We have arrived in Shanghai. Well, C, the two cats and myself are here. My mom did not make it. The Friday afternoon before our departure, my mom headed to the emergency room with terrible abdominal pain. Though discharged some five hours later, the question of whether or not she would be able to fly with us on Tuesday was up in the air.
I am not going to go into my mom’s condition here, but suffice to say that it is uncomfortable though not life threatening. By Monday afternoon her doctor had determined that surgery would be necessary but that the surgery could not take place until her acute bronchitis and fever were brought under control. (I know, bronchitis! We did not know she had bronchitis)
Obviously this meant she would not be flying with me the following morning. This also meant that our travel to and arrival in China was going to be a very different scenario than I had planned.
I had already been emailing contacts at the Consulate over the weekend to apprise them of the situation and the possibility my mom would not be joining us, i.e. my child care situation had become a bit more urgent. Child care had already been on my mind even with my mom joining us. It cannot be otherwise when you are a single parent. With our arrival timed three weeks before the Chinese New Year when many (most?) workers depart the city to visit family, interviewing and hiring a nanny in that time frame already presented some challenges. Now I would have days and not weeks to find someone.
I notified the Consulate I would need to take at least Thursday and Friday off in order to find child care. A friend already in Shanghai messaged me to let me know, if needed, she could pitch in to help. An A-100 colleague offered to see if her nanny would be willing to watch my C for a week or two until I found someone and my social sponsor and his wife sprang to action, contacting all they knew for nanny recommendations.
Meanwhile, my most immediate issue was getting myself, C, the cats, and our luggage from our hotel to the airport, then from the car to the check in counter, and then through security to the plane. I thought I would just take the hotel airport shuttle except unfortunately it did not start service until 6:30 am; my plan was to depart at 5:15 am. Departure was further complicated by the impending snow storm expected to hit the northeast. Although the snow was not supposed to be too bad in the Mid-Atlantic, there could be no guarantee that flights would not be disrupted.
At 4:10 I woke up and began to drag the suitcases from the room, through the snow, to the car. Then I cleared off the car. My brother drove my father over at 5:15 am and we headed to the airport. My sister, who just so happens to be a TSA agent at Dulles, met us at the curb with two luggage carts and whisked the cats and some luggage inside while I took care of C and the rest of the luggage. As my sister has airport privileges, she accompanied us through security to the gate. There she had to leave us and I had to struggle to get us all onto the plane (C refused to even carry her little backpack), but we made it. A family effort.
The next challenge met us in Chicago where we had to transfer to our second flight. Originally our incoming flight was scheduled to park at C18 and our outbound flight took off at C19. Imagine how deflated I felt as we pulled into C28 instead…
But I managed. Sure, I got a lot of looks, some sympathetic, some “I’m so glad I am not you,” some “I don’t want to be anywhere near the disaster that must be your life;” the last to which I wanted to scream “I am a U.S. diplomat you fool!” Though that response would be neither diplomatic nor shed a particularly awesome light on the Foreign Service and so I, in actually an incredibly diplomatic manner, chose to let those people believe what they would and carry on. You know, as best one could carry on with a cat carrier slung on each shoulder (cats mewing away), pushing a lime green suitcase (thank goodness I got the four wheel smooth rolling kind) with a large shoulder bag and a child’s elephant backpack looped over the handles, an umbrella stroller hung on one arm, and barking orders at a small child to “stay near mommy.” The picture of the consummate traveler I am sure.
Once I finally got us onto our seats on the mercifully half empty plane I felt so much better. That was until C asked me “Mommy, where are the TVs?” Oh dear no! United, why oh why would you put people in the year 2015 on a 14 ½ hour flight on a plane with no in-seat televisions or power outlets? I had a toddler, an iPad with a limited battery, crayons and a coloring book, and a new set of toys. Also, two cats mewing underneath the seats in front of us…
So I sat back to enjoy the next 14+ hours before we landed in Shanghai and the craziness would begin once again.
C and the cats did pretty well on the flight. I did alright too. With only three hours of sleep on the flight (and only three and a half hours the night before the flight) I managed to once again get all of us and our stuff off the plane, through immigration and to the baggage claim. I must have been in an extremely good mood because after fighting our way through a massive bottleneck to get to the immigration lines and then waiting for 20 minutes in line, I took the immigration officer’s suggestion to use the diplomatic passport line next time quite well. I just smiled and shrugged and said ok. I could have broken down into wails of frustration.
At baggage I stared in dismay at the tiny luggage carts and the four checked bags circling the conveyer belt. There was no way. Then the quarantine lady showed up and she helped me to collect, load, and push the luggage over to the quarantine officer where we registered the cats and paid the fee ($320 per cat, ouch). C insisted on opening one of the cages and petting the cat saying “easy, easy boy” which is clearly from an episode of one of her DVDs. Quarantine lady then also helped us to push the other cart back through customs and to arrival where thankfully my social sponsor was waiting.
The next day, thanks to my sponsor’s wife, I had my first interview with a potential nanny and the following day my second interview. I hired the second nanny to start tomorrow, Monday. Whew. That is not how I wanted to go about it but it is what it is.
So though I did not head into work the day after arrival as I had originally expected (and yeah, despite the 13 hour time difference and the some 22 hours of door to door travel time I had thought I would do that), I still sort of hit the ground running. Registration at the apartment complex. Check. Internet up and VPN working. Check. Nanny hired. Check. Signed up for gym membership. Check. Extra furniture removed from apartment. Three visits to the supermarket. Trip to IKEA. C signed up for Shanghai Centre Kid’s Club. Visit to nearby Jing’an Temple. Welcome lunch with friends. Blog post. Check, check, check….
Not bad for a jet lagged single mom with an arrival in China that had not gone according to plan.
Tomorrow is my first day of work.