A few months ago my darling wife and I discussed the possibility of traveling to my native New Jersey from our home state of Texas for Christmas. We hadn’t spent a Christmas in the Garden State in six years. It’s certainly not because we haven’t wanted to celebrate this joyous season with all the many people on my side of the family. But the expense of travel with two kids was prohibitive. The reality is that this expense will always be prohibitive unless one’s last name is like Howell and there happens to be a Roman numeral III following. For a number of reasons, though, this seemed to be the right time to do it. Among those reasons is the fact that my oldest brother is suffering from end stage pancreatic cancer. Please stop and say a prayer for him. So in a way that only she can, my wife scoured the internet and found the cheapest airfare she could. She surprised me about a month ago and we agreed not to tell the kittens until the last possible moment.
This morning that moment came.
I suspect they had their suspicions. Son hadn’t slept much (at all) the night before and daughter, newly turned 6, well, she’s just always connected. Got her finger on the pulse of world events that one.
I gathered them in front of me and proceeded to sing for them my newest favorite Christmas carol. I dummied up a quick set of fake lyrics to Silent Night complete with a line about catching a flight to Jersey.
My wit was lost on them.
“Did you like the song, kids?” I asked them.
“Um, yeah Daddy. Can you take me to see Star Wars?” my son replied.
“Dude,” I shot back. Then I paused. Realizing the pointlessness of the endeavor of explaining this whole thing I gave up. “Go watch TV. Mommy and I are going to pack your bags.”
Packed. Almost. Suddenly remembered that a few of my sisters wanted us to
smuggle bring them cigarettes. They’re cheaper in Texas. This meant hitting a few stores and trying not to look like a member of the Capone gang. “I’ll take 42 cartons of Marlboro reds, please,” I said with confidence. Then it was just a matter of getting them into already stuffed suitcases.
A family tradition that has developed over the past few years is our annual trip downtown in the days before Christmas for mass at a little chapel along with confession and lunch. While at mass a friend who had been at a cocktail party the night before with my wife and me approached my wife. “My God,” he said to her. “How are you still alive?!” Yeah, it was a good party. Undeterred by the snark, we worshipped and moved on.
Seeking Divine Providence is always wise before any undertaking where the words “children” and “flight” are involved.
We arrived at LTA (Large Texas Airport) with my mother-in-law Wilma. She’s a volunteer ambassador at LTA. We played it smart this time. Our flight wasn’t until 4 but we had passes to the swanky airline lounge. I was excited. I was excited until the woman behind the counter at the lounge’s reception room – a woman who resembled Ichabod Crane – sternly looked at Wilma and said “You can’t come in without a pass.” Seriously? For her dedicated service to this place you can’t spot her a pass for an hour? Heartlessly we kissed her goodbye and headed in for free drinks.
These drinks were not top notch.
Time well spent in the airline lounge.
We boarded our flight to the Windy City. Oh, you didn’t think a cheap flight came without a layover did you? On the flight, son, now in his 30th hour awake (what a trooper), started talking to anyone who’d listen. He’s a talker for sure but on no sleep he’s a VIP guest at Studio 54. He regaled the flight crew with his interpretation of the safety card. Hint: he believes it to be a story told through poorly drawn pictures. “So, when we land on the water, are we supposed to really jump onto the bouncehouse slide? And what about the – oh cool! Look Daddy, my seat can become a lifejacket!” Daughter, who’s tooth was loose, wiggled it for 40 minutes until it came free. Didn’t need that damn tooth anyway. She showed that incisor.
He’s a story-teller. Wonder where he gets that from?
We landed at O’Hare and circled the entire airport. Twice. Arriving at our gate we decided to take a stroll. You can do that when you’re layover is 4 hours long and just got extended by an hour and a half.
Having walked the length and breadth of Terminal 2 we parked ourselves at a Chili’s. Actually, I reckoned to myself, the kids are being remarkably well behaved. Son’s marathon of insomnia was now in full swing. After taking our orders and listening to the history of the Boeing MD 80, our server popped a fistful of Valium and fetched our drinks.
And then I heard it. Softly at first, the strains of a glorious Christmas melody pumped over the speakers louder and louder until I could not control myself and I was seat-dancing. The song, Britney Spears’ Circus, is a masterful expression of the Christmas spirit. Work with me here. I did NOT have any Valium. Happily showing off my best Dad dance moves to my little girl seated across from me, I smiled at the joy in this moment. She’s too young to be embarrassed yet. But the girl in the next booth? She was just asking for it. All of about 11 years-old, this prissy little bitch spotted my moves and tried to one up me. I’ll show her. Don’t mess with Daddy, sweetheart. I will take you down.
After two back and forth rounds where she tried to match me move for move, she sank her head into her hands and cried. I had won.
Finally on our flight to NJ, we settled in for a few hours…
We were finally within reach of our goal.
And I’m still a better dancer.