing how excited the kid was, though, did help me feel just a little bit calmer. About a half hour before boarding was to start, I took a low dose anti-anxiety med in hopes to feel more comfortable for my first flight in a decade. Before I knew it, it was time to board the plane. It kept hitting me over and over again as we waited to board: "I cannot believe I am getting on an airplane." My heart raced, my palms were sweaty, and I secretly hoped for a freak blizzard so the plane could not leave. Okay, maybe not. Or maybe just a little.

I thought more than once (only half seriously) about staying home and just sending the boys. Every time I thought of that, I thought of having to call my 95 year old grandmother, who I have not seen in 11 years and who has never met my son, and telling her I was too scared to fly. That thought was even more daunting than getting on the plane, so down the jetway I marched. A rogue wave of panic hit about halfway to the plane door and I wondered if this airplane would be where I would die. I wish I was kidding, but I’m not. I shoved that thought away as quickly as I could. Anxiety is such a powerful thing.

As we crossed the threshold from the jetway onto the plane, I was slapped in the face by a smell that I had completely forgotten about. I don't even know how to describe it. It's just the very distinctive smell of the inside of an airplane. A wave of terror washed over me again. I nearly threw up right by the cockpit door. Eventually I overcame that and continued to shuffle down the aisle.

We settled into our seats at row 15. Right by the wings. I had spent an embarrassing amount of time researching where to sit on an airplane to feel the least amount of turbulence and that seemed to be the general consensus. I was grateful to be traveling as a family of three; not having to rub elbows with strangers definitely helped my anxiety. I made sure to dig out my foam ear plugs right away, as I'd been told to put them in prior to the plane door being closed and leave them in until we reached cruising altitude.

So there I was. Body frozen in fear, clinging to the armrests for dear life, having to concentrate to keep breathing. Taking deep breaths to keep the anxiety from getting worse while also trying not to throw up from the airplane smell. I replayed the 'fear of flying' YouTube videos I'd watched over and over in my mind.

"It's just the door closing."

"It's just the air coming on."

"It's just the overhead bin doors being closed."

Takeoff time came and went. No takeoff. I secretly hoped something was wrong with the plane and our trip would be cancelled. A few minutes later, we were finally informed that takeoff was being delayed because the water in the plane was frozen. Oh, great! My anxiety climbed up a notch. A few more minutes passed and a mechanic came on board and walked to the back of the plane. Oh my goodness gracious. Anxiety climbs another two notches.

More deep breaths. Finally it starts to look like we might take off soon. Then, those dreaded words...

"Daddy, I gotta go potty!"

ACK. We had taken him right before boarding, but that had now been well over an hour prior. We called the flight attendant. She was visibly annoyed when I asked her if we had time to rush the kid to the bathroom, but she gave us the go-ahead. As soon as hubby and kid came back and were belted, we were able to push back from the jetway. I felt my body tense up even more. I squeezed Dave's leg. He told me everything was going to be just fine. He repeated lines to me from the videos. He reminded me of the next few things that were going to happen. He tried to distract me with thoughts about all the fun we would have in Seattle. It wasn’t working.

Finally it was our turn to take off. The engines roared and off we went down the runway. I think I may have actually said out loud, "just getting up to speed, just getting up to speed, just getting up to speed." I felt my stomach drop as we lifted off. I changed my inner chant to “planes like to be in the air, the wings are made for this.” Part of me was a tiny bit relieved as soon as we left the ground. I'm not even sure why. As we traveled through the cloud layers and encountered a few little bumps, I clung tight to Dave's leg. Poor guy. He kept reassuring me that everything was fine. “Just little bumps in the road.”

The plane eventually leveled off and the captain took the seat belt sign off. He made the usual announcement about the flight. Then, I heard magical words!

"We're expecting a smooth flight today."

Yessss! I relaxed a little more. I took out my ear plugs. I realized I'd forgotten how noisy jet engines are, and probably even moreso since we were sitting right next to them. I forced away thoughts of 'how on earth does this thing even stay in the air?'

Half an hour into the three-hour flight, I was still paralyzed with fear and had not dragged out my iPad or anything else to occupy my mind. Hubby to the rescue! He set me up with first episode of the season of Friends I had downloaded the night before, and my Bluetooth earpiece. I immediately calculated the number of episodes I'd need to watch to get me to landing time. Then I remembered that inside my head, the flight really only lasts until descent begins, so I subtracted my count by one episode. Once I feel that plane begin to drop, I begin to celebrate.

We ended up encountering some pretty minor turbulence, which was tough for me just because of my previous flight, but thanks to hubby’s reassurance I got through it and realized that – yes – I CAN fly. I just hate to. Though I had promised myself to learn how to enjoy it, not to just survive it, I was now seeing that aspiration swirling the drain. “I think surviving it is a sufficient goal, forget about enjoying it,” I thought to myself.

A few episodes of Friends and some snack food later, I felt that plane slow a bit and start to point downward a little. My heart jumped, not in fear this time but in pure excitement. It’s almost over!! I’m going to win the battle!! (Heck, I guess I really did that when I climbed on board.) I quickly ran to the restroom, returned to my seat, and put all my stuff away. People looked at me funny, but I didn’t care. I was too busy waiting eagerly for touch-down!

Minutes later, I could see Seattle.

AHHH, my very favorite city. As soon as I saw it, a wave of relief and pride washed over me. And maybe a little bit of disbelief, too, that I was actually there again for the first time in fifteen long years. I saw landmarks that I remember looking at from the airplane window when I was a little girl, and some new ones too. (I must say the Kingdome was conspicuously absent…) I managed to hold it together until the Space Needle came into view. My very excited preschooler saw it at the same time I did and I’m not sure who squealed first. Tears began to roll down my face as I flashed back to taking this flight dozens of times with my mom when I was little. I was always so excited to see the Space Needle! I may not have taken my kid out of Alaska until the age of 4, but by golly I put my fear aside (sort of) and did it.

I had just mentioned to Dave that I could remember those childhood trips and that it always seemed like as soon as you came out of the clouds on final approach into Seattle, you were on the ground very quickly. Just as I uttered those words, the clouds disappeared and the runway was right there. I told the kid we were about to land and he watched intently out the window as I pointed out the stripes on the runway. The landing was like butter. I wanted to kiss the pilot. Dave vetoed.

More tears. I did it!!! After a series of bad experiences, years of anxiety and even more years of completely refusing to engage in this experience, I DID IT.

Just that quickly, I became one of those annoying people who just can’t wait and turns on their cellphones while the plane is still taxiing. I didn’t want to be one of those people, but I was just so darn excited to be alive. I wanted to let my support people know that I made it. As soon as the cellular signal came on, I had dozens of emails and texts from people wishing me luck and reassuring me that I could do it. I sent a mildly profane but highly triumphant text to my closest friends and family to let them know that I conquered the flight. Then I wiped my eyes. A lot.

My whole body quickly relaxed and fear and anxiety were replaced by pure excitement. I was hardly able to wait until the plane was nearly empty to deboard, as we had planned to do, just to avoid the chaos. The first thing I saw when I stepped off that jetway was this out the window of the terminal:

I’m a die-hard Toyota loyalist and a lifelong Seahawks fan. I instantly felt like I had found my place… again. I always did feel so at home in Seattle. A small part of the reason for this trip was to see if I was still in love with the city and might still want to eventually live there. In the first three minutes, I had my answer.

As we made our way to the baggage claim about six miles away (or maybe it just felt like that), I felt like a little kid on Christmas morning. The airport is lovely and I enjoyed seeing all kinds of new sights even in the building. What can I say, I'm a sheltered child. We got our bags and followed the signs to the rental car area. We remembered that on our last trip to Seattle, the rental car counters were just across the street from the terminal. Imagine our surprise when we walked out to the sign for rental cars and found… nothing.

Except a bus. Hmm.

I continued to look around for a moment, puzzled, before I noticed the giant words “rental car shuttle” on that bus. DUH! We made a run for it and climbed on – Aidan’s first bus experience right off the bat. It’s a good five minute bus ride to the rental car complex. The kid and I waited while Dave picked up our car, which apparently was an experience full of denying upgrades and add-ons. I wouldn’t know, as I have never rented a car myself before.

We made our way to the parking garage, where the attendant pointed to a row of standard size cars and said, “pick one, get in and go.” Hmm. White Chevy, silver Chevy, white Ford… blah. Then, just like in the movies when the main character finally finds the object he’s been adventuring toward, one car stood out and the angels sang in the background.

There it was. A deep blue/purple Dodge Charger. Muahaha! We looked at each other and grinned. “Why not? We’re on vacation.” We piled all of our stuff in, Dave installed the car seat (and now I see why people told us to bring our own, and I’m glad we did), and off we went. As we found our way out of the garage, I quickly programmed the hotel address into the GPS. Dave requested I change the GPS language to English (UK). I rolled my eyes, but laughed, as he headed for the freeway.

Needless to say, freeways are not the most relaxing experience for a couple of sheltered Alaskan kids. Dave has driven on freeways plenty when we’ve been on trips, but never for long enough to really get comfortable with them. He did great, though, and we mostly enjoyed our scenic tour around the edge of Seattle and up to Mukilteo. I’d never been to Mukilteo before although my grandmother has lived there for many years now. It was a cute little town and seemed to be a nice mix of light industry (including a ginormous Boeing facility, more on that later) and average and really beautiful luxurious neighborhoods.

I had done (again, an embarrassing amount) of online research about hotels. Two had been recommended to us – one was budget friendly, the other not nearly so much. The cheaper one, I read online, apparently had really thin walls and people reported having trouble sleeping due to noise. Normally this would not scare me off, but in the weeks leading up to this trip, my thought process went something like, “if I’m going to do the thing that I am petrified to do, and go on my first out of state trip in ten years, I am going to stay in a nice hotel where we will be comfortable and feel like we are on vacation!”

Therefore, I had booked a suite at the spendy place so that Aidan would have his own sleeping space in the form of a pull-out couch in the living room. We’ve learned that this just makes travel so much easier for our family, since he has never been a fantastic sleeper. Otherwise, we have to go to bed when he does and try to lie silently in bed to avoid waking him up. I don’t love this routine and neither does my bladder!

We were pleasantly surprised by the condition and layout of our hotel room, and since I love good hotels anyway, I was doubly delighted. We got checked in and got the basics unpacked before jumping back in our Charger and heading to Grandma’s house, which was conveniently only about five minutes away.

I was so excited I had trouble sitting still. My guilt about not seeing her in eleven years and having never brought my son to visit began to fade away as we walked up to her front door. I could see her sitting right next to the door eagerly awaiting a knock. As soon as she saw us, she donned the world’s biggest smile and I’m sure that I did, too.

After lots of hugs and kisses, we settled in for a wonderful evening of catching up and enjoying each other’s company. Grandpa made Chicken Marsala, which was delicious especially after a long day of stress and traveling. We chatted about everything under the sun and I really enjoyed watching my son get to know how great grandparents at long last. They really hit it off, which was the icing on the cake.

After an entirely too-short visit, we made our way back to our hotel and we all crashed hard for the night. I was exhausted and completely overjoyed. For the first time in many years I felt like I was truly on vacation and I could not wait to get the rest of the fun underway.