Marcello and I decided to take Luca (2 years and 2 months) and Adriano (10 months) to Italy for the first time to visit their grandparents, who hadn’t seen them in quite awhile. We traveled to the Marche region, in the center of the east coast, and stayed for two weeks. His parents’ neighbors generously offered us the apartment above their house to stay in, complete with a crib, high chair, and strollers. What a blessing!
The vacation itself was lovely, but the trip getting there was … not.
Just plane tired
Our big travel day didn’t start out well. Luca cried for most of the two-hour drive to the Miami airport. Marcello and I kept looking at each other with deer-in-headlight eyes.
We were embarking on a very long journey and he was already losing it? I thought both boys would sleep in the car because it was during naptime, but clearly that was an error in judgement. The first of many.
After we arrived at the airport, we unloaded our impossible amount of stuff: 2 car seats, 2 umbrella strollers, 1 medium suitcase, 1 carry on suitcase, 1 diaper bag, and 1 small backpack. Whew. With the help of the shuttle driver and some slow advancements, we made it to check in.
As boarding time approached, Marcello, being the Italian that he is, wanted to get as close to the gate as we could. But I, being the Midwest girl that I am, wanted to avoid that chaos at all cost. But I relented and we moved closer. Then, as we were in the most crowded spot, Luca popped the lid off his snack container and cheerios went flying everywhere. As I lunged forward to try to catch the container, I hit the diaper bag on top of the suitcase and knocked the whole thing over. Luca started yelling “Uh oh, Mama! Uh oh!” We were an absolute spectacle. Some people smiled, some people helped us, but everyone stared at us.
Things didn’t get better once we were on the plane. We put Luca’s car seat in between Marcello and I and Adriano stayed in my lap. We thought Luca’s car seat would be more comfortable and keep him from escaping. Instead, it brought his little legs right up to the seat in front of him. And, of course, you know what I’m going to say. He kept kicking the seat, even when he was trying to be good and refrain. It was just too close. And when the lady in front reclined all the way, it forced him to sit cross-legged. He let her know his displeasure by kicking the seat and yelling “no!”
After we sat on the runway for an hour (ugh) and had been in the air an hour, we had already gone through all my activities: band aids, coloring, stickers, cards, magnet toys, opening little presents. Luca was still squirming and starting to yell.
We were already at our last resort — the pacifier. We took the pacifier away several months earlier, and we realized we were reinstating chaos when we got home, but decided to spare our fellow passengers his present chaos. That and a DVD seemed to do the trick and he fell asleep. Yes!
Now Kate with two feet on planet Earth wouldn’t have resorted to all of this appeasement and spoiling. But airborne Kate was offering anything she could to appease Signore Crankypants. The people-pleaser in me was about to explode! I just hoped he would stay asleep for awhile.
The quiet time came, when people were settled in after dinner, the lights had dimmed, and they closed their eyes to get a bit of sleep. So naturally, that’s when Luca woke up. We talked and played with his plastic animals for a little bit, but he started to melt down. We saw sleeping passengers readjust in their seats after he started fussing. Marcello and I ended up passing poor sleeping baby Adri back and forth above our heads so Luca could switch laps. Marcello walked him up and down the aisles again.
Marcello noted all of the other kids sleeping or watching a movie as he passed the rows. One mother of a sleeping six month old and a sleeping three year old (by herself, mind you) offered him her iPad for Luca to watch because they passed by so many times. He assured her he was a good parent and had a DVD player for him. (Did you know that’s what constitutes good parenting?)
A million years later, the flight attendants finally began to serve breakfast and orangey hues of dawn poked through the small windows. It was almost over.
A list of reconnecting flights appeared on the TV screens, and our flight to Rome was not listed. Marcello asked a flight attendant why, and he told us it is because we didn’t have time to make the flight and we should go to customer service after we deboard. We tried not to panic.
After we landed, we apologized to those around us for Signore Crankypants. They were sympathetic and told us their own graphic horror stories, which were so bad they really put things into perspective!
Now about that missed flight. It turned out to be a problem. We waited on our strollers we checked at the gate, making us the last ones off the plane. In turn, making us the last ones to the customer service counter to get a reconnection. The man in front of Marcello got a ticket for a plane at noon, but the woman behind the desk then told Marcello all the seats were gone for the earlier flights and we would be booked for the 4 o’clock departure. She apologized when Marcello pushed for a earlier flight. “You don’t understand,” he said.
years hours in Madrid
Thus began our seven hour layover in the Madrid airport. Marcello was extremely annoyed and shot laser beams from his eyes on the group of young guys from our plane who were holding their 11 o’clock tickets. “That’s not right,” he said. I let him sit in his angry silence for awhile, and finally said “You have to snap out of it. We’re here, and we can’t do anything about it. Let’s just make the best of it. We need you.”
And he did. He snapped out of it, and we found a spot by a big window and a changing table nearby and set up camp. Luca had exhausted himself and we laid him across some chairs to sleep (which he later rolled off of, which may or may not have made me laugh out loud). And sweet baby Adri went to sleep in Luca’s car seat we were still lugging around.
It wasn’t as bad as we thought. Luca learned how to ride one of those escalator/electric walkway things, which we did over and over. Adriano practiced walking all over with our help. Marcello and I, on the other hand hadn’t slept a wink and were shutting down.
There was a group of five Spanish singles who sat a short distance from us. They were trendy, fashionable, laughing, enjoying each other’s company. I could tell by the way they were looking at us that they thought our lives sucked. And they kind of did at the moment. I was getting up to change one of the boys what seemed like every 30 minutes, and Marcello was falling asleep sitting upright with the baby in the carrier attached in front, surrounded by our mountain of stuff. Yeah, not too trendy or fashionable.
Our seven hours had finally passed and we boarded the plane to Rome. The two and a half hours was a blur of more flying cheerios, zero sleep, and two crying babies. Adriano joined in the fussing this time and Luca’s ears hurt when we were landing. After sippy cups and pacifiers didn’t work, a kind lady gave him gummy fruit to chew on. It worked. Nice tip! We had turned into zombie parents and were too tired to apologize to those around us by this point.
The next series of events is what led to my own meltdown: Once in Rome, we walked around the airport in circles looking for the car rental after some poor directions (yes, there was still a driving portion of this never-ending trip). Then the cars weren’t marked clearly and we had a hard time finding our car, the right level and getting the elevator to work. Luca poked Adriano in the eye. Adriano pooped before we got in the car. The bottle wasn’t screwed together well, and formula spilled all over my pants and seat.
I lost my marbles. “We’re never coming to Italy again!!! This was so stupid! What were we thinking?! I hate traveling!” Then came the tears.
Benvenuti in Italia, bambini! (Welcome to Italy, kids!)
Marcello let my rant continue until we left the garage and then said, “Now I need you to help me.” So I stopped, and we drove off into the sunset.
Just kidding. Well, the sun was setting and we were driving, but we were miserable and exhausted. The boys fell asleep in their car seats. I tried to stay awake for Marcello, but my eyes kept closing. We kept saying how guilty we felt making the boys travel this long and how different we would do everything the next time.
My bed, your bed, his bed
We finally make it to the apartment we were staying in. They had three bedrooms and a Pack ‘n Play. Marcello and I were so drained we couldn’t logically figure out who should go where. We actually tried all of these: Luca in the crib and Adri in the bed with us. No, Adri in the crib and Luca in a bed by himself. All of us in the same bed (what?). Adri and me in one room, Marcello in one room, and Luca in the third room.
After probably hours of this complete nonsense, Adriano fell asleep in the crib and I collapsed in another room. I felt bad leaving Marcello with Luca, who had never slept in a big boy bed before. (We thought they had two cribs.) Luca started crying when we tried to put him down because he felt he had already slept enough in the car. We were worried he would wake other tenants so Marcello stayed up and watched “Finding Nemo” with him. I know, this can’t get any more ridiculous.
When I woke up around 9 a.m., Adriano and Luca were with Marcello’s parents, and Marcello had already gone out and bought another Pack ‘n Play! He said he felt so guilty about the travels he wanted to fix it all as fast as he could. And he did. The boys slept that day and adjusted to the new hours quickly.
This was a crazy first trip, and we learned a lot — mainly about what not to do! We wouldn’t have gone if we would have known it was going to down like this, but we are grateful for the lessons and family time in Italy.
From all of this, one especially beautiful thing stands out to me. Against the odds, this crazy experience strengthened our marriage. I was in awe of Marcello’s dedication to his family and his self sacrifice to do whatever it took to keep us safe and in good spirits. He was strong in mind and body, and that was from the Lord.
I was then reminded of the prayer Ashby said over me before we left. She said “May the plane ride bond Marcello and Kate.”
Bond us? What kind of crazy thing was that to say? Marcello and I are notorious for our little squabbles and poking fun. And travel truly stresses me out, always has. She was praying over the phone so she didn’t see me smile at this little oddity. But after I thought about it, that was a thoughtful and insightful prayer, and God answered it.
A few vacation pics
Travel part 1: Before vacation checklist
Travel part 2: Light packing travel clothes for mom
Travel part 3: Light packing travel clothes for toddler boy
Travel part 4: Luca & Adri’s trip to Italy
Travel part 5: What NOT to do traveling overseas with a toddler
Travel part 6: Plane pack list for toddler & baby