We did it.
We flew from London to Washington, D.C. to visit my sister for eleven days with both kids. We did it as US-UK travelers. We did it during Covid restrictions. We did it early in the morning and late at night. We did it tired, hungry, cranky, and unsure about what to expect.
We dodged so many potential setbacks, one of which was the cancellation of my husband’s ESTA four hours before we loaded up for Heathrow. There was also Covid testing a three-year-old (twice), making her wear a mask for an eight-hour international flight (plus airport time at both ends), and using the 787 as the world’s smallest track for restless little feet. And let’s not forget killing the battery of my friend’s Honda CRV the day we needed to take our drive-through post-flight Covid tests or my husband’s NHS vaccine card being rejected as evidence as his having been vaccinated in the UK. (Yes, I’m serious.) Oh, and getting J’s emergency US passport at the American embassy in London four days before we flew.
But we made it.
We knew we’d be in for crazy sleep schedules, busy days, continual family and friend visits, and unpredictable nights. We got all of those. We’d never slept with the kids and us all in one room before and it turned out to be quite the learning experience: 1) Mr. J snores like his Pappy, and 2) Beaner sleeps like the dead just like her Aunt Katie. Despite this, we were able to get them on a semblence of a normal schedule after a couple of (very busy) days. As for my husband and my sleep experience… let’s just say we need a kid-free week to catch up on all of our interruped sleep. I never knew how hard it was to travel with kids (let’s be honest: toddlers), and I even had husband backup.
We debated about traveling or not. Only my mom had seen Baby J since he was born and that was back in April. I hadn’t been to the States in two years, my husband even longer, and the last flight Beaner rode on was in January 2020 to Copenhagen. We talked about the benefit of seeing family and friends after so long with the still very real risk of Covid. We decided that because we were both double-vaccinated, because all of the people we were planning to see and visit were also double-vaccinated, and that the risk to children was low, we would travel. I don’t regret it, even though I wasn’t feeling 100% the entire trip (sleep deprivation will do that to you). And I’m thankful for so many things this trip:
The generosity of my sister for letting the four of us crash at her apartment for almost two weeks.
The selflessness of my friend Jules for letting us use her car for a week, plus sourcing car seats.
The love of my parents for flying out to meet us in D.C. even though they would have rather had us visit them in their home.
The support of my in-laws in getting us mentally prepared for an international trip with young children… and also helping wash, fold, and pack clothes (so many clothes) before the trip.
The awesomeness of my neighbor for volunteering to look after Cadbury, Rosie, and the house the entire time we were gone.
The list goes on. There were so many moving parts, most of them logisitical, that came together to allow us to stitch this visit together one item at a time. I consider it a reflection of the help we received that there were no major hiccups. One of the biggest mistakes I made that my loving husband corrected, before we even left, was to assume we’d be fine with just the baby backpack for child transportation. He convinced me the stroller would also come in handy, for both kids, and it was a lifesaver. If anyone with small children ever asks if it’s worth the hassle to bring a stroller, the answer is always yes.
I thought I overpacked for the kids (because I’m half-Mom), bringing everything from t-shirt dresses and short-sleeves to a snowsuit and knitted hats, but it turned out to be spot on. It was nearly 80°F when we landed, but got so cold one morning the next week that there was frost on all the roofs. Three seasons in less than two weeks. That’s autumn. I actually packed less for me than I thought I might, but I did wear a lot of the same outfits. (My hoodie jacket and REI puffy vest came in real handy.)
As for what occupied our time overseas in my homeland, well. So many things. The big purpose was Thanks’o’ween. What is that, you ask? A combination of Thanksgiving and Halloween, obviously. But this might actually be the first time I’ve ever eaten Thanksgiving dinner before Halloween. Not that I minded. It was a celebration my sister and I focused on as the big event of our visit, complete with her boyfriend, my parents, and our very good friend in attendence. It was a bit of a pot luck affair, but included all the staples: turkey, mashed potatoes, tons of gravy, bread rolls, sweet potatoes (with and without marshmallows), cranberries, and four (FOUR!) pies. I’m pretty sure Beaner enjoyed the pumpkin pie more than anyone else. She is definitely half-Yankee.
Then there was the exquisite park with a section tailored for toddlers less than half a block from where we were staying. Bean gained confidence in trying new obstacles, especially the rock climbing wall and ropes, and we concocted a wiggly bridge song (called, “Wiggly Bridge”). J even got a turn on a baby swing which sent him into escatic smiles. Oh, and the whole thing was surrounded by a spongy track catering to parents and caregivers pushing prams, strollers, and all manner of wheeled contraptions. Needless to say, we hit it up almost every day, even in the rain.
We walked on family trips to a fresh local bakery, a posh fine foods market, countless visits to CVS and Giant, to and from the Metro, and even a nice trail in the woods I found that rapidly devolved into a decidedly non-stroller friendly hike (unless you consider fording the river three times “stroller friendly”).
There was the day at the zoo with Gigi and Grandpa, repleate with orangutans, big cats, seals, a carousel ride, and an ice cream four times too large for a preschooler to handle. And so much walking. We might have actually burned off that ice cream in the end.
Auntie K stocked her place up with kid-friendly materials, like construction paper, washable crayons (yes!), books, and Play-Dough. There was also real dough she and Bean made for sugar cookies. As a three-year-old sous chef, Beaner is remarkably good at cracking eggs, something my sister found to be surprisingly delightful. And when we put our poo in the toilet (yes, potty-training is still raging full-force), there was “Minyums” (“Despicable Me” 1&2). So much Minions.
There was also Halloween pumpkin carving, trick-or-treating, and dressing up as Queen Elsa and Tigger. There was a big Chinese dinner out. There was a tour at the FBI Headquarters. We ran around the national mall, the Capitol flanking one end and the Washington Monument commanding the other. We braved the Children’s Museum one rainy day to pay to play with a hundred other hooligans. There was the fancy brunch at the Army Navy Club that required ties and dresses. We crashed a trivia night while my parents watched the kids for a few hours. We met up with a friend at the National History Museum and looked at stuffed flora and fauna, old bones, and live insects. We drank a lot of coffee. We ate continuously. We played board games. (May I recommend “Pandemic”? Particularly ironic played during a pandemic.) My husband and I conned my sister into putting the kids to bed one night so we could watch the latest Bond film (worth it). We hung out with Auntie Julia. We ate Mexican food.
And then we flew home.
It was a sleepless, exhausting, brutal trip in so many ways, but it was also so very worth it to meet up with friends and family I haven’t seen in years. I hope Bean remembers even some of it, now that she’s three. The days went by slowly, yet the trip went fast. Even with the paperwork headaches and sleepless plane rides and midnight snoring, I’m glad we did it. As I get older, I’m learning that one of the greatest gifts I can give is my time. So, I gifted my time.
No matter when you celebrate it or where you are, happy Thanks’o’ween everyone!