So much has happened in the past month that I don’t even know where to begin recapping it all. Nonetheless, here goes.
A few Mondays ago, I received a telephone call that my sweet Mamaw had been moved from her nursing home to the hospice house and wasn’t expected to make it too much longer. Although my family didn’t expect us to travel halfway around the world to be with them, Andy and I both felt strongly that I needed to be there regardless. Unfortunately, because of the needs of the Army, Andy was unable to join us – and in fact, he had some work travel of his own that would take him away from home for a while. Drew and I said “see you later” to Andy and departed on our own trip a few hours later.
There were so many little signs that, despite the immense difficulty of traveling halfway around the world solo with a baby, this was what I needed to do. A few things that made an impression on me:
- There was absolutely no traffic on the drive to Munich, and Drew slept the entire time (I had been nervous about the drive since driving in Germany gives me major anxiety.)
- My GPS died on the way to the Hilton hotel that I had booked, but I somehow managed to find a brand-new Hampton Inn (literally, it had been open for only a month.) Because I’m a gold rewards member with Hilton, they canceled my room last-minute for free. (I never did find that hotel!)
- It was snowing when we left the hotel at 3:30 am, but thankfully it wasn’t too bad (I didn’t have an ice scraper nor a jacket and had only packed my Teva sandals, whoops.)
- I kept getting lost trying to find the parking terminal that I had pre-paid for, but it finally appeared out of nowhere. There was a random luggage cart right next to my car (kind of a huge thing in Germany because everyone puts their carts away.)
- Because of the ‘Rona, the airport changed my flight to a different terminal that I couldn’t find; I kept dropping my bags and getting lost on the way there, but a kind German lady walked me all the way there and pulled Drew’s car seat wheels.
- Drew slept the entire flight from Munich to Amsterdam.
- Passport control in Amsterdam let me cut ahead in line because I was traveling solo with a baby.
- Our flight from Amsterdam to Detriot had like 20 people total, so the flight attendants let us spread out on the plane. They also pulled down all the window shades while I was trying to get Drew to take a nap.
- Upon arriving in Detriot, the Customs & Border Patrol dog hit on my baby food pouches, but the (female) CBP officer was so kind and reassuring.
- Drew and I both napped on the flight from Detriot to Nashville.
- My sisters were waiting for me at the security checkpoint in the airport, which I definitely appreciated as I needed the extra set of hands!
Thankfully, we were able to make it home to Kentucky to spend time with Mamaw before she passed away. Although she wasn’t able to converse with us very well by the time we arrived, I know she appreciated our presence. The day of our long travels, she kept telling everyone that “Bailey and the baby are coming tomorrow!” And as difficult as saying goodbye to her was, I was grateful to mourn in person with others who knew and loved my dear Mamaw.
Although the trip to the States was for a bittersweet reason, I tried to make the most of it. I did a lot of shopping in person, in stores that we don’t have in Germany. (And even if we did, I wouldn’t be able to go in person because of the crazy virus restrictions.)
While I was in Kentucky, I was able to spend time with my dear friends from college, Stephanie and Julie. It’s crazy to believe that a decade ago, we were sitting in our dorm rooms, and now we’re old enough to have babies that play together. I also enjoyed dinner with a friend from 5th grade, Jessie, although I forgot to get a picture with her! (Sorry, Jessie!!!)
I also took Drew to the park where I married his Daddy. Smothers Park has one of the top playgrounds in the US, but Drew was too little to play on it. Someday, though!
After Mamaw’s funeral, I spent a week with Andy’s family in Louisiana. I was driving in the middle of rural Arkansas when a tornado warning screeched on my iPhone. Thankfully, it wasn’t actually in the vicinity I was in, but it did alert me that I would not be able to make it to Little Rock that evening as I had hoped. I drove to the nearest town (still a good 20 minutes away!) to book a hotel room for the night, only to discover every other driver on I-40 had the same idea. I went to one hotel that was completely full, but God bless the sweet front desk attendant who took pity on the poor mama traveling alone with her baby, as she called the hotel next door and asked them to keep a room for me – and it’s a good thing she did because they were completely booked by the time I arrived there. It stormed pretty fiercely that night but Drew and I was safe and sound!
On the remainder of the long drive, I stopped to stretch my legs and enjoy lunch in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Mamaw’s family was from Arkansas, and it was one of her favorite vacation spots– my mom and I took Mamaw there for her last vacation in 2013. It was special taking Drew there, if only for a few hours. We also detoured through Texas (literally 5 minutes out of my way!) before finally making it to Louisiana.
It was Drew’s first time meeting his Louisiana family, including his grandpa, two aunts and uncles, and two cousins! Now he’s met all of his family… well, except for the other 14 cousins of his! 😉
While everyone worked during the day, we went sightseeing. We went to Magnolia Plantation (part of the Cane River Creole National Historical Park.) I was a little hesitant to visit a plantation for fear it would glorify slavery and the Confederacy, but it didn’t! It painted an accurate picture of history, both good and bad.
We also went to see the Steel Magnolias house. The entire movie was filmed in Natchitoches, and 3 decades later, that movie still draws tourists to the area. I actually don’t remember if I’ve seen the entire movie all the way through in one sitting, but I need to!
We also visited the riverfront park where Andy proposed in January 2016, Beau Jardin. Little did I know 5 years ago I’d be back with our little Andrew!
Auntie Anne also loved turning my little dude into a Louisianan, giving him his first taste of crawfish, buying him Natchitoches meat pies from the gas station, and taking him to the alligator park! Grandma Maggie and Aunt Crystal also took him and his cousins to an Easter egg hunt and to see the Easter bunny! It was such a relief to be able to see people, do things, go places, and enjoy the warm weather!
Unfortunately, “all good things must come to an end,” as my Papaw always said, and it was time to return to Germany. It was so tough saying goodbye to everyone, knowing that we could have chosen to be stationed in either Kentucky or Louisiana. Instead, we picked Germany and haven’t had the experience that we had hoped for.
Unlike my flight to the States, the flight back to Germany was a ~nightmare~ and again, felt like a sign:
- I spent forever in the airport’s rental car return lot, attempting to switch the car seat to forward-facing for the flights. Also, I couldn’t figure out how to fix the anchoring system to secure the car seat cart.
- The suitcase was 51 pounds. ONE pound overweight. Delta ticketing agent had no sympathy for me and was gonna charge me $100. Moving my items to a different bag wasn’t an option because the duffel bag barely fit the Pack & Play, let alone anything else. (Military ID came in clutch because she waived the fee even though technically I needed to be traveling on PCS orders, not leisure travel.) Diversion for my rant: is an overweight baggage fee really necessary – all this stuff is going on the same dang plane. (For the record, I mailed myself a box home to Germany to lighten my load, and my sweet SIL is mailing my second box.)
- Somehow got lost in the tiny Shreveport Regional Airport. They only had like 10 gates. Don’t ask how.
- Had some weird allergic reaction to my disposable face mask. It looks like I’ve been in a catfight from scratching my face so much.
- Someone’s child cried on and off for 4 hours on the flight from Atlanta to Amsterdam. Oh wait, the child was mine. In his defense, he was overstimulated from those dang tv screens in the seat. Unlike his Kindle, I cannot put it in my backpack so he’ll forget it exists. To make it worse, the guy in front of us had his screen on for hours, and Drew could see it from his car seat. Covering his eyes with a blanket didn’t work.
- The screen in my seat back was broken and wouldn’t turn off, so the flight attendants tried to cover it with a blanket. Yeah, that lasted 0.5 seconds with my toddler. They ultimately had to turn off the power to my seatback manually.
- Got approximately 2 hours of poor sleep on the flight. My eyes were insanely bloodshot.
- At one point, I tried to get Drew to fall asleep, so I leaned over, looked him in the eye, and told him to sleep. He looked at me with a defiant look in his eyes, grabbed my hair with both hands and shook my head like he’s in an all-girl fistfight, and yelled, “no!” (My child has *never* done anything like this before – anyone that knows him knows how even-tempered he is.)
- The guy in front of me had his seat leaned so far back, and the armrest on the aisle seat didn’t lift, so I got stuck getting out of the seat while carrying Drew to the lavatory for a diaper change.
- We landed in Amsterdam to 40 degrees and gusting wind and discovered it was snowing in Munich. I realized I had no winter gear in my backpack *or* suitcase, and my child lost his socks along the way. Literally, everything I had was summer clothes down to the Texas sandals on my feet.
- Dutch passport control agent asked me where my child’s father was. I said, “Deployed.” He asked where. I was put on the spot and blurted out, “Ukraine or Poland or something.” Y’all, I know where my husband is. It is not either one of those countries. Thankfully, the passport control guy just thought I was a dumb American who thinks all Eastern European countries are the same. (Also, I didn’t know this until I told Andy the story, but apparently, Russia is staging near the Ukrainian border, and the US is not happy about it… my fool self could have started an international incident by accidentally saying the wrong freaking country )
- We almost missed our flight to Munich. The gates were literally closing when I got there. (I didn’t stop for food or anything, just went straight from passport control to my gate, which was, of course, two terminals away )
- Knowing KLM does their boarding process by requiring the passengers to walk up and down stairs, I asked the KLM gate agent if there was assistance getting my 27-pound baby and 25-pound car seat (plus 2 heavy bags) up the stairs. She seemed confused by my question and said there should be some baggage guys to help. I walked down the gangway to get on the bus that will take us to our plane and discovered… a set of metal stairs that I need to get down. The only person around was an airport security guard who was standing there, not saying a word, just watching me struggle. Ultimately, I walked down the stairs, put my bags on the sidewalk, walked back up the stairs, and carried my son while dragging his car seat down the stairs on the rickety wheel contraption. I guess they just expected me to risk my son’s life on that metal death trap.
- I had to ask 2 passengers to get off the bus that took us to our plane and help me get my things on board. (When you travel alone with an infant, sometimes you have to boss strangers around. My “bossiness” as a kid really paid off.)
- I heard a few of the passengers crap-talking me because I did not dress my baby for cold weather. This is the one time I was glad I’m an ignorant American that only speaks English because I couldn’t tell the specifics of what they were saying but knew it wasn’t nice by their stares and looks on their faces. One of the passengers asked me where his warm clothes were. I promise you, if I had them with me, he would be wearing them. But not right then because remember, the gates were closing. (I’m not winning ‘mom of the year’ anytime soon – I just want to keep us both alive )
- My child with obnoxiously long legs kept kicking the seat in front of him. The lady in that seat kept huffing and puffing and doing exaggerated ‘leaning forward’ motions. Look, attempting to stop my child from moving his legs would just start him screaming, and I did not have the emotional energy for that. He can kick your seat or scream, lady; pick your poison.
- Upon landing in Munich, the wheels to the car seat were sent immediately to baggage claim instead of staying at the gate, even though they were properly tagged for a gate check. I was told I needed to drag my child, his car seat, and our bags all the way to baggage claim to retrieve them.
- My child (that is just learning to walk) ran around the German passport control area because he wasn’t restrained in his car seat. As bad as that would be in American culture, in German culture, children are meant to be seen, not heard, so it was a million times worse. (Seen behaving calmly, not running around the place, of course.) The older female Polizist reviewing my passport and covid documents wasn’t too impressed, but at least she had more patience than the male Polizists that were just watching my wild child and me.
- I started the mile-ish walk to baggage claim, just holding my son and dragging my car seat. I’d get 5 steps, then have to stop. 5 more steps, then stop. At this rate, it would take an hour to get to baggage claim if I could physically handle that much exertion from a 26-pound baby, 20-pound car seat, and 2 bags of unknown weight but were pretty dang heavy. Thankfully a (younger) Polizist took pity on me and asked if I was traveling with anyone (LOL, if I was, I promise I wouldn’t be doing this) before grabbing me a baggage cart. He sat the car seat on top of the cart, and then I sat the diaper bag on the handle, perched Drew on the diaper bag, and leaned into him while pushing the cart and hoped his “clingy koala baby” quality would come in handy so that he wouldn’t fall off.
- I ran into the flight attendants and pilots from my KLM flight, who were appalled at everything that had happened since I arrived at the KLM gate in Amsterdam. They were so incredibly kind and apologetic over what had happened and helped me get Drew and our stuff to the baggage claim, where the car seat wheels were waiting for us.
- I discovered that, although I splurged on the expensive parking close to the terminal because of the virus, my flight had landed in a completely different terminal. I had to walk what felt like 1.5 miles with my child and all our crap to our car.
- At one point, we had to go through a revolving door. The only “normal” doors were marked emergency exit only. That thing had to be set at the highest speed because it was spinning fast. Since I was dragging so much stuff, I couldn’t keep up. The door was literally running into me. Of course, I dropped a bag inside too. (Again, how the heck do they expect individuals in wheelchairs or with other mobility issues to get through the dang thing?)
- I went on a (flat) moving walkway, hoping it would save me some energy exertion on my trek to the car. Even though I had managed them before with my bags plus Drew, somehow I missed my footing as I was getting off, and my bag got caught in the track. I had to quickly press the emergency stop switch with my foot while pushing Drew’s car seat stroller in the opposite direction so that he didn’t run into the bags and get trapped on the moving walkway.
- I finally made it to the parking garage and realized I had no freaking clue which level I had parked on. I spent 10 minutes in the freezing cold and SNOW (remember, we weren’t dressed for the weather!) before I finally found a picture of my parking number on my phone. Which, of course, was at the very end of the parking garage.
- The lever to switch the car seat from forward-facing back to rear-facing wasn’t working. I assume it got stuck because of dragging the car seat. Thankfully Drew is old enough and tall/heavy enough under German regulations to ride forward-facing, and yes, I know rear-facing is best. Fixing the car seat is on my to-do list since we’re stuck at home for the next 10 days for quarantine, don’t @ me.
- I stopped 4 times to nap on the 2-hour drive home from the airport.
- I came home and immediately wanted to be comatose in my bed for the next 18 hours, but my child decided he wanted to play and explore the house.
- I ended up putting Drew in his crib at 4:30 pm so I could nap – I literally couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore, and I wasn’t able to keep an eye on him to keep him safe. And because of the self-quarantine requirement, the few neighbors I have met weren’t able to come to watch him while I napped. Poor dude was screaming bloody murder for being put in the crib for no reason, and I felt so guilty. Again, I’m not winning ‘mom of the year’ here, just trying to keep us both alive.
- I was thankful to be under strict quarantine for 10 days because I needed it to recover from that trip, WHEW.
Although our trip back to the States was incredibly unexpected, expensive, and for the most bittersweet of reasons, it was good for us and to us. I didn’t realize how tough life in Germany has been until I went home.