You can tell the families that have not spent the last forty-eight hours trying to get home from vacation. They're the ones cheerfully pointing out airplanes to their kids instead of obsessively refreshing the radar image and shouting "MotherF*$*#ER" every time a thunderstorm pops up within a two-hundred mile radius of the airport. The ones whose children are still wearing their shoes and their pants, whose coloring books are still neatly tucked into their backpacks, who are not beating each other with paper plates covered in tomato sauce and plasticky bits of leftover cheese.
We'd been there since about five-thirty, when our (also delayed) flight from Portland arrived. The kids were relatively fresh then, considering we'd spent the last day and a half in travel-limbo, between the delays and cancelled flights. We'd had a good time though, visiting my cousin and her family, having a lovely brunch with my grandmother and parents, and touring a submarine in Portsmouth. Ryan and I still believed in the pervasive good of people and believed we would be getting back to Texas with minimal further hassle. We were tired, but happy, and consoled ourselves with the promise of a pizza dinner during our layover and sleeping in our own beds that night.
And then Ryan checked the departures board. Our eight PM flight was delayed until ten. I did the math in my head. We'd be getting home at one o'clock in the morning. Two more hours in plastic airport chairs, two more hours out in public with the exhausted children, two more hours of being AWAKE.
My shoulders slumped in despair. I eyed the airport bar across the concourse and wondered just how much alcohol a fetus can tolerate before it really starts to cause actual problems. I mean, are we talking about five IQ points? Webbed feet? A tail? I needed all the information. I wondered if the after-hours nurse would be willing to provide some kind of risk-assessment framework.
Once we found our gate and settled our four backpacks, laptop case, car seat, camera bag, and harem of lovies on the floor at the end of a row of seats near a window, Ryan took the big boys to the potty. I stayed with James who has exactly two operating modes at airports: 1) Asleep and 2) "PLANE! TRUCK! PLANE! PLANE! MAMA! MAMA PLANE! PLANE PLANE TRUCK PLANE TRUCK PLANEPLANEPLANEPLANE! UP UP UP UP UP UP UP! MAMA! TRUCK! PLANE! UP! PLANEPLANE UP UP UP!" When Ryan came back with the kids they spent about thirty minutes playing with a wall-mounted computer that takes digital photos and sends them to your email as a postcard. They are not doing anything wrong, exactly, but for some reason the retired couple who had chosen to sit RIGHT BY THE COMPUTER looked extremely annoyed with the raucous giggling and running back and forth. I halfheartedly looked up from my Kindle about every five minutes and reminded them to settle down. Predictably this technique was ineffective. Especially given the fact that they had slept seven of the previous twenty-four hours, rendering their frontal-lobes completely useless.
Ryan left around six to go look for dinner. I attempted to settle the kids on the floor so they could pick out a movie to watch on the computer. Instead they found matchbox cars in Wes's backpack and turned our aisle of seats into a demolition derby. A particularly errant car rolled under the feet of the annoyed retired couple and, to my horror, Wes crawled after it at warp speed as if no one was there. I attempted to stop him, but was pinned underneath a four pound fetus and a thirty pound toddler so all I could do was watch helplessly as Wes came to rest with his head between the man's legs, one shoulder against each of his shins, arms reaching around blindly to retrieve the car.
"Holy Shit" I said to no one in particular. Then I screeched Wes's name in a tone of voice that left NO room for ambiguity. He popped out from between the legs and turned to me, smiling. SMILING. He held up the car. "Got it!" he said cheerfully. A frontal lobe is a terrible thing to lose.
Ryan returned with a large cheese pizza and a beam of light from heaven shining down on his head. Angels were singing. We turned on a movie. The kids ate pizza. That was a really beautiful forty-five minutes. But then it was over so Ryan took them to the playground at Gate 12, mostly to get them away from the annoyed retired couple, who was steadfastly refusing to move to any of the other seven million chairs in the gate area. I asked him to be back in thirty minutes because we would be boarding soon after that. I am an overly optimistic moron.
They came back right on time but there was still no plane at our gate. A few JetBlue planes came tantalizingly close, but passed us by every time. I began to think I was going to die at JFK. Or at least have the baby there. I thought of all the fun jokes we could make about how she was born in New York City. "NEW YORK CITY?!" we could say, just like the old Pace Picante Sauce commercials used to say. I stared at the bar for a few more minutes. Ryan started another movie for the big boys. James went to sleep in his carseat.
And then it was ten o'clock, our (delayed) scheduled departure time. There was still no plane. The gate agent came on for storytime. "Our aircraft will be coming into Terminal 4 from Barbados, which is the international terminal. Once those passengers have deplaned, the plane will be brought here to Terminal 5 where it will have to clear customs. Then we will need to clean it, stock it with food, and perform a safety check before we can board." She said this in a slightly annoyed tone as if we, the ignorant customers, just didn't get how hard it is to get a usable airplane over here to Gate 6, Terminal 5. Like explaining the intricacies of their screwed up system should make it OK that I'd been entertaining a two year old in an airport for the last four hours with no end in sight. And I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that my head shot up off of my neck and spun around for a few minutes, shooting laser beams and f-bombs in all directions.
"TIME." I hissed at Ryan, leveling my gaze, "I NEED TO KNOW A TIME."
He stood and approached the gate agent then returned, dead man walking-style, and said "Probably just another forty-five minutes to an hour," he said casually, without making eye contact.
By eleven o'clock, the plane had arrived, but they had been "cleaning" it for nearly thirty minutes. I grabbed Ryan by the collar and asked him to tell the gate agent that I didn't care if there were live chickens on board, ENOUGH WITH THE FREAKING CLEANING. "YOU TELL HER!" I nearly shouted. He stood and walked somewhere to pretend to do something leaving me to obsess about the line of thunderstorms that was getting closer and closer to the airport and wondering if they would end up canceling this flight too and mentally drafting the angry letter I would be sending about how we could have taken off BEFORE the storms if they weren't so obsessed with getting every last peanut wrapper out from between the seats.
Fortunately they didn't cancel it and a lone person clapped as they finally let the first passenger walk down the jet bridge. I usually love those moments of solidarity but it was clear that the tone of the crowd was not one of celebration but of barely restrained fury, except for the lone clapper, who had clearly had a better day than the rest of us. Preboarding for families happened a little later so we all trooped down to the plane, Ryan carrying a still sleeping James strapped into his carseat.
We settled in our seats at the back of the plane and then waited for another forty minutes while everyone filed on soooooooo sloooooowly that the flight attendant had to remind them to "Put your effing bag away and STEP OUT OF THE AISLE so other people can get by because WE ALL WANT TO GET OUT OF HERE OMG!!" (paraphrasing) approximately every five minutes. She also apologized profusely to me for the delay and gave me all the water I wanted, once she saw the kids and the belly.
The next four hours (one-ish of those spent sitting on the runway, engines off, doing nothing at all) can be summarized this way: James asleep, Ryan asleep, Wes asleep, Charlie and me wide awake debating whether "Family Guy" is a children's show or not. OR, Charlie feeling sleepy but restless and demonstrating his frustration by kicking and scratching me. Also, me going to the bathroom every time they turned off the seatbelt sign to brace my hands against the wall and do "cat-cow" until my back felt less like I was in labor. It was EXACTLY the kind of family vacation memory they put on the cover of Down East magazine.
When the pilot declared it was time to land I was honestly surprised it was really happening. The more likely scenario was that I had accidentally found myself in the plot of a horror movie about a plane that never lands. We landed at THREE O'CLOCK IN THE MORNING, so that was good.
Wes refused to wake up and walk himself off the plane. Charlie was reduced to communicating in whines and grunts. James was bright-eyed and bushy tailed having just awoken from a five hour nap. He's my favorite.
Ryan finally asked a flight attendant to carry the carseat so he could sling Wes over his shoulder. When we got out of the jet bridge, I suggested we throw all the kids and bags into two of the wheelchairs they keep at the gate and to my complete surprise, Ryan the rule follower was totally on board.
This worked until we got to the men's room where Charlie went in to pee and Wes stood outside screaming at full volume and blowing three-inch long gobs of snot out of his nose. We could not get him to ride in the wheelchair after that, so I loaded up Charlie and James and Ryan carried Wes and the carseat.
By the time we got to baggage (It must have been about three thirty by this point), Charlie had fallen asleep draped across the wheelchair looking like a junkie sleeping off a bender in the emergency room. Wes was still screaming. We got our bags and took two trips out to the shuttle stop, where we waited for TWENTY MINUTES for the shuttle that is supposed to be waiting when you get out. Ryan called them twice. We finally got to the car around four and home around five. The kids went straight to bed and slept until lunchtime, but Ryan and I both HAD to work on Wednesday. It was not a productive day.