The Odyssey (And Other Things Borrowed From Those Masters of Tragedy, The Greeks)

In Greek mythology, a boy named Icarus puts on a pair of wings made of wax and feathers and, ignoring the warnings of his father, flies too close to the sun. Since wax doesn’t hold up terribly well to heat (Daedalus apparently didn’t think his invention through too well), poor Icarus falls into the sea when his wings melt away.

I recently undertook an Icarian journey of my own, but substitute a plane for the sun and my kids for wings. The plane hadn’t even pulled out of the hangar before the meltdowns began.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I was very excited when Chris booked a trip for all five of us to attend my brother’s wedding in Tennessee. But I also threw up a little in my mouth, because none of us (even the most patient and perfect, which I am not!) really looks forward with delight to an international trip spanning four travel days and 6,000 miles round-trip.

My mom suggested that we make a few weeks of it, but I looked into it, and they don’t offer a Round-Trip-With-Padded-Cell-On-Return-Flight special, so I politely declined the offer to spend an extra week being smothered by insane toddlers on a bouncy air mattress.

Our odyssey begins the Wednesday before the wedding weekend. We were supposed to be packed and ready to go by the time Maddux got out of school, but of course we weren’t. When one has three kids, packing up all the “last-minute” things such as toothbrushes and suckies and special toys takes a lot more than your “last minute” between the end of naptime and time to get out the door. Try “last five hours with many interruptions from small children who are hanging, slothlike, from your limbs.” So we got out of the house three hours behind schedule, at 7.

It actually worked out well, because the kids slept on the five-and-a-half-hour drive to Spokane instead of what they usually do in the car, which is fight and whine. Or, maybe not. Once we got to the motel, they were bouncing off the walls. If there is one thing worse than sleeping on a lumpy motel mattress, it’s trying to sleep on a motel mattress while listening to a wide-awake toddler chatter until 1:30 a.m. about diggers and trains and who poops in their pants or doesn’t (turns out, everyone does).

Eventually, I fell asleep wedged — uncomfortable and completely immobile — between a toddler and a hotel-crib-hating baby, while listening to the steady snores of my preschooler (but only until 5:30, when she woke up and decided to gallop around the room. Joy.)

After that refreshing 4-hour repose (and let’s not forget that the previous night was spent packing) it was time to spend nine hours in various planes and airports. Let me just say that while we saved thousands of dollars by driving to the states and taking a flight with a layover, THIS IS NOT THE WAY TO TRAVEL WITH KIDS. Seriously. Can’t emphasize that enough. Quite honestly, any travel time greater than two hours pretty much requires a heaping dose of Valium for everyone involved. It’s impossible for me to adequately describe the horror of a full day of flying after a half-day of car travel. I will try anyway, but much like the battlefield, nothing is quite the same as actually being in the trenches.

So, the day began promisingly enough. After drinking enough coffee to kill Juan Valdez himself, we headed to the airport with kids and bags in tow. Check-in and security were surprisingly uneventful, except for a teensy meltdown when James was asked to remove his shoes. The kids were all very well behaved in the airport. You know, like the calm before the storm.

That all changed once the captain turned on the “fasten seatbelt” light. I leaned over to fasten James’ for him, but apparently I had neglected to inform him that children need to be properly restrained during flight.

“NNNOOOO SEATBELT!!” he shrieked, to the warm smiles dismay of everyone around us. “I DON’T WANNITTTTT!!! NOOOOO, MOMMMMEEE, NOOOOO!”

And to my immense delight, my little treasure of a boy threw himself on the floor in front of his seat and proceeded to have the most adorable screaming fit ever. Everyone applauded. Oh, I mean glared. I threw up a little in my mouth.

Luckily, after we determined that James was now fulfilling the dual role of ticketed passenger AND lap baby, that flight was uneventful.

That flight.

Fast-forward through a disgusting and slimy lunch at the Las Vegas airport’s Sbarro, which was abundant with whining, crying and pizza-throwing by our non-napped baby, and we were on our second flight of the evening, which basically started not long before bedtime (you know about foreshadowing, right? So remember the phrases “non-napped baby” and “not long before bedtime”.)

So, as we are holding our now TWO lap babies pre-flight, we foolishly tell our fellow passengers, “They haven’t had a nap today and it’s bedtime, so with any luck, they will sleep the whole time.”

This is the point in our story where, were it sci-fi, current-day Heather builds a time machine and goes back to strangle two-weeks ago Heather, screaming, “WHY? WHY DID YOU SAY THAT??!”

Naturally, Thomas whined and cried the entire time and did not, in fact, fall asleep until he had entertained the entire plane with his imitation of an angry bald eagle for a good half-hour. We were happy to deplane long after everyone else, so that they would have time to decide NOT to rush us en masse.

By the time we got to the hotel, it was 2:30 a.m. Tennessee time and way past bedtime any way you cut it. The kids, thank goodness, all passed out the instant their heads hit their pillows and slept until a ridiculous hour (which, combined with Thomas eating the longest breakfast in the history of breakfast, probably owing to his hatred of Sbarro pizza, resulted in our being late to the rehearsal). Oh, I forgot to mention — the rehearsal and wedding? A four-hour drive from Nashville, where we landed. The money we saved on airfare might just be spent on psychotherapy.

The three-ish days we spent in Memphis are a blur of wedding awesomeness and kids-in-the-same-bed-as-me awfulness. I will skip over the late-night chatter of James, the early-morning waking of Maddux, and the joys of entertaining a baby in a series of unbabyproofed venues.

Fast-forward to the night at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. I was dreading this night, because no matter how much he may deny it, Dad does wake up at 5 a.m. and make inhuman amounts of maybe-inadvertent-but-maybe-not noise. Every. Living. Day. (Do we know any 4-year-old girls like this? Why yes. We surely do. Wonder where she got that …) So after securing his promise that he would be as quiet as the proverbial mouse (although, having grown up with pet rodents, I can assure you that they are actually very audible), we agreed to crash in the guest room. Thomas had dibs on the Pack ‘N’ Play, Maddux called the little couch, and James and I shared the air mattress.

Ahh, James. He of the never-ending nighttime chatter. On this particular night, I can verify that he was awake and talking until 1:30 a.m. Tennessee time. The rest of the night I spent completely awake, as his weight and my weight rolled us into the middle of the air mattress in a sweaty, kicking, drooly heap.

Sunrise in Tennessee comes around 6 a.m. I can tell you this because my watch said 4-something when I first heard Maddux chattering away to her stuffed animals and realized with horror that there were no blackout curtains. WHY DIDN’T I REMEMBER TO WARN THEM ABOUT BLACKOUT CURTAINS? All of the kids would really benefit from falconers’ hoods, but Maddux more so than her brothers. As soon as there’s a glimmer of light coming into her room, her eyes spring open and she’s ready to go, as if she were a walking, talking solar panel (who, unfortunately, keeps a charge long after the sun has set). Naturally, her morning adventures became louder and louder until I sent her downstairs — the resulting tantrum, of course, being what woke the boys at 6 our time. The saddest part in all of this is that I didn’t hear a single bang or crash from my dad the whole morning. Nope. Just from the kids.

This was going to be the most awesome day of travelling yet. I could tell.

We’ll just fast-forward here through the first flight, which was pretty much the same story as the second flight of the previous trip. James seatbelt tantrum, Thomas wants to nap but instead cries, Mom bounces everyone on knees and sings “Thomas the Tank Engine” theme song until boys fall asleep just as captain announces descent. Deplane in shame after angry business passengers, having ordered record amounts of in-flight adult drinks, rush off plane to consume Juan-Valdez-killing amounts of coffee and schedule vasectomies. Spend an hour on the tram because a) the kids think it’s a Thomas train and b) an hour of riding between two buildings numbly listening to your kids yell “All aboard!” exactly every two minutes beats sitting in chairs having people direct homicidal glares your way.

This brings us to the second flight.

Note to self: Never again schedule a flight after the kids’ normal bedtime. Especially after five days on the road. Especially when it’s your second flight of the day and you have made your Sbarro-hating baby eat (or rather, throw and complain about) Sbarro again because it is the only restaurant in your stupid terminal.

Imagine the previous plane scenarios I’ve described, except with Thomas literally climbing on Chris’ and my heads and James having even more floor tantrums. Imagine Maddux, for whatever reason, pretending she’s at a Jewish wedding — except substitute the glass with some in-flight Chips Ahoy wafer thingies. Imagine me singing the stupid Thomas train song for more than an hour (oh, lucky, LUCKY people in front of me!). Imagine it not really working. Imagine the most high-pitched eagle screech a baby could possibly make, but imagine it being done into a megaphone — seriously, that boy has some pipes. And for a good 30 minutes nonstop, at least. What I imagined was Samuel L. Jackson coming at us with a gun, beads of sweat rolling down his face as he commanded “Get these emm-effing kids off this emm-effing plane!”

I’m pretty sure that even the laid-back coastal mom whose two preschoolish-age kids led the rear of the plane in a rousing rendition of “She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain” was wishing she hadn’t sat in front of the crazy family with a preschooler, a toddler and an almost-toddler. And at the end of the Flight of Horror, instead of heaving a huge sigh of relief, I ended up carrying not one but TWO sleepy boys along with a diaper bag THROUGH THE AIRPORT because, even though you can get one immediately if you are flying OUT, apparently they do not rent out little baggage carts right at the gate. (The baggage cart wouldn’t have been for the boys, but rather the baggage that Chris was lugging instead of a boy. Although I’m sure they would have enjoyed that.)

We went to the hotel, James chattered and suffocated me in sweaty, drooly toddler snuggles (how DO they simultaneously snuggle and kick?), baby wailed, Maddux rose early with bells on, blah blah blah. I’m sure you know the drill.

AHHHH, Chris and I thought, Five hours and it’s over. (Oh, you poor fools.)

You know how you always forget something on a trip? Well, I remembered everything. Just not enough of everything. Namely, diapers. Also, after four days in a roomy minivan, I forgot how, in the Highlander, our three young and feisty children are all but inches away from each other.

So, with Thomas in a pair of size 5 Diego Easy-Ups, we headed onto the open road to a round of, “Jamesy’s touchin’ me!” “Maggots poops her pants, HAHAHA!” “CAWW! CA-CAWWWW!” “Thomas scratcheded me!” “DON’T DO DAT, MAGGOTS!!” “CAWWWWWWWWW!!!!”

But it was all OK, because hey, there’s the border! Hey, there’s that cute little town we passed in the Kootenays. Hey … what’s that smell?

That smell, my friends, is the smell of despair. Changing a diaper in the front seat of a fully-packed car is no easy task. Changing an oversize pair of Easy-Ups on a baby who has eaten too much Sonic and still thinks of diaper changes as a contact sport, in near-freezing temperatures at a mountain gas station? Worse than all the aforementioned plane trips combined.

Eventually we made it home, although we think our sanity may have been lost in transit. Guess that shows us for aiming too high! I’m pretty certain that if Icarus had been travelling with kids, he would have been pretty happy to plunge into the sea and end it all.

Next time: Why we will never fly Southwest again.

Wedding Belles

Every little girl dreams of her wedding day (except for me — I always dreamed of becoming a 6-foot-tall Russian double agent outfitted in a black PVC minidress, thigh-high boots and a chic ebony bob, but that is neither here nor there). Since Maddux has decided to wait until her sixteenth birthday to tie the knot with Prince Phillip from “Sleeping Beauty,” the next-best thing to nuptials of her own is being a flower girl in someone else’s wedding. Luckily, Uncle Gary and Aunt Elizabeth gave Maddux the opportunity of a lifetime last week, buying me at least another 11.5 years before I have to worry about sending my baby daughter down the aisle in a white dress.

Ever since Elizabeth asked Maddux to be the flower girl earlier this year, our little princess has been beside herself with anticipation. She practiced swanning about in her dress-up clothes (being sure to lift her skirts daintily whilst going up stairs or curtsying). She rehearsed the strewing of the rose petals in her bedroom with her bridal dress-up set, in the playroom with tiny bits of torn-up construction paper, and at her school playground with leaves. She was so enamored of the hairstyle we planned for the wedding that she begged me to put her hair up “in a Tinkerbell bun” for school one day.

As if being a flower girl wasn’t exciting enough, a masked ball was to follow the wedding. Now, if you are a 4-year-old girl who devours princess movies and fairy-tale books like a dragon eats knights, a ball is basically The Most Important Event You Will Ever Attend. Maddux occasionally tells me she wants take walks in the woods in the mornings, because that is when you are most likely to encounter princes. Just THINK of all the prince-meeting opportunities an actual ball presents!

On the day of Gary and Elizabeth’s wedding, Maddux got all dolled up in her flower-girl best and sashayed around the opera center (this sashaying, I should add, was done on pretty much zero sleep, so we are all incredibly lucky that her lovely white dress did not wind up going through the fountain out front).

Upon receiving each of the 70,000 compliments she got that night, my little daughter told people, “Thanks. I’m the flower girl, but you can just call me Flower.” And right before Maddux headed down the aisle, she told Elizabeth, in her most let’s-get-down-to-business voice, “I’m going to go spread rose petals now!”

Maddux very methodically walked down the aisle spreading rose petals, and, upon reaching the end of the red carpet and discovering that there were still flowers left in her little basket, she very conscientiously turned the basket upside down to ensure that the petal-scattering job was done to the fullest extent.

Now, since it was basically bedtime and we all know Maddux needs her sleep, I had but one requirement for my little flower girl. Fidgeting and dancing and looking around were pretty much expected at this point.

“Maddux,” I told her the day of the wedding, “Your job is to smile and look pretty. You don’t need to say ‘hi’ to anyone. But no matter what, remember NOT TO PICK YOUR NOSE.”

Naturally, during the ceremony, Maddux wiggled around. She fidgeted and hopped from foot to foot. She played with the bridesmaids’ feather fans and swung her basket around like she was a helicopter about to take off and tried to engage people in conversation. She waved to all and sundry. (I saw all this thanks to the complimentary baby-sitting. Otherwise I’m sure I would have been shushing and rocking and pacifying two bedtime boys. So thanks, Gary and Elizabeth!)

“That’s OK,” I told myself, while putting a finger up to my lips and making the universal “Shhhhhh!” sign, which was met with gleeful waving. “At least she is NOT PICKING HER NOSE.”

Then she picked her nose.

Luckily, she was the cutest little nose-picking flower girl there ever was. She smiled the whole time and was charming all night long. Hardly anyone noticed that her third knuckle was in her sinus cavity and I’m pretty sure there is no photographic evidence of the gold-mining expedition.

After the bride and groom were married and sent back down the aisle (YAY!) we convened for the masked ball. Maddux was among the first people on the dance floor.

“Do you think you’re going to meet a prince?” I asked her.

“No, Mommy, you’re so silly,” she told me. “Princes don’t marry little girls.”

But she did want to dance. Until midnight.

I figured after 20 minutes, she’d tire out. After all, it’s not as if they have cardio classes for 4-year-olds. (Later it occurred to me that the reason they don’t have exercise classes for 4-year-olds is because kids that age have about 10 million times more energy than grown-ups and that they would probably find a Zumba class quite restful.)

Maddux deigned to dance with me for awhile, but quickly deduced that I am a wretched dancer, so she kindly told me, “Mommy, I need to dance by myself. You can go sit down now.”

She danced with my brother Gary, which was adorable (brides and grooms are celebrities when you’re 4, so he was not sent to sit on the sidelines). Then she danced with a few other people, but sent most of them away.

For a good hour or 90 minutes, she danced in circles with one hand over her head like a ballerina. Everyone stopped trying to cut in after awhile (since she repeatedly insisted she worked better solo), so at the end we only intervened when she twirled too close to the candles.

That night, as we collapsed into bed at the hotel, Maddux sighed, “This was the best day ever!” (I’m sure Gary and Elizabeth agreed.)

Dia de los Muertos

In Latin American culture, the day after Halloween is called Dia de los Muertos, or “Day of the Dead.” (Don’t think zombies, though — think a cross between Halloween and Memorial Day.)

I’m thinking in the future, we will dub Nov. 1 “Day of the Dead” at our house, as well. Not because we plan on memorializing our ancestors with a skeleton cake, but because after the hustle and bustle of celebrating Halloween with a house full of small, active kids, we feel a lot like zombies the following day.

First, there are the endless parties. Maddux, being a 4-year-old girl, was delighted to spend three entire days in full princess regalia. (How does this differ from every other three-day period? Besides going out in public and not getting too many stares, not as much as one might think.)

Then there’s the Halloween candy, which Chris buys a month ahead “so we don’t have to fight the Halloween rush.” Of course, three days later, when we’ve eaten all the candy, we have to repeat this exercise in futility. And three days after that, and three days after that. At some point, the two older kids figure out that there’s candy in the house, at which point the candy replenishing must take place every 36 hours.

And this year, SOMEONE (I won’t tell you who, to protect Chris’ identity) had the fantastic idea of giving the baby an Aero bar.

Now, when you are a not-quite-toddler who is in possession of the world’s most ear-piercing eagle screech, and you have finished your very first fun-size candy bar and see that everyone else is devouring candy from a gigantic box of wonder, what are YOU gonna do? If you’re a smart baby (Thomas happens to be very savvy for a 1-year-old), you will wave your fat little arms about and employ that horrific scream until the giant waves of sound pummel your parents’ brains to jelly and they hand the candy to you with sad, empty zombie eyes.

Therefore, yesterday afternoon, we had to buy YET MORE CANDY for, you know, ACTUAL TRICK-OR-TREATERS. Joy.

So take two parents who have to orchestrate pumpkin carving, school party snacks, costumes and trick-0r-treat plans on top of all the usual parenting stuff; add a trio of already chocolate-addled kids; wrap it all up with a late bedtime and continual pounding (yes, POUNDING!) on the door by horrible pre-teens who don’t even live in the neighborhood, and you have a recipe for our very own Day of the Dead. (Did I mention the pounding? I was so mad after the preteen version of the Spanish Inquisition woke up both boys that I turned out the lights, Chris snuffed out the Jack-o’-lantern, and we found ourselves stuck with a gigantic bowl of candy — to be eaten by our own over-noisy hooligans, no doubt.)

So yeah. Today, we’re zombies. (Luckily for the citizens of our fair town, we’re too tired to lumber out the door and go cruising for brains.)

Thomas was up at 5 a.m. today with an earache (surely this has nothing to do with the fact that sugar lowers one’s immune response!) and naturally, so was Mads. The first thing out of her mouth?

“Mommy, when are we going to have Halloween again?”