SED 007: Aircraft Equipped with Frustration Device - text version

Hi, this is Stronger Every Day. I'm Bo Bigelow. 

Four and a half years ago I quit my law job to be at home with my kids. Turns out our daughter Tess has special needs. She's different. And now, so is everything else.  

A bit of warning, this podcast has swearing in it. Without fail, swearing makes me feel better, so you'll be hearing some. 

This is episode number seven.  

Do you ever look around at a travel disaster that's unfolding before your eyes, and say, how is this my life? 

You're in an airport, on layover three time zones away from home, your kids are crying for food, you got nothing to feed em, and the last restaurant just closed.  

Or your plane finally lands, and you cart your family and all your shit on a shuttle, to get to the rental car place, only to find out they have no cars for you. (Yes Jerry, I'm with you--the key really is holding the reservation.)

On this week's show:  hittin the road with the family. Voyages--some celebrated, others, well, ill-fated. What it's like to travel with the T-Bird.

Let's start with a mildly terrible travel experience. We're trying to get to Hilton Head, South Carolina, where my folks have this awesome condo. We're lucky enough to get to use their place for a week. To save a few bucks, we fly out of New Hampshire, instead of Maine, where we live. It's winter. Which can be long and snowy in Maine. We can't wait to get where it's warm. 

Wouldn't you know it, there's crazy traffic as we get into New Hampshire. We've left plenty early, but still we know it's gonna be close. It's still before dawn. Our theory was that we'd keep the kids in their PJs, maintain quiet in the car, and then they'd sleep on the way to the airport. That theory is being disproven. Tess is making a lot of noise from the backseat. She's crying, and then Dana's crying. We're so late for our flight. Then someone says, "well, at least it's not snowing." Which you should never say.  

Because then it is snowing. Big ol flakes. We have to drive even slower, because we can't even see. By some miracle of steering wheel magic from my driver-ace wife, we park and get through security and make our flight. And then we realize why we made it. The plane isn't going anywhere. They have to de-ice it. 

We sit on the ground so long that when we take off and eventually land for our connection in Atlanta, we have like three minutes to make it. You been to Atlanta? That airport's like a series of straight vertical lines, A through E. We landed at A. Had to get to E. Somehow whenever you're in this position, they pass along a really unpleasant fact, something going through your mind as you sprint to your gate, sweating, your daughter wailing, you carrying three bags and at least one kid. Some fact like, if you miss this flight, the next flight to get you and your kids where you're going isn't until the last day of vacation week. Hope you brought a sleeping bag! Hope your family likes airport trail mix and Snickers bars! 

We had planned everything, which stroller to bring, which of Tess's toys are smallest but most amusing, so they fit in her bag *and* promise hours of diversions. We'd even calculated for an extra-long layover in Atlanta. But hadn't thought of the de-icing delay and how royally that would screw us. 

That was bad. We got to hilton head eventually, had an awesome week. But honestly, it was a day or two before we could really shake off the snowy drive, the airport sprint, and a fact that Tess told us, in her way, again and again, on the ground there in New Hampshire:  she doesn't mind long travel days, or even connections, but prefers her actual time on the plane to be as short as possible.  

We took the kids to Disney. Not a good fit. Not for us. Too much going on, too much noise for Tess. Not enough down time. Both she and Dana made it quite clear that their favorite place by far was the hotel pool. After a couple days down there, that's all they wanted to do. No EPCOT, no magic kingdom. Just hang out in the pool. Which meant that instead of Disney--where you can't even get outta bed in the morning for less than a hundred bucks--we could have taken them to Tulsa. Or Toledo. Or Des Moines. Anywhere with a pool, basically. 

Another time, and this was worse, we were going to Puerto Rico. We made it down to Miami and were sitting on our connecting flight. For some reason, our plane couldn't take off. We were waiting on the tarmac. Tess was a baby then, and was drinking a lot of milk. Which you can't bring through security, except in small amounts. We'd used up our supply on our first flight of the journey. In the Miami airport, it had been so early that only one place was open in our terminal. We had bought every container of milk they had left in their cooler--more than enough for the flight--but eventually while sitting there we ran out. Luckily, while we waited, the flight attendant came around with the cart to serve drinks. Imagine our shock when she wouldn't give us any milk at all. "We need it for coffee," she said. I told her we only needed a little bit, to get T to go to sleep. She refused. Tess started crying, waking up everyone in the seats around us. I eventually got up and went to the rear of the plane, to try one more time to get some milk from the flight attendant. I even offered to pay for it. No dice. By the time I got back to my seat, Tess was screaming at the top of her lungs. The next hours were a blur: the relentless sonic assault from my infant, the stares from bleary-eyed passengers, and a complete lack of any info about why we could not at least return to the airport. I remember standing up at one point and telling anyone who was listening that Tess needed milk and they wouldn't give us any. I thought about doing it over the PA, but was pretty sure that would get me deplaned into the hands of a federal marshal. But hey--at least everyone got the choice of having milk in their coffees while they waited, right? And who needed coffee, really? The whole plane was awake, thanks to our little T and her big lungs. Eventually, after four hours, we took off and reached our destination, Tess caterwauling all the while. That thing the pilots and crew do, where they wait by the door, and say "buh-bye" and thank you? Yeah, they didn't do that when we left.

My wife and I have this awesome friend named Rachel. Her daughter has downs syndrome. She tells us stories about her daughter's public meltdowns, and her philosophy about them is right on. She says:  how can I get mad at her, when I'm the one who put her in that position? I know her limits. I have only myself to blame. My wife and I think about that all the time.  

The great awakening from Tess, the alertness, the fact that when you look in her eyes there's so much more of a there there -- all that goes away when we put her in a bad position, when we ask too much of her. It's like she shuts down, takes the day off. Like she's not herself. 

And it's hard because the travel part of these trips is all about containing her. It's not like you can put her down on the airport floor. She'll lick up the dirt of fifty states and a hundred countries. 

We've learned. One layover, extra long. Simpler is better. Not too many activities. And most of all, inside those weird, tiny side pockets of your bag? Smuggle food and drinks. 

That's gonna do it for this week's show. 

I will return next week. 

I was super excited this past weekend, when my article about Tess was published on the website THE MIGHTY. Go to and find my piece there, it's called I have a question for the person evaluating my child with special needs. Check it! 

Gotta say another big thanks to all you listeners who've reviewed the show in iTunes: Chris Sankey, Jim McCarthy, Anneliese Gerland, Amy Byrne, Jen Gaudiani, Katie Lynn Watson, and 
Andrea Hougaz. If you haven't reviewed it yet, please do -- it really does help.  

If you like this show, you know what would be excellent? Think of somebody else you know who would like it. Then if you want to go to Facebook, tag your friend, and mention the show, I'd be much obliged. 

Will Sakran wrote and performed our closing theme.

Thanks to Brad Peirce for co-writing and playing guitar on our opening theme.  

Thanks for listening, and see you next time.  

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