Every year we travel 3000 miles for Thanksgiving and it’s just as horrible as it sounds with two little kids. We drive 45 minutes to the airport, fly for 5.5 hours, then drive another 90 minutes to get to my in-laws. Last year we did this with a 3.5 and a 1.5 year old. The year before that we did it with a baby and a toddler. And the year before with a 2 year old while I was 30 weeks pregnant. You would think I would be overjoyed that we aren’t making the trip this year. But I’m devastated.
Of course I am happy to skip the logistics. The trip from New York to California requires crossing three time zones. Do you know what that means? For the first three days of our trip my kids wake up at 3am. We’ve tried every trick in the book. Letting them sleep on the plane, keeping them up on the plane, throwing milk and sugar at them until nine o’clock at night, everything. But their internal clocks are unfazed. They don’t even care that it’s pitch black for three hours after they wake up. Their little bodies are just certain it’s time for them to roam around and get their day started.
Of course it also means they want to go to sleep by 6pm. We push through that because, you know, in a house full of adults dinner isn’t even on the radar at 6pm. So after they recover from their overtired meltdown, they are up for another three hours with little to no issue. Why is it so much easier to keep a kid up late than it is to make them sleep late?
Complicated logistics aside, I love this annual trip for so many reasons. There’s an entire community of friends and family that is just waiting there when we arrive in southern California. It’s amazing. All of my husband’s friends still live in the area and one brave soul always volunteers to host all five guys, the wives and our 10 children (eight of them, including my two are 2-5 years old). No where else do we have a group of friends that big, with that much history (even the wives, we’ve known each other over 10 years) all with multiple children the same ages as my kids. When we get together it is the most fun and the most amount of time I ever completely neglect my kids.
Then there’s actual Thanksgiving Day. The house is full of activity and energy. My kids love helping peel carrots and buying gourds for the centerpieces. But nothing matches the excitement of the arrival of their older cousins. My son still talks about them to this day. They have cool electronics, they tell the best stories and they listen with a respect and deference that adults just can’t pull off.
And of course, there are the grandparents. My grandmother is a strong figure in my life and, to me, having grandparents so far away is complicated. My kids love their grandparents in California and with busy schedules, they don’t get to see them as much as we’d like. Even though my husband has lived in New York almost the entirety of his adult life, I am aware that he wants our children to know what it was like to grow up in his town, with his parents, and with his community. Missing out on that opportunity is a lose-lose.
So then why aren’t we going? Life.
I recently started a new job and have not accumulated any time off. The trip is too much to make Thursday to Sunday — not to mention insanely expensive. Four cross-country airplane tickets during Thanksgiving, plus a rental car and all the incidentals is expensive. We typically cut costs big time by arriving the Saturday before Thanksgiving and leaving on Black Friday. Those flights are particularly cheap because we are flying on days when no one else wants to travel.
Also, this is the first year we would be forced to buy a seat for my daughter. The past two years made for ideal travel – we bought up a window side of three seats and the kids sort of squished together in one seat for most of the flight. Or they were splayed out across us sleeping. In either case no one was bothered by them. And we know how everyone hopes and prays there are little kids sitting near them!
Traveling with two young children is never fun. There’s no way around that. But if you can brace yourself for the temporary (if not extended) pain of getting there, the benefits go far beyond the effort. Because when I hear my four year old tell me, months later, about the crazy thing that happened at Turkey Dinner, I know they are making memories. It’s sad to know they won’t be adding to those memories this year.