Guten Morgen! Although it’s evening in the States (where you’re likely reading this), it’s nearly 4 am here in Germany, hence the “good morning” greeting. If you can’t tell, I’m a little bit jet-lagged 😉 As a person who has always been an early bird, it feels nice to be the one staying up late for once… although I will regret it when my baby wakes me up at the crack of dawn in a few hours.
Since I can’t sleep and my mind is racing a mile a minute, I figured I might as well share our PCS adventures. I’ll eventually share about the pack-out and drive to Baltimore in the days leading up to our departure, but I wanted to share about our flight to Germany yesterday while it’s still so fresh in my mind. So much happened in those 33+ hours that it’s hard to believe it all happened in basically the same day.
We flew out of Baltimore on Sunday, October 4. Since our flight was scheduled to depart at 8 pm, we enjoyed a lazy morning sleeping in, packing our things, and heading out to brunch. We walked the 20-minutes from our hotel to Cracker Barrel only to discover they had a 90-minute wait (thanks to social distancing requirements). Still, I was so insistent on CB being our last American meal that we waited outside in the rocking chairs.
Baby’s first Cracker Barrel experience.
Please, Pa, more biscuits?
After we finished brunch and returned to the hotel, we had about an hour before we needed to check out of our hotel. Drew took a quick nap on the king-sized bed (with me sitting with him to ensure he didn’t roll off, of course), and Andy finished packing the rest of our things. Once 3 pm hit, we checked out of our hotel to take the free shuttle to the airport. I should add that the normal checkout time is noon, but we were granted an extra 3 hours due to our IHG Platinum Elite status with the IHG credit card. (Thanks, travel hacking!)
Upon arriving at the airport, we lugged our 6 suitcases, stroller, 3 backpacks, baby diaper bag, purse, and baby-in-a-rolling-car seat inside. Andy had one luggage cart, I had another and the baby’s cart. It took 1.5 hours to check-in, as the Air Mobility Command (aka AMC, a fancy term for “military airline”) manually does everything, including calculating the plane’s weight– they weighed our carryons and even asked for the weight of the passengers! My sweet husband accidentally gave them a number that was about 15 pounds lighter than my actual weight because he genuinely insists that’s my weight. Bless him.
Flight boarding was scheduled to begin at 8 pm, but per the usual “hurry up and wait,” it didn’t begin until 8:30 pm. Just a few minutes before we were supposed to be wheels-up, a passenger in the front of the plane barfed and had to disembark. It took over 2 hours for AMC to find her luggage and her two dogs in the cargo area. Then, the plane had issues with the emergency call button. Not being able to alert flight attendants if there were an emergency is a “no go,” so we were grounded while resolving the issue. By the time it was fixed, our plane was running low on fuel and needed to be refueled. I heard chatter from the flight attendants about them getting dangerously close to “timing out,” which meant our flight would be canceled for the night. By the grace of God, that didn’t become an issue, and we finally departed BWI at 12:30 am- 4 hours later than planned.
Drew did well on the flight. He was a little hyper as we all waited for the all-clear, as they kept all of the lights on until the plane finally took off. I guess they didn’t want the passengers to get too cozy because they anticipated having to boot us off shortly? Who knows. Anyway, I cuddled Drew to sleep in my arms a few minutes before takeoff before moving him to his car seat. Due to the small size of the plane’s seats, we were required to switch him to forward-facing during the flight, but that was certainly better than the option of holding him the entire time. (Personally, I still don’t understand why the FAA allows parents to hold their infants in flight. If your laptop can become a projectile during turbulence, then so can your baby!) At 10-months-old, he’s already 2.5 feet tall! Unfortunately, this meant that his feet were touching the seat in front of him. Every time Drew’s feet kicked, the salty old airman in front of him would aggressively push his seat backward in a “stop kicking me” move. We’d gently redirect Drew, but it honestly ticked me off because I was afraid the man’s aggressive leaning would pinch Drew’s feet in the tray table.
(I’m aware his car seat straps aren’t correct. This photo was taken after I sat him in the seat and before I re-adjusted them.)
Once Drew fell asleep, though, there was nothing we could do– kicking in his sleep is completely normal development for a 10-month-old, and attempting to stop it would just wake him up. At one point in the middle of the night, the salty airman turned around, stood up, and glared at my son before sitting back down. I whipped the earbuds out of my ear, tapped him on the shoulder, and said, “Excuse me, may I help you?” His reply was, “He’s kicking my seat.” I glared back and said (a little too loudly for 3 am), “He is 10 months old. He’s an active sleeper.” The salty old airman looked shocked that I dared to “defend” Drew’s behavior instead of apologizing for it, and he quickly turned around. (We didn’t hear a peep from him the rest of the flight.) Andy was a bit nervous when he heard me say that because the airman was old enough to have outranked Andy. I didn’t care, though- your rank does not matter when your behavior towards my child is inappropriate. After Salty Airman’s outburst, I ended up moving Drew from his car seat into my lap for the remainder of the flight. Naturally, I didn’t sleep a wink after this, and, in fact, neither did Drew. He thought Mommy picking him up meant playtime and started babbling his little heart out. I’m not going to lie, I felt a little vindicated when Drew did that because I’m sure it continued disturbing Salty Airman’s precious sleep.
The plane was an older model that reminded me of a bigger version of Southwest’s planes from the early 90s. The touchscreens in the seatbacks didn’t work properly, the aisles were small, and I swear I heard seats making a weird creaking sound during takeoff as if they weren’t bolted down properly. Another thing to note for my own memory: twice, pets that escaped their kennels. It would have been funnier watching the flight attendants chase animals if it weren’t the middle of the night and we hadn’t been woken up by the announcement to be on the lookout for Fluffy/Fido.
About 45 minutes before landing, we decided to make Drew a bottle for breakfast and to help his ears adjust to the air pressure. We didn’t realize the bottled water we bought at the airport was actually sparkling (carbonated) water. When Andy shook the bottle to mix in the formula, it sprayed everywhere like someone popping a cork from champagne. It sprayed on the people behind us before we were able to grab something to cover the bottle nipple. That “something” ended up being a clean diaper. Y’all, I can’t make this up! By this point, Drew saw that we were preparing his bottle and began screaming when he didn’t get it. That’s completely normal behavior for Drew at any time because the boy just loves to eat, but it annoyed everyone on the airplane. The lady across the aisle quickly handed us an applesauce pouch, thinking we ran out of food. I didn’t have the heart to tell her we had plenty of food pouches in our backpacks, so I fed it to Drew. It kept him quiet enough until we could clean out the bottle and prepare it again, this time with non-carbonated water.
Once the plane landed and we disembarked, we were “those passengers” clogging up the gateway as we reattached Drew’s car seat to the Travelmate cart and fished Andy’s military orders and the no-fee passports out of our backpack. A few different soldiers and airmen from the AMC offered to help us (read: get us moving faster) because they were in a hurry to turn the plane around and prepare it for the next flight. The airman-in-charge repeatedly stressed that you must have those items in hand to disembark the plane, which is why we stopped in the gangway. What they didn’t say was you could easily fetch those items from your backpack as you waited in the 30-minute line to go through passport control. (Imagine my eyes rolling right now.)
As we headed down the stairs to passport control, Andy and I looked at each other. There was no way I would be able to get Drew’s 25-pound self and his 20-pound car seat/travel cart down the stairs, but we also had three backpacks, a purse, and a diaper bag to get down as well which meant Andy’s hand were also full. The soldier directing everyone downstairs clearly saw us trying to figure out what to do as we stood directly in front of him. Being the person that I am, I said in my most serious voice, “Well, I’ll just have to push Drew’s cart down the stairs.” Andy replied, “Babe, that’s dangerous!” I replied, “He’s strapped in his car seat! He’ll be fine.” Please note that I would never, ever, ever do such a thing, but I was simply making a point to the soldier in charge that how in the world was I supposed to get the heavy baby in the rolling cart down a set of stairs? It wasn’t until the soldier behind us in line turned to the soldier in charge and said, “Hey, you’re not gonna let them go down the elevator?” that he finally permitted us to use the elevator. (Again, insert another eye roll from me.)
During our elevator ride, I panicked when I realized every sign in the elevator was in German! Once we returned to the customs line, I panicked again when I realized I couldn’t remember how to greet the passport control officer! I knew it wasn’t Guten Morgen because that means good morning, and it was 2 pm by this point… Was it Guten Abend? No, I don’t think so. Gute Nacht? No. Aw heck… Andy ended up saying “Hallo” and I kept my mouth shut (for once, haha.)
It took another hour to get our bags from the baggage claim. One of our brand-new duffels was completely ruined, but at least everything inside was intact. Then, we waited another hour for Andy’s rapid COVID test and results. I took the opportunity to change both myself and Drew into fresh outfits. Finally, we were allowed to load the bus that would take us to our new base, Grafenwöhr. Of course, one poor soldier whose sponsor was coming to pick him up was forced to take the bus with us, even though his sponsor was just 2 minutes away. I heard the soldiers in charge mutter something like, “If he’s not standing right outside this door right now, you’re taking the bus” and internally rolled my eyes. Welcome to Army life, Bailey. (I had forgotten what it felt like after we spent 3 years in a remote assignment.) As it rained and I struggled to carry 45-pounds of my son and his car seat up the bus stairs, I definitely had a “Why the heck did I encourage my husband to re-enlist?!” moment.
(On the bus ride that never ends. Yes, I’m aware Drew should still be rear-facing and normally is, but the German bus’s seats did not accommodate rear-facing.)
As far as the bus ride goes, you know the song, “This is the song that never ends?” Well, it was the bus ride that never ends! From Ramstein to Grafenwöhr is about 6 hours, but it felt even longer thanks to the stau (traffic jams) that we seemed to go on for miles. For over 2 hours, we listened to a crying baby (please note the crying baby wasn’t mine, as he was fast asleep.) About 3 hours into the trip, we stopped for dinner at a gas station. The bus driver originally didn’t want to stop, but the Army liaison overseeing our bus ride convinced him to. Please note that, due to coronavirus, the bathrooms on the bus were locked. I’m not sure how in the world the bus driver expected a bus full of children as well as a pregnant lady to go 6 hours without a bathroom break. (Insert eye roll number 3.)
The gas station we stopped at was across the street from the McDonalds that we “weren’t allowed to go to,” per the bus driver who refused to wait the amount of time it would take to order and prepare 35+ meals. In Army logic, if everyone is wrong, it’s right, so we all proceeded to go to McDonald’s anyway. Andy waited in line to order our food while I went to the bathroom to change Drew and use the facilities. I panicked when I realized I couldn’t read the sign directing me to the ladies room, and later, didn’t know which button was the one that flushed the toilet. At least I figured it out, and the McDonald’s bathroom was free. As Andy ordered our food, I took Drew across the street to the gas station to purchase energy drinks and then back to the bus. Again, a moment of panic when I had no idea what the cashier was saying to me, but I managed to fumble my way through “Hallo” and “Danke.”
About 20 minutes later, I was surprised to see Andy walk back to the bus with empty arms instead of the delicious McNuggets and fries that I was expecting. I looked at him, he shrugged, and I asked, “What happened?!” There were so many people in the McDonald’s line that they made some of them use the automated order machines. Unfortunately, for some reason, those machines wouldn’t read our credit card. Andy got in line for the cashier to place his order instead, but there were 5 people ahead of him, and the bus driver walked into McDonald’s to hustle everyone out. No food for us. Let’s just say by this point, I was beyond hangry and exhausted and regretting the re-enlistment decision more and more.
We finally made it to Grafenwöhr around 10 pm, expecting to be in our houses shortly. Nope. Thanks to coronavirus, the Army required everyone to have their military ID processed in the system so that they would know if we were breaking quarantine by getting on-post (or off-post for the on-post residents.) That process took another 2 hours, and it was 12:30 am by the time our sponsor drove us through the Graf McDonalds drive-thru and dropped us off at our new house. It took another hour to figure out the radiators, set up Drew’s Pack & Play, and cover our loaner mattresses with plastic bags (after my previous experience with bedbugs, I don’t play around.)
All in all, we spent a total of 33 hours in transit from when we left the hotel until we arrived at our new house. WHEW. What a day. It will definitely be one we won’t forget anytime soon!