Let me just begin this by saying that the picture of me a little lower down the page here pretty much sums up exactly how I was feeling during the week leading up to our recent hurrah. A little flopped over feeling. Smiling wanly when people said they wanted to take my picture. That glassy eyed, glazed over look comes from mentally counting your luggage again and again and again and wondering if your 84th trip to Wal Mart might have put you over the weight limit for the checked baggage and did we or did we not leave winter coats for ALL the children in England or did we put some in the charity shop when we came home for the summer and I know I wrote it down but that only helps if I can find the list and oh yes I scanned it into my computer to help in just this contingency and where did I save the file and oh while I’m on the computer I should order those homeschooling books and oh wait, actually what I should do is check and see if I can find any cheap wellies that I could order and take with us and why did I just turn on the computer again? What I really need to do is run to Wal Mart . . .

This, I just realized, was our 5th transatlantic move. The fifth time in two years that I had to try and condense our life into fourteen 50 lb. suitcases, and the 14 carry-ons that we try to slip through without having them weighed because that’s where we put all the books.

Fourteen suitcases is honestly a mountain. We’re not talking small suitcases here. We’re talking the big jobs, and they are maxed to the complete limit. The carry-ons are mostly those small suitcases with wheels which means that actually we’re really talking about 28 suitcases.

And there are only two adults. The major problem for us is that when you’re in an airport you can’t leave the luggage, and you can’t leave the children. This means that wherever you move, you all have to make it in one trip. We did great in Seattle. We’ve got the check-in part down to a science and it went like clockwork. Ben stands in line, I stand on the side with the kids and the leaning tower of luggage and fill out those little tag thingies until my hand cramps up. Then Knox (who is 10) runs back and forth with a cart taking the bags up to Ben who does all the passport business and the kids run over one at a time when it’s their turn to be checked in. Totally smooth. Then, when we’ve disposed of all the checked baggage, each kid has to take a wheely suitcase, put on a backpack, and possibly sling another bag over the handle of the suitcase. Ben and I each take our loads, and Ben has the kids form up and move out. (He was a Marine.) He goes first, Judah (3) follows him, and then the kids each move out from youngest to oldest with me as the caboose to make sure we didn’t lose anyone. Getting through security is a bit of a trip when we all have to take off shoes and belts and all that . . . but we nailed it.

Then the flight. Fabulous. We got on, we had dinner, we picked out one movie the kids could all watch, and then everyone went to sleep. Completely smooth.

And then, eight hourse later, we arrived in Heathrow, which was where all the wheels fell off our little well-oiled machine. Without wanting to disparage the great nation of England, I have to say that I have always consided Heathrow one of the most, if not THE most, depressing places on the planet. It’s dirty and ugly and crowded and they must have really weirdly colored lightbulbs or something because the light is just awful. And the ceilings are too low. But I digress.

And now, if the rest of this is going to make any sense at all, I have to pause and say a word about the English trolley. Their trolleys are the weirdest things. All four wheels swivel, which means that it’s completely impossible to drive in a straight line. (They do this at the grocery store too, which has contributed to many a post-grocery-shopping headache.) The things (especially when heavy) just take on a life of their own and drift all over the place. If they start going off course there is no way to fix it, because it’s not just driving sideways, the whole entire trolley has turned off course – back wheels and all. No one has ever discovered why the English think this is a good design feature. And actually, a few of them must have recently seen the light, because Heathrow just got new trolleys! The back wheels are fixed the way any self respecting trolley ought to have them . . . and they are incredibly better and easy to push.

So we thought that we could give each kid a trolley, load it up with luggage, and then move out again – the same way we did in Seattle, but this time pushing trolleys instead of pulling suitcases . . . and this time we had all of our checked baggage as well. And it actually worked fairly well. We were slow – and Judah had a tendency to get stuck up against walls – but we were making it. We were heading for the bus station, where we had booked tickets on the “coach” to take us to Oxford. But then we hit a snag. It was the fatal blow. Instead of the shuttle bus that we had counted on taking us to the central bus station – it turned out we had to get on a train! Pain and Agony! And they wouldn’t let us take any trolleys on the train! So, two very obliging Heathrow workers helped us (making dry, understated remarks the whole time) as the train pulled up, to wildly unload all 3,000 suitcases (or so it seemed in those tense few moments) into the train, hop in, and wave farewell to the beautiful trolleys with fixed wheels.

When the train arrived, it was another frantic, crazed time of hurling suitcases out, and hoping that all the kids were staying far away from the edge of the platform like we told them to . . . and it was time to re-load the new set of trolleys for the walk to the bus station. And this was where the bad news hit us. They were the old trolleys. It was at this point that Ben and I thought that we might actually just end our days, old and gray, still trying to get out of Heathrow. Because there was just no way that any of our kids could push a trolley that loaded down in luggage and have any control over it whatsoever. Another Heathrow employee took one of the carts to help – but he was the one who dropped the bag which the laptop crashed out of and all the makeup spilled all over the floor . . .

Somehow that guy handed the torch off to someone else – I dont know – I was too busy trying to steer my own trolley and help all the kids as they staggered around behind theirs . . . anyway, this next man turned out to be a bossy little guy who grabbed Bel’s trolley from her and started shouting directions to all of us in a thick Kenyan accent. By now he was pushing two trolleys (no mean feat), Ben was pushing two trolleys, I was pushing one and carrying bags, Hero, Bel, and Judah were each towing suitcases, and Knox and Jemima each had a trolley. And then we hit the moving sidewalk. I went first with Hero, and behind me was Judah, then Ben and the rest of the gang. Of course the people behind us hadn’t a prayer of passing us, so there was a pretty major bottleneck of people forming behind us. As I reached the end, I shouted back to our Kenyan friend if I should turn or get onto the next moving sidewalk, and he told me to get on it. So Hero and I disembarked, and hopped on the next one. I looked back to see how the rest of the gang was doing, just in time to see Judah step off and get the wheel of his suitcase snagged and turn it sideways. The Kenyan piled up behind him and then it was just one huge domino effect of trolleys and people and suitcases and a ginormous jumbled clog trying to get off the moving sidewalk. Jemima was wildly running backwards, trying to not smash into everyone, which of course didn’t do anyone any good . . . Ben insists that it was exactly like the trash compacter scene in Star Wars. Somehow or other he had the presence of mind to throw himself over the pile and slap the emergency stop button. Meanwhile, Hero and I were floating away on the other sidewalk, me saying, “Oh no. Oh no. Oh no. Oh no.” and Hero saying, “What Mama? What Mama? What Mama? What Mama?” and me wondering if we should sprint backwards up the sidewalk to try and help – or walk the other direction and act unrelated. But then I realized that I hadn’t a hope of getting us successfully back off. So we just drifted away from it all and waited at the other end. Eventually they got themselves sorted out, and I saw them all coming towards us – but this time the Kenyan was yelling at any unsuspecting soul who tried to pass him on the moving sidewalk, “Don’t touch me! You stay away from me! I don’t want you touching my stuff!” That added a little flair.

At the end of the sidewalk we had to attempt elevators. And of course there was no way we were all fitting in one – so there was a sort of flood into three different elevators . . . and I think that all the kids were with either Ben or me – the Kenyan just had two of our trolleys. At the other end of the elevator we were at the bus station, and he left us. Probably to go have a strong drink.

And there we were at the bus station. Finally. Just in time to see our bus driving away. But – luckily – Ben had read the fine print, and if your bus is leaving from Heathrow and you miss it, you can get any other bus for the next 24 hours. So he went over to the desk to hash this out. The kids and I pulled all the trolleys together into a little island and tried to convince Judah that he didn’t actually have to go to the bathroom.

This was when we discovered that Ben couldn’t find his confirmation email that he needed to show them to prove that we had actually bought tickets. It was somewhere – in one of those bags – we just couldn’t figure out where. And the lady at the desk was unable to find it – and then told us that if we had booked online directly with the bus line that she wouldn’t have a record of it. We would just have to take it up with the bus driver. So Ben went and found a bus that was leaving for Oxford and described his plight. The only thing the bus driver had to do was get on his radio and ask if we had tickets – but he said no. He wouldn’t let us on unless we could show him proof. So I grabbed my laptop – thinking that I could find the email and show him that . . . but my laptop was out of batteries. And the plug was an American plug. So we’d have to find the adaptor. And while hunting for the adaptor the bus left.

So 10 minutes later there was another bus, and we were waiting there complete with laptop and adaptor so that we could show him proof that we had tickets. But this guy came straight over to us – before he’d even heard about the ticket problem – and started into a humongous rant about the amount of luggage that we had. Lots of statements about, “Are you aware of the luggage restrictions!?! It’s posted right there in yellow!” Ben tried to reason with him – we had checked online and the baggage limit was the same as the airline . . . he started explaining to us in painful detail exactly how much more room an airplane has to store luggage than a bus. They have conveyor belts, he said. And cages to put it in. And men to do the loading. Not like a bus. All a bus has is the luggage compartment. We said yes – but weren’t we allowed 2 bags and 2 carry-ons per person? He would then start in again about how the luggage restrictions were posted right there in yellow. By this time there was a whole crowd of people who all wanted to get on the bus – and they were all standing there listening to this little saga. Finally we told him that this looked like a lot of luggage – but we did have 7 tickets after all . . . and then he started telling us that we were trying to have the kids ride free. After we convinced him that we weren’t doing that, he finally conceded that we actually could take most of it, but 5 of our bags would be considered excess. When we asked what that meant he said we had to pay 2 pounds per extra bag. So of course we said Yes! We’ll pay 10 pounds if you’ll just let us on the bus! We’ll do anything you ask!

So then he says that we can start loading it on . . . which ticked off a lot of people who were still waiting to get on. And that’s when we realized we still hadn’t even told him about the whole ticket problem! So Ben has to break it to him (with the whole crowd looking back at me coldly – looking at the kids coldly – looking at the luggage in a meaningful way – looking back at Ben coldly) that we can’t find our confirmation email. Luckily the man seemed to have had all the fight taken out of him about the luggage because he said that was no problem, hopped on the radio, confirmed that we had tickets, and then we were in like Flynn.

I called the kids over for a huddle, and told them that there were a lot of people really angry at their Daddy because he had too many kids and too many suitcases! So we were going to be the cheerfulest, smiliest, politest, and quietest people on the bus! And I have to say, they did great. They are all just little troopers – and they were fighting for the team the whole time! (And thankfully, Judah waited until a few hours after we got home to start throwing up. If he had done that while we were on the road then there is just no way we would have ever made it! We’d be there still I’m pretty sure!)

So we made it. We got in, made it to Oxford, got home finally, and all I have to say is that because we’re not English, I’m pretty sure that we have no idea of the full Horror of what we were doing! We knew we were a complete 3 ring circus – that was obvious throughout. But I think we were Doing The Thing That Just Isn’t Done . . . and it appeared to be something about on par with the unforgiveable sin!

But all the luggage made it. And it turned out that we have enough coats for everyone. And we have the homeschooling books. And we have the beautiful big fake artichokes that Ben was just oh so thrilled to find out we lugged all the way across the ocean! And I have to say that my sweet mother made unpacking that luggage so much fun. She had wrapped everything so carefully that nothing broke – and put in fun things that I found when I opened the suitcases and they made me cry . . . and everything was neatly stashed in ziploc bags . . . she was a gem. We got those darned suitcases across the ocean – but I would never have gotten those darned suitcased packed without her!

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39 thoughts on “Luggage

  1. I feel like this is a scene from my life 12 years ago…not much has changed in England, which isn’t much of a surprise to anyone. Way to go! Luggage and kids and Heathrow trollies…I can’t think of anything more challenging after an international flight.

  2. That was good reading! I think the Kenyan man was the funniest too, hollering at people not to touch his (your!) lugagge!
    I actually read it as if it were fiction, not something that actually happened to anyone – cause it’s just too crazy to be true!

  3. Wow, what an adventure! It reminds me of the kamicarzi trips our family used to do! You must have all been very relieved to arrive home safe and sound. What beautiful examples you and Mrs Wilson are to us all. Thank-you for sharing your story with us and putting us out of suspense!

  4. Oh my word!!!
    I felt like I was watching a moving or reading a book. Unreal…..really! I wish I could actually see all this in action, what a hoot…after the fact.
    I am so glad you are home and getting back in the swing. But I am telling you Bekah, you could write a book with these stories. I have never heard so many of these kinds of adventures and laughs from one family.
    Blessings and Smooches

  5. Yep, I was right. It was so much more fun to hear your version, although Ben’s mom and Amy had most of it. They didn’t have the part about the Kenyan, that adds a lot.

    Maybe Nate could use this in one of his books.

  6. My husband keeps looking at me as I read, asking ‘why the laughs?’

    He will wait & see when I print this off for a good bedtime story tonight. Especially since this hits close to home — nine of us (including a 3 month old baby & a woman pregnant with twins) recently traveled across the Atlantic, and had to bus from Gatwick to Heathrow… with far too much luggage…
    So yes, this will make for a good laugh right before heading to dreamland. May God protect my dreams from the blights of moving sidewalks and crooked trolleys!

  7. Yeah, I think one of the redemptions God offers us in this life is the fun of turning our terrible times into stories for someone else. Oh, my, gracious. What an awful, awful, hilarious story.

    Glad you all made it there safely. Thanks for sharing the good times.

    Claire

  8. I couldn’t stop laughing. I know this is not the kind of thing that is funny when it’s happening but after a day or two while sitting in a lovely chair and sipping a cup of tea you realize. “oh my goodness that was hilarious.”

  9. Thank you for taking the time to give us an absolutely hilarious account of your saga. This made me laugh more than the account of English women on bikes singing opera.

  10. Dear Bekah! It takes a truly noble soul to make a nightmare trip into a laugh-out-loud story. I read this in my MCR laughing hysterically because I can imagine it all so clearly, particularly the condemning English, muttering and glaring. Do ring me when you’ve recovered. I’d love to buy you a cup of tea at the Nosebag!
    Meredith x

  11. “And thankfully, Judah waited until a few hours after we got home to start throwing up.”
    My heart stopped on that line.
    To think how much worse it might have been!

  12. oh dear. I think I just got an ulcer.

    Wow.

    Lots of people are laughing, but all I can do is FEEL YOUR PAIN!

    So glad you DID end up getting to the end of the road, without losing children or of your sanity.

    Now, you may never want to leave again!

  13. Oh you poor, dear woman! I say kudos to you for handling it all so well! I know myself, and I’m afraid that I would have most likely collapsed in a massive heap of tears, children and luggage and just had a bawling-fest. While I am sorry that you went through such a maddening ordeal, I am so glad you recorded it all so humorously – I had such a great laugh this morning! Glad to hear you’re all home safe and sound, blessings! :)

  14. I am dying to know the understated British statements…This reminds me of my much less exciting story of trying to leave France early. There’s nothing like a drunk homeless man cutting open your laundry bag because you are having trouble untying the knot, while you are in the post office to buy a box to send your clothes home…which they don’t sell, and look at you like you are crazy, and then send you (with all the stuff you are lugging) out onto the sidewalk somewhere to fetch one that has been deserted. Isn’t life interesting?

  15. Great fun…for us to read! A friend suggests I write a book about our own eventful moves criss-crossing the country, and I think you should get an honorary chapter. :-)

  16. Oh, wow.

    And I though surviving Heathrow with six confused women and all of their luggage was bad! 😉

    Thanks for sharing, this was a great story… think how fun this will be to remember years and years from now with your kids. :-)

  17. I think my blood pressure went up reading this. Though I was laughing too. It was like reading a movie script, and horribly easy to imagine happening to me someday, somehow. (I suddenly feel like flying down to Florida next month with my 18th month old and very pregnant is going to be simple.)

  18. What a hoot! I am going to read this one outloud to my family at the dinner table. Such a treat to meet you and the family several weeks ago. Blessings!

  19. I’m afraid I have to incorporate some nerd Latin humor. You can always remember the word “impedimentum” (hindrance) because in the plural it means “baggage.” Ah, the memories.

  20. Okay, Bekah, I was laughing so hard I was crying. All my sympathies. When I suggested to Ararat that the next time we go to Turkey we need to stop by to see you all, his reply was that he wasn’t going to England again. It’s because of Heathrow.

  21. So my mom had me read this as soon as I walked in the door after a long Political Science class. She was laughing again before I could even read the first sentence! I remember 5 years ago being in that airport, and how stressful it all was, and how awful those elephant suitcases are to pull two at a time. Also how we almost left Sevan on the underground Pickadillee line while going to the airport. My mom threw herself in between the closing doors screaming, which was completely unsettling for all the British passengers.

  22. Bekah, I woke my son from his nap by attempting (and failing) to muffle my laughter in my hand. By the time you were on the moving walkway it was all over. Thanks for sharing–it was TOO funny.

  23. So, maybe on your way back to Moscow next time you should look into chartering a boat. That would take you straight across the Atlantic. And through the Panama Canal. And up the Pacific Coast. And straight up the Columbia gorge. And head for Lewiston. And be picked up by your family!

  24. I am *not* sending this to my friend with 9 kids who’s traveling from Holland to the States this weekend. She’s flying military standby, and since her husband’s not coming, she’ll have a lower priority (but still need 10 seats). On a trip last year they had to come home from the airport with all the luggage and try again the next day. And their lodgings for the first couple nights fell through because the other family is going through a round of the stomach flu, so they may end up on the floor in my house if better accommodations don’t turn up. In other words, I don’t think she needs any more travel adventure stories at the moment!

  25. I read this piece out loud after dinner last night because my family loves a great story. We’ve traveled (but not internationally…yet) and can relate a little to what your family went through. We had a lot of laughs. I’m glad that you took the time to write your “adventure” down for us to read and that you mentioned your mom’s loving care for all of you.

  26. Side splitting! The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune are so much more fun when they’re hitting some target other than oneself. If I believed in purgatory, I think it would probably look a lot like Heathrow.

  27. Yes, what a great read! Thanks for taking the time to share this delightful tale. A great read aloud for the whole family. I agree the Kenyan was hilarious but my favorite part was Ben discovering the big, faux, artichokes!

  28. Isn’t there another London airport? Because I recall being in one that had a really big, open area with interesting shops. Hm…I remember distinctly sleeping in Heathrow in high school, but I was part of a very large group, so the actual dimensions, and gloominess, aren’t part of the memory.

  29. Yaaa! I finally found the famed “Luggage” story. It was definately worth the effort. Thanks for the good laugh, Bekah. So glad you knew that you were living out a great story during the worst of this riotous adventure.

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