I Regret Not Flying My Kids From New York To California For Thanksgiving With My In-Laws

81774751Every 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.

(Image: getty)

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  • alice

    that group of people sounds ridiculously awesome. at first the thought of 8 toddlers under 5 sounded like a nightmare. but it seems like you guys just throw them in the basement with some toys. i want friends and family like that!

    • Adam Fitzgerald

      My hubby ( his account) has four brothers, 7 kids under five, and. A pregnant sil. Plus bil and his gf who are hosting this year have a roommate and her 3 heart old. I do not envy them hosting lol

    • Carinn Jade

      It sounds like chaos but it is the most amazing thing. We’ve had a couple of bumped heads but no blood. What more could you want?!?!?

  • Amanda

    I feel your holiday pain. I hate not being with extended family or good friends on Thanksgiving, and we are just having a hard time making any friends where we currently live. As of right now, we’re trying to decide if we should make the 17 hour drive to Missouri for some family time (with a 3 year old and a 1 year old), or if we should stay here and try to hole up for the weekend. Every time I think about Thanksgiving with just our tiny, small family and no cousins or siblings, I start to cry…

    • Andrea

      Why? You can make very sweet and funny memories with just your tiny family too!

      I remember one year, I had to move from West Virginia to Atlanta and we could not work it out to do it any other time but thanksgiving weekend. It me, my mom, and my then fiance (now husband). My mom (somehow) packed a thanksgiving dinner and we ate it in the half packed apartment. It was very sweet!

    • Carinn Jade

      Andrea is right, you don’t have to make grand gestures to make memories. Hope you have a great holiday!

  • LadyClodia

    I can relate, it’s hard when family is so far away. My husband is from The Netherlands, so there aren’t too many holidays that match up, but it’s still hard that our boys don’t get to see their family very often. In his 5 years my older son has seen his Oma 4 times and his Opa twice. It’s half of that for my 2 year old. They always have a great time on the trips and remember the trips for way longer than I would have thought possible, but it’s too hard to go very often or for short amounts of time. And yeah this last time we didn’t have to buy a seat for our youngest, but from now on we will. I honestly don’t even like my in-laws that much but I wish my sons did get to spend more time with them.
    Could you video chat with your family for a bit on Thanksgiving? That way your kids will get to see their family and vice versa even if it isn’t in person. I hope you have a happy Thanksgiving!

    • Carinn Jade

      Video chat is a great way for the kids to connect with distant grandparents — and we do it as often as the time difference will allow. But it’s not the same, especially because we can’t have that experience of being in the same room as the whole big group. I guess we’ll take what we can get!

  • Kimberly

    I only had one holiday with a huge chunk of my family and I have very fond memories of that one event. Wish I had had more. Keep making memories, even if you have to take a year off. There are plenty of years to make more. Sometimes life just throws us a monkey wrench. May you all have an incredible holiday even though you can’t be with friends and extended family.

    • Carinn Jade

      I love this. You are so right. We can keep making the memories no matter what — and a year off here and there won’t change the experience!

  • Nancy

    Loved this piece. Tears in my eyes along with a smile knowing there will be other special gatherings!