My parents recently moved to California to be closer to me.
Compared to Florida, their immediately previous home, or Slovakia, their original home, it’s true. However, visiting Omama and Opapa still involves traveling with two energetic little boys who struggle to sit still for story time, let alone a long flight south.
Add that to all the logistics of traveling with little kids, and my chest filled with anxiety when my parents invited us down for a visit. But they are planning to be out of the country until late fall, so we had to seize this window.
They aren’t terribly sympathetic to my traveling concerns. They remember flying overseas with me before the advent of disposable diapers.
Because I want to see them as much as possible, because I know time is promised to no one, and because they offered to foot the bill, we soon found ourselves California-bound.
My dad booked a red-eye. He assured me the boys and I would be able to sleep all the way.
After all, he said, that’s what he remembered about me. Of course, he neglected to mention the pacifier dipped in honey and cognac.
I considered packing some cognac for myself, but settled for deep breaths, instead. That, and Dollar Store bribes.
Pack light, my parents advised. I promised I would.
I used to show up with a van-load of gear: highchairs, bibs, baby food, a playpen, a stroller and even an inflatable bath duck. So for me, just lugging a car seat, an enormous, over-stuffed suitcase and a carry-on with some snacks and changes of clothes seemed reasonable.
At least it did as I pulled out of the driveway at 3:30 a.m., patting myself on the back for packing so light. But when we got to the economy parking lot at the airport and realized I had to get all of that, plus two rummy but excited pint-sized travelers to the airport, I got a little short of breath.
Contrary to the stranger danger lesson I am supposed to be instilling in the boys, we learned about the kindness of strangers as people went out of their way to help us. And it became quite necessary, as Jake decided he didn’t want to board a shuttle, no matter what.
The trip home was a little different. We couldn’t get seats together, and no one was willing to switch.
On the bright side, that took me off the hook for making the boys behave. I don’t think the guy in front of Jake appreciated Jake’s fascination with the tray attached to the seat, but I said nothing as Jake opened and closed it repeatedly, all the way from Palm Springs to Portland.
Meanwhile, Sam spilled his orange juice — twice. So despite the admonishments I got for overpacking, I was glad I had extra clothes on board.
For the record, none of us slept.
The visit itself was as much as an adventure as the traveling.
My parents and I have different opinions on — well, maybe it’s easier to just tell you what we have in common, which is love and affection for each other.
On our last visit, I made the mistake of taking my mom’s rules for the kids, drastically different from mine, as a personal commentary on my parenting.
This time, I asked her what the rules were up front, then set the stage with the boys so she didn’t have to admonish them all weekend for making every flat surface a race track.
Now that we’ve established that our different approaches to parenting don’t constitute a reflection on each other’s, we’ve dropped our defenses and can actually learn from each other.
I bought Jake some water wings. My mom said I paid too much for them and should return them.
I said I paid more because fabric wings were better. But I was wrong.
It took two of us to wrestle them onto Jake’s little arms, and the fabric tore within hours.
My dad pointed out another problem. He thought Jake was getting too confident in the water — more so than was warranted.
A sudden splash behind us illustrated his point, as Jake jumped in, sans wings, forcing me to dive in after him, fully clothed.
But the lessons went both ways.
When Jake and I wrapped up a prolonged session of him working through the disappointment of making a bad decision, my mom said she admired my patience. She said she liked how I let him experience the consequences and express his feelings without mine getting in the way.
“I didn’t have that kind of patience,” she admitted. “You had lots of other things,” I responded.
And she did, not the least of which was a way of cooking food that made you feel her love.
When she asked Sam during breakfast what he wanted for dinner, he said he couldn’t choose.
“It’s too hard to choose, Omama. Everything you cook is so good,” Sam said, eating a third helping of palacinky.
On the way home from the airport, Sam announced he was planning to move to California when he grew up so he could be closer to Omama and Opapa. Also, because it’s sunny there all the time.
Fine, I said.
I look forward to hearing about his adventures traveling with small children to visit me. If he packs an inflatable duck, I will say nothing. I might, however, remind him to pack an extra change of clothes and use lidded cups.
I got a letter the other day from my mom. Enclosed was a receipt for the water wings, which she had returned.
When I called to thank her, she said she found one of Jake’s cars tucked between the couch cushions. She said she had also discovered some red permanent marker scribbles on the aforementioned couch, which just happened to be white in color.
I probably should have told her to hide all the markers. Instead, I apologized profusely, then shared my best stain-removal tips.
Most likely, the scribbles will fade, but not disappear. A little something to remember us by, I guess.
Contact Nathalie Hardy at firstname.lastname@example.org.