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Friday, October 10, 2014

The journey home

My blog posts are trickling in so slowly that J’s have almost caught up. This one gets us home to Indiana.

The morning after we visited Stonehenge, we were up early for our flight back to the US. We had some time to kill at Heathrow before our flight, and the kids ran out a good amount of energy in the children’s play area. Seriously, every airport should have one of these. The soft-play places we encountered at Heathrow were staffed with friendly women who played with the children; they had areas for toddlers as well as older kids to climb, slide, and run. When we boarded the long leg of the flight from London to Houston, our kids were primed to start the trip with a nap after spending an hour climbing and running around the play area. Amazingly, our flight was largely empty; having several rows to your self makes a world of difference on a 10-hour flight. Want to stretch out for a nap? No problem: put your feet up on three empty seats. Kids kicking the seat in front of them? No problem: there is no one there to turn around with a disgruntled look. Kids need to make multiple trips to the bathroom? No problem: there are no sleeping neighbors to wake up.

One of several staffed play areas at Heathrow. We waited about 15 min before this one opened.

We arrived in Houston on time but waited in long lines to get through customs; the only reason we made our connection was that our flight was delayed. That final flight in a completely packed plane seemed much longer than three hours. It was L2’s last flight as a lap child. While I’m not looking forward to paying for a fourth ticket from now on, I’m glad he will have his own seat because it is really crowded to have a 30 lb child wiggling around and trying to stand on your lap to get to the window or look at passengers in other seats. Don’t even think about trying to eat or drink. But we made it to Phoenix Sky Harbor at last, flying over the familiar brown landscape: the mountains and buildings and highways. When we finally landed in Phoenix, all of our luggage was there, as was our ride from the airport. Yeah! We were home! Sort of.

We spent almost two weeks in Phoenix with our families. J’s parents had been looking after our elderly dog, Paddington. When we left Indiana in December with Paddington curled up in a small space carved out for him among our belongings in the back of the car, I had prepared myself that he might not make the trip home because he was increasingly showing his age. But several months with the grandparents was like a vacation at a spa; he was more cheerful and spry than I’d seen him for ages. So once again, we packed the car with Paddington in the back, and took six days to drive home to Indiana.

Cooling off in Phoenix

Apatosaurus and Brachiosaurus from the Dinosaur Museum in Tucumcari, NM

My highlight was visiting friends in Santa Fe. For the boys, their highlight was visiting the Mesalands Community College Dinosaur Museum in Tucumcari, New Mexico. The museum is unexpectedly good for being in a small, dusty town of just over 5,000 people. When people ask L1 what his favorite part of traveling was (perhaps expecting riding donkeys in Greece or swimming in the sea), he replies, "The dinosaur museum," and occasionally says wistfully that he wishes we had a dinosaur museum here.

New Mexico vista

Sleepy but not sleeping in hotel

The home stretch: Missouri vista
The last several days of driving were some of the most trying of the entire trip: we drove about six hours each day; the kids were wound-up, even with breaks and swimming in the hotel pools at night. They didn’t sleep and we had used up all our tricks to make the car ride fun. We all were just ready to be home, really home. We drove up our driveway and opened the car doors with a cheer – or maybe it was a sigh – I only remember that we were happy to stop driving. 

We each went our own way: the kids to their toy box, Jim to his lawnmower, and me to unpack and wash clothes. Maybe that is an anti-climatic end to a six-month international journey. However, I am grateful to have a place that we are so happy to come home to. It doesn’t have a view of the Aegean Sea (ok, that was pretty nice and I miss it), but the yellows and reds of the autumn leaves in our yard right now are world class. Compared with the uncluttered, orderly places we rented to stay in Europe, our home is a jumble of toys, books, and papers. But it is ours, it is warm, and lived in. 

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