Thank God We Brought The Kids To London

Thank God We Brought The Kids To London

It had the makings of a disaster.  On rather short notice, could we all make arrangements to fly overseas to London and stay for a few days?

Just this summer, Andrew and I had taken our first trip to Europe in ten years, in honor of us both turning forty years old.  We left the kids with my mother – the longest we have ever been away from them – and although we missed them fiercely, there were no fewer than twenty times a day when we looked at each other and said, “Thank God the kids aren’t here.  Can you imagine trying to deal with them right now?”

We thanked God the kids weren’t with us pretty much every step of the way: on the long overnight flight, in the crowded lines at the airport, when the jetlag hit us at odd hours, when we walked up and down hills and spent hours on our feet.  Every minute on the trip was made more gleeful because we were not dealing with small children.  Going to Europe sans kids was the only way to go, we decided. Around the eighth day, the missing of them overpowered the gleefulness of being free of them, and we knew we were ready to go home the next morning.  I wept with happiness when I saw them.

So now we were presented with a situation that would bring us to Europe again – ALL of us – and there were equal parts dread and excitement.  Over the next couple weeks, every time one of the girls had a meltdown, Andrew looked at me and said, “Hey, I know!  Let’s all get on a plane together and fly to London.  Seems like the perfect idea for our family.”

Our girls are awesome little people; don’t get me wrong.  But they are LOUD and high energy and stubborn and LOUD and boisterous and strong-willed and LOUD and curious and wiggly and handsy and LOUD.

But we couldn’t turn down the opportunity, a special reason that I may be allowed to write about one day, although I am legally bound to silence for the foreseeable future.  (Any guesses will be met with polite silence, just so you know).

In the days leading up to the trip, we held London out as the ultimate carrot.  Andrew created “London Tickets”, little slips of paper that we bestowed upon the girls whenever they were unusually cooperative or kind to each other.  They could collect London tickets and trade them in for treats or souvenirs in London.  Call it bribery, call it the incentive plan; I don’t care.  I’d rather use a reward system than a punitive one.

I packed every possible medicine we might need, because we have a bleak family history with travel and major medical crises.  I filled each girl’s carry-on bag with special airplane snacks and books and crayons and back-up clothes.  And on a cloudy Tuesday evening, we hopped in a cab and headed to O’Hare.

When we arrived at the airport, AR managed to jump and fall into a giant muddy puddle between the cab and the curb.  She was drenched, cold, and crying.  That’s when I discovered we had left AR’s carry-on bag with her back-up clothes at home.  At least her Epi-Pen was in my bag.

Fortunately, we hadn’t yet checked our luggage, so we hastily rummaged through the suitcases for new clothes and we changed her right there in the airport check-in line, using several sweatshirts as privacy guards.  This is an ominous start, I thought.

But then we hit our stride.  The girls were the only children on our entire flight, and they represented their species well.  No meltdowns, no yelling, only giggles and excitement.  They hit the ground running when we arrived Wednesday morning in the UK, and insisted on setting out at once upon the town.

We ate at Spaghetti House, where K nearly fell asleep in her bowl of pasta.  She rallied after lunch, and we headed to the Princess Diana Memorial Playground, where AR managed to get sand and water on every inch of her body.  She was in hog heaven.  In the afternoon, we rested, and then we ate dinner at Giraffe, which the kids loved.  Andrew and I kept waiting for the ball to drop, for the moaning and groaning to start, for the fighting to begin, for the trip to fall apart.

But that moment didn’t come.  And it didn’t come the next day, or the next.  Not on Thursday, as we made our way through a very long but incredible day. Not on Friday, as we trekked to the Warner Brothers Studios to experience the Making of Harry Potter tour (fantastic – highly recommend it!).  Not on Saturday, as we spent the day with old friends visiting the Science Museum (also excellent) and riding a double decker bus and playing at the park.

Why, my husband and I wondered, were the girls holding it together so well?  Every factor was against them – exhaustion, time change, unfamiliar surroundings – yet the massive breakdowns we had braced ourselves for were missing.  It was just so pleasant.  We were shocked to be enjoying our trip with the kids to Europe.

Andrew and I talked about it at length after the girls went to sleep each night.  The one factor that we kept coming back to was this:  we were completely present with the girls, in a way that we simply cannot be present at home; and as a result, we were functioning as a well-attuned unit.

The absence of phones played a big role in our happiness. Neither Andrew nor I selected to activate our phones while we were in Europe, so unless we were at the hotel and connected to WiFi, we were largely separated from our phones.  And we noticed that the few times the girls did start arguing or acting out occurred when we were in the hotel using WiFi to tap away on our phones.

It wasn’t just about the phones, however. We were also fully present with the girls because we were away from our actual house.  When Andrew and I come home from work, the girls never get our undivided attention.  Laundry, meal preparation, homework, errands – all the trivial tasks of daily life interrupt our spending time with the children in our own house.

In the absence of work, school, and homemaking, all that’s left is, well, the family.  We climbed into a bubble, where every minute was spent together with no goal other than to be present.  We were on our own schedule.  Of course it isn’t a realistic or practical way to live.  It was the very essence of a vacation, made all the more glorious by its contrast to the way life usually goes. Right down to the fact that I tried to look the other way during our English breakfast each morning when AR buttered her bacon. And at lunch, when she buttered her chips.

Until now, I didn’t think it was possible to take a vacation with the kids.  I always said, “We take a trip with the kids, not a vacation.”

But here it is.  In our twelfth year of raising daughters, we have finally taken a family vacation.   Thank God we brought the kids to London.

Portrait of an Adoption is hosted by Carrie Goldman.  Check out Carrie Goldman’s award-winning book Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear

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