Holiday travel gets complicated


POSTED: Sunday, December 20, 2009

Over the course of a week last December, my husband and I attempted to visit both sides of the family in different states with our infant and toddler, smack in the middle of the busy winter holidays. When other people heard about it, they gave us looks of pity while no doubt thinking, “;You so lolo!”;

However, our plans went smoothly at first. We were miraculously able to use our frequent-flier miles during the week of Christmas, and a newly renovated hotel near my parents' place was offering steep discounts. Although our 6-month-old son had never been off island before, our 2-year-old daughter had previously traveled well: We were hoping it was genetic. So the evening before our early morning flight, bags ready and itinerary set, we felt as prepared as Eagle Scouts.

That's when we received the phone call from my in-laws.

“;Did you hear about the weather in the Northwest?”;

In preparation for Washington state's typical 40- degree December temperatures, we had ditched aloha shirts and cotton onesies in favor of quilted jackets and polyester sleepers. But none of us had anticipated the ice storms, heavy snow and what would eventually end up being one of the worst winters in Seattle's history.

My level-headed father-in-law thought it was best to play it safe and not come, but my mother-in-law was understandably distraught at the thought of not seeing her only grandchildren for Christmas.

Finally, we decided that if during our layover in San Francisco the flight to Seattle was canceled, we would stay put in the Bay Area where my parents live. Otherwise, we would continue on to the Northwest.

As soon as we hung up, we started cramming everything from the larger suitcases we intended to check into smaller carry-on bags so we could take our gear along with us either way.

Reducing liquids to three ounces and other details kept us up until 1 a.m. I knew I wouldn't be able to sleep straight through until our 5 a.m. alarm rang anyway because the baby was due to feed again soon. Already I was fatigued and we hadn't even left home.


Before the sun rose, my husband and I rushed off with our dazed keiki for the airport.

“;Your suitcase is girthy,”; an airline employee informed me, inventing a new word as he pointed to the outside pockets stuffed with diapers.

Another agent eyed our mound of car seats, stroller and luggage and let us board early. After three trips down the jet bridge, we were settled.

Arriving in San Francisco, we gratefully stretched our arms, which ached from holding our infant the entire way. My husband picked up his voice mail.

“;Hi, it's Mother. Our friend was able to fly ... Seattle ... you try ...”;

“;This is Mother ...”;

“;It's Mother again ...”;

“;Call me, it's Mother ...”;

The board, however, read CANCELED for every single flight to Seattle. Just to make sure, we asked an agent (”;Does canceled mean, uh, canceled?”;). Indeed, there were no more flights. We ended up telephoning my in-laws every day of our vacation, but it was just not the same as seeing them in person.

The next few days we spent visiting relatives in the Bay Area. On Tuesday we were scheduled to take my husband's great-aunt out to lunch. Driving up to her house, we were surprised to see another car in the driveway. Great-Aunt had forgotten that another family was planning to take her out at the same time. So all of us headed out to a packed dim sum nook. I tried to keep the fidgety baby away from the drafty door and the curious toddler far from the steaming teapots while we waited for a table for 10.

At last a spot opened up in the center of the restaurant. The baby was hungry, and I had no choice but to nurse him right there. I was trying to be subtle, draping a cloth over our son while he fed, when Great-Aunt drew attention to us by inquiring loudly, “;IS HE SLEEPING??”;

After finishing our meal, we headed over to the California Academy of Sciences. With its new digs costing $500 million, the museum seemed worth seeing.

“;Sorry, ma'am,”; we heard the attendant tell the woman ahead of us in line, as he cocked his head toward the SOLD OUT sign.

We purchased advance tickets for the end of the week. Even though they were nonrefundable, we figured, “;What could happen between now and then that would prevent us from coming?”;

As it turned out, a lot.

The next day was Christmas Eve. The steel-colored sky was pouring rain, but inside we were enjoying my mother's homemade pot roast and I took a second helping.

On our way back to our hotel, I started feeling nauseous. Was it something I ate? Soon everything I had recently consumed left my system. I was a frequent visitor to the bathroom throughout the night.

Between chills, fever and an infant who continued to awaken every three hours for nursing, rest was impossible. I couldn't even keep water down; and I worried that I wouldn't have enough milk for the baby.

My best guess was that I had food poisoning. However, I took precautions in case I had something contagious, washing my hands so frequently that the CDC would have been proud.

In the morning my husband asked with genuine surprise, “;You don't think you're well enough to go to your family's Christmas party?”;

I guess as a physician he's seen much worse, but after a closer look, he had a 180-degree change of mind.

“;Maybe you should go to the emergency room!”;

Christmas in the ER? I decided to wait it out and remain in the hotel. At least it was a lot more comfortable than staying in, say, a manger.

Hubby and the kids returned from the party in the late afternoon. I still didn't feel like eating anything, so I remained in the room with our baby while my husband took our toddler out for dinner. She returned, thrilled that Daddy let her eat foods that Mommy usually restricts.

In the middle of the night, our daughter threw up pizza bits. At first we thought she had consumed too much greasy food. But when she woke up multiple times to upchuck, it dawned on us that I had a contagious bug after all.

By the next day our miserable toddler was so tired that she could barely sit up. Her Rapunzel-like hair, which we had not cut since birth, was a caked mess. We prayed that we did not run out of diapers or clothes for fear of facing long lines on the day after Christmas.

With me and our daughter both ill, my husband did his best as the caregiver. However, soon he too succumbed to the germs. Normally stalwart, he could not help but complain about how horrible he felt.

“;Next Christmas the grandparents come to us,”; he groaned.

Morning marked my not having eaten for three days. This illness worked faster than any weight loss program; my husband and I each had lost five pounds. When I was finally able to consume some overpriced hotel soup, I realized I was on the upswing at last. The next day was our return flight, so I began packing.

Finally we were headed to the airport and the plane home. Our flight had barely taken off when our daughter, still feeling sick, announced she needed to go to the potty. Too late—she had already soiled her clothes. As she was being changed, our noses told us our son needed a new diaper, too. I scrounged around for extra outfits and made a mental note of where the airsickness bags were stashed.

By the time we flew into Honolulu, we were bleary-eyed and ended up at the wrong end of the airport. Taking the scenic route through five baggage claim areas with our infant and toddler in tow, we were so delayed that our luggage had already been taken off of the carousel. The only bright spot was that our youngest had miraculously stayed well except for a runny nose.

At long last we arrived home. Looking at our calendar, we let out a sigh, realizing that we were due to travel again in just 2 1/2 months. But maybe after this trip, our next vacation would be a cinch by comparison ... maybe ...

Monica Quock Chan is a Honolulu-based freelance writer and former marketing executive.