Why I'll Never Go
Back to Albuquerque
© Copyright 2017 by Nancy Massand
Honorable Mention--2017 Travel Nonfiction
Traveling is an adventure. Traveling with toddlers redefines the term. Sometimes their spontaneity and hands down cuteness landed me perks I could never have imagined as an adult flying solo, like getting into the cockpit of a plane and posing for a Polaroid snapshot with the pilot. Notice I said Polaroid. I wouldn’t try it these days. Other times the unpredictability that made them rock stars on Kids Say the Darnedest Things bordered on disaster on family trips.
We took our kids everywhere, starting when they were three weeks old. Back in the seventies and early eighties in Chicago, we didn’t have travel systems and Pack n Plays. Car seats were available but not required. You just picked up the babies and went. Hotel dresser drawers lined with pillows were the perfect travel beds, and babies are the most adaptable creatures on the planet as long as mom or dad is within an arm’s length. We didn’t have mommy blogs with travel advice at our finger tips, and reservations were made by phone. Landlines. A cell number was an inmate’s address. But I digress. Our kids traveled from a very young age, in baby carriers, cars, metros, busses and planes. We never thought about worst case scenarios, flitting blithely from place to place with adorable babies in tow. One thing about traveling with little ones—you get a lot of attention and great service.
Having traveled with our growing family for a few years, I didn’t even blink when my husband told me he had a short term project in California and wanted us to join him there for six weeks. He would go first and set up the apartment where we’d be staying, and in a few weeks I would hop a plane with our toddler and eight-month-old baby to join him. Cool!
We couldn’t find a direct flight from Chicago to Los Angeles at the price we wanted to pay, so we got an itinerary that required changing planes in Albuquerque. Who goes to Albuquerque? Why do they even have an airport? When I told my two-year-old we’d be stopping in Albuquerque before we saw Daddy, she dissolved in giggles and called it Alba-Turkey, which remains a family joke to this day. I never considered the logistics of changing planes alone with two little kids. After all, we were seasoned travelers. I took them to the Lincoln Park Zoo on the train on a regular basis. We hopped on and off city busses with ease. An airport would be simple in comparison, one would think.
Getting on the plane at O’Hare was a walk in the park. I checked our bags and sailed into the gate with loads of time to spare, passed out snacks and read stories ‘til boarding time. I was the first one on the plane, since I was traveling alone with two babies. Attentive stewardesses fussed over us and made sure we had everything we wanted. My kids charmed the socks off the other passengers, and pretty soon everyone within earshot was blowing kisses at us and laughing about Alba-Turkey. I felt like the ultimate earth mother with her perfect children. Then we landed.
In those days back in 1980 the airlines didn’t transfer luggage. I had to get off the plan, collect our suitcases from baggage claim and transport them a half mile down the terminal to another airline, with two children. Then I would have to check the bags again and board the second flight. We were carrying clothes for six weeks, in addition to the requisite toys and drinks and food.
I piled the suitcases on a luggage cart and sat the two-year-old in the child seat facing me. Her baby sister was in an umbrella stroller (if you can remember those things, don’t admit it—they went out with vinyl LP’s), but I couldn’t push both the luggage cart and the stroller at the same time. My brilliant solution to this dilemma was to face the stroller backward and tell the two-year-old to hang on to the handles and drag it behind the cart while I pushed it. She was a reliable kid, for a two-year-old. After all, I reasoned to myself, she was just a few months shy of three. Old enough to understand and follow clearly stated commands. That was early childhood pedagogy talking, not my mother-brain. We took off at a fast clip, and I figured that with a little luck we’d make it to our flight in time for me to check the bags. It wasn’t quite as effortless as our entry at O’Hare, but I was still perfectly in control, a capable mother with her well-behaved and beautiful children, handling challenges with ingenuity and grace.
About half way down the corridor the reliable toddler tugged on my sleeve and grinned. “Mommy, look where our baby is!” She’d let go of the stroller. She had this innocent, how-did-that-happen quizzical look on her face that was totally put-on, and I knew it. Exasperated, I wheeled the loaded cart around and raced back to the oblivious baby, screaming at my responsible older child that we were going to miss our flight and be stranded in Albuquerque forever. (That was my mother-brain, not early childhood theory.)
Now I was really in a bind, because our flight was leaving shortly and I had a mountain of baggage and babies to move. The child seat on the luggage cart could only fit one child and was already loaded to capacity. I couldn’t just pile the baby on top of all the suitcases. I briefly thought of putting the baby in the child seat and letting the toddler ride shotgun, but that would not have ended well. I frantically flagged down a stewardess and explained my desperate circumstances. She swept the two-year-old out of the child seat while I lifted the baby in and folded the stroller on top of the luggage. Then she took off running, with my daughter slung over one shoulder, as she yelled instructions into her walkie-talkie to hold the plane. I sprinted after her pushing my load. The baby thought traveling at warp speed in a luggage cart was the greatest thing ever and began screeching with glee. It must have felt like going grocery shopping with mommy on fast-forward.
If you’re thinking that everything was now under control, you’ve never traveled with a two-year-old. You have to understand that this was a kid who always had to know the reason for everything. She was fine with new experiences as long as she’d been coached beforehand and knew what to expect. But there had been no time to say, “OK honey, this nice lady is our friend and she’s going to pick you up and run to the plane to we can go see Daddy in California.” It had all happened so fast, and I can only imagine the terror in her two-year-old brain. She took one look at the stranger who had snatched her away from her mother and was now running away with her, with Mommy and baby in hot pursuit behind, and started screaming. “Help, help! This woman is not my mother!” I’d taught her that if a stranger ever tried to take her away, she should yell that phrase as loud as she could. She’s a singer now that she’s grown up, but even back then her high notes could shatter glass. People chased after us to save the child. I kept assuring them that I was her mother and that everything was all right, but the more I insisted, the louder she howled. And with her set of pipes, no one could hear me anyway.
Disheveled, breathless and sweaty, we finally reached the gate, and the airline put my luggage on board rather than hold up the flight any longer. The stewardess released my frantic toddler, who promptly wrapped herself around my leg and wouldn’t let go. A sea of faces leaned into the aisle to ogle the frazzled young mother with a baby on her hip, a bulging diaper bag slung on one shoulder and a weeping toddler attached to her leg. Trying unsuccessfully to appear competent, I plunked the baby in the aisle seat and lifted the snuffling toddler into the middle one. The kind woman in the window seat leaned over to help her with the seatbelt while I picked up the little one and composed myself in the aisle seat. “Be careful with your babies,” she said to me. “I heard there was an attempted kidnapping in the terminal. Two women posing as a mother and a stewardess, can you imagine?”
was too embarrassed to set her straight, and with lightning reflexes
slipped a lollipop into my toddler’s open mouth so she
couldn’t, either. That was my mother-brain. And that’s
why to this day, whenever my flight has a layover, I make sure it’s
not in Albuquerque.
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