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!