And so we have to say goodbye...
As I said in my previous trip posts, we were just so lucky on our trip, including the fact that we got to spend three weeks stateside. It was enough time to catch up with old friends and renew family bonds. Enough to remember what it means to live in America (something I can almost forget living so far away in France). Bizarrely, I sometimes have a hard time believing I'm American when I've been in France for a long period of uninterrupted time (in this case a year and a half). But now I can proudly say where I'm from when students ask and it doesn't feel like a lie! And I can say with more authority, yes, that's the way they do it in the US. Though some things are still unfamiliar for me, believe it or not, like how much things cost or some administrative procedures.
Juliette's English improved a lot even just over the first few days. I think the fact that she was hearing English from so many sources reinforced what she'd learned from me. She started making longer phrases and picking up new words. I was pleased that she could interact easily with her American family. And of course she got to know them better and will remember them through future Skype sessions.
Travelling with a toddler
All the train and plane trips we took this time made me inevitably think about my travelling pre-baby. For you international moms who've not yet taken big trips, please enjoy the peace of an eight or nine-hour flight solo while you can. I, too, remember those flights when I had nothing to do but find good movies on the "on demand" video system, or read my book or make sure I had enough snacks to keep my tummy happy. Those days are so over. Now I don't even bring a book because Juliette is my "entertainment". I mean, keeping her whimpering or screaming down to a minimum is a full-time job and sometimes the hubby is a bit slow to react. Though I've gotten better at delegating. Like a doctor in the operating room I give him commands to get stuff out of the carry-ons. Bottle! Wipe! Toy bag! Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.
There were some periods of calm where she was content to just enjoy the ride, like when she held her precious bunny up and said "Up, up!" as we took off. Or when there was light turbulence she'd look over and say "wee" gleefully. Oh, the joy of not knowing how dangerous flying can be. And she did sleep a little, too, allowing me time to watch a movie (Easy A, funny) and some sitcoms. Thank God the A330 we flew back on had the personal entertainment systems. We put Toy Story 3 on Juliette's screen to distract her a bit.
We had hoped to get the CARES system delivered to us for this flight but there was a glitch with the French supplier before we left. It's a harness system that you can easily transport with you and keeps the toddler very secured in her seat. It's true that Juliette quickly discovered she could just open the airplane's safety belt. In the end she was ok "just" with the seat belt but in future flights if she's still in the weight category for it we might opt for it. Just to let you moms know, there's also a system for younger kids called Baby B'air. However it's for lap babies and is not allowed during take-off and landing (crucial times, I'd think). The literature is going towards buying babies seats for the utmost protection anyway and they recommend putting the baby in a car seat.
Somewhere between Birmingham and Atlanta, way up high!
Black suitcases and high drama
Though we escaped snow on the way out of France, our trip back was less uneventful. The flights themselves were great. Remi got our suitcases off the carousels and marveled at how they were all together. All three of them. Though we came over with two, Christmas time meant that our possessions multiplied. So we took one of our family's spare suitcases back in addition to our two others. We had plenty of time to go to the train station (connected to the airport), buy an Orangina and walk Juliette around while waiting for our train. Once the platform number appeared we started the process of taking our stuff down the escalators to wait by the tracks. And as I stood at the bottom of the escalator waiting for Remi to come with another load, I discovered in horror that the black one he'd picked up was not ours. Just like in every cheesy spy movie, he'd picked up the wrong one. As he got within earshot I yelled in what seemed a terrified whisper, "It's not our bag!" His shocked face mimicked what mine must have looked like a minute before.
Now the train would be coming in minutes and I told him we'd have to return the suitcase. Go up to the station and just explain it to them and then we'll get ours sent to us later, I suggested. In the huge underground hall of the platform it was noisy and we couldn't hear each other well. He said something about "must" and "train" and then went up with the stranger's suitcase. Meanwhile the high speed train pulled in and passengers started getting on. There I was with two suitcases, two carry-ons and a stroller that had just somehow gotten damaged and would no longer open. So I had to keep Juliette in my arms and she was crying having sensed her parents' stress. I asked a train agent if there was another train to our town as I knew this one was about to leave. He didn't know and as the alarm bell rang on the platform to signal imminent departure I just panicked. I didn't know what to do and kept turning my head from side to side hoping for an answer.
In the end we didn't take the train and I immediately second-guessed myself. Maybe Remi had wanted me to take it without him? But he had very little money on him. How could he have gotten back himself? I sat on the concrete floor with Juliette in my arms and started saying chokily "Mommy made a mistake." This made Juliette cry too and she repeated "Mommy 'take, Mommy mistake." After a few minutes I started thinking again and asked some passengers waiting for a train to watch my slew of suitcases while I went up with baby to the information desk. We modified our tickets to get on the next train at little charge. But Remi was still nowhere to be found. He finally called (using a stranger's iPhone) to tell me he needed the baggage claim number to get our suitcase. But I couldn't find any papers for it. At least I told him about the new train and that he could get his ticket at the information desk if he were too late.
I was relieved and happy to finally see his face coming down the escalator with our real suitcase. Phew! We got on the later train and made it to our town where his friend was waiting to pick us up. Now we can laugh about it (luckily), but it was stressful at the time. And we'll certainly pay more attention next time!