Six cities, seven separate hotels/homes in four separate states, 11 flight legs covering over 20,000 miles equals just one vacation back to the U.S., Foreign Service style.
In my pre-FS, pre-mommy life my vacations generally entailed flying a long distance for 1-2 weeks, visiting multiple places, spending 1-2 days in each place. Case in point: my ten day May 2011 trip to France, just a month before I found out I was pregnant and six weeks before I joined the FS. I flew from Jakarta to Nice and visited Avignon, Nimes, Arles, St. Remy, Orange, Le Baux en Province, Uzes, Nice, Monaco, and Antibes. Now however, I spend more vacations back in the US visiting friends and family. The hardest part is deciding who and what to see in the US. On this trip, I embraced my former traveling self and tried to fit in as much as possible.
The first destination was Walt Disney World in Florida for our very first Disney experience together. On Saturday, May 16 we touched down in Orlando at 9 am after some 24 hours of travel time. I had nothing else planned for the day other than dinner with Cinderella. At 4:15 pm. That may seem a rather ridiculous time to have dinner, but faced with the choice of then or a 7:30 pm seating, I reasoned we would more likely be awake for the earlier. Still it was a struggle. At 3:45 pm in the lobby of the Grand Floridian resort outside the 1900 Park Fare dining room I had my doubts we would make it to dinner and I asked if we could get in on the first seating at 4 pm. The kindly let us do so which was a good thing as C valiantly stayed awake to greet Prince Charming, Cinderella, her stepmother and two stepsisters but then curled up in a ball and fell asleep in her chair.
We went immediately back to the hotel where I too fell asleep. We both woke up at 12:40 am. Wide awake and hungry but with everything closed at our hotel, I put C in the stroller and walked thirty minutes to a shopping center with a 24/7 McDonald’s. On Saturday Disney World closes at 2 am, so despite the hour we were not the only people up. There was regular traffic on the roads; we were passed by a jogger, other walkers, and a woman on roller blades.
We were at the park soon after the 9 am opening. I do not quite understand why the park opens so late. If it is open until midnight or 2 am for the night owls, then why not open for early risers or severely jet lagged at 6 am? I felt unexpectedly nervous about our first foray into Disney. All the park options, Fast Pass decisions, and such made my head spin. I expect Disney is overwhelming on any day, but through in some fresh-off-the-plane-from-Asia jet lag and it takes on a whole different dimension. The prospect of backpacking solo through the Amazon seemed less daunting than a day at Disney.
We made it to only three rides (the carousel, Winnie the Pooh, and Under the Sea) and two meet and greets with Ariel and Belle (where C was furious to be chosen as only a picture frame in the re-enactment story) before heading back to the hotel for lunch and a nap. I thought if we slept until 5 we could be on a 5:30 shuttle and be back in the park by 6 pm. Except the nap last 7 hours and we woke up at 9 pm instead. Oops.
Next we spent two and a half days relaxing at a Cocoa Beach condo with my long time friend CZ, her son, and another friend. We played napped, chatted, played in the pool or on the beach. CZ’s son turned one year old and we celebrated with cupcakes and NASA launched a rocket, which we could watch live from the condo balcony.
Next we flew on to Buffalo, NY. There I rented a car and drove to Rochester to stay with long time friend RH and attend the graduation ceremony of my Indonesian friend MF. After two days we headed back to Buffalo where C stayed overnight with her aunt and uncle and cousin so I could get a good night’s rest and spend early Sunday morning running through the streets in the Buffalo Half Marathon. The weather was perfect for a run, in the 60s with a light, cool breeze and I took the course slowly and enjoyed my toddler-free, no-visa-adjudication time immensely. We spent the rest of the day with C’s grandparents, who had driven up from Salamanca, and aunt, uncle, and cousin. On Monday, we had more family time at the Memorial Day fair on the Buffalo waterfront.
Our final destination was Lexington, KY. We spent a day exploring the city on our own with C and I making a pact – C enjoyed 2 ½ hours at the Children’s Museum and then fell asleep on cue as mommy started her one hour tour of the Mary Todd Lincoln house. I only had to carry her sleeping 32 ½ pound self through the whole house. We then spent the next two days with C’s dad.
All in all it was a wonderful trip back filled with friends and family. Icing on the cake was throwing in Disney World, a birthday celebration, a NASA rocket launch, a grad school graduation, a half marathon, history, and lots of Americana. Despite the jet lag, only days into the trip I knew it was completely worth it.
Some additional thoughts:
On traveling with my 3 year old toddler:
I think the biggest pain in the rear traveling solo with a toddler, a car seat, a stroller, two suitcases, a duffel bag and a toddler backpack is getting from curbside to check in or from the luggage carousel to curbside (or the rental car to the terminal or vice versa). I appreciate the airports having luggage carts available but not all that thrilled that they tend to have a $5.00 rental charge. In most cases one could receive 25 cents upon return of the cart (oooooh, how generous!), though how one is supposed to leave luggage and toddler to return said cart is a bit of a mystery. I spent approximately $50 total in luggage cart fees, often just so I could push my bundle of stuff between 50 and 200 feet.
The second hardest part was the number of times C asked to go home. To China. Every time we got on another flight she asked me if this one was the one to take us back to Shanghai. This means that 1. She is comfortable in our home and life in Shanghai, which is fantastic, but also 2. I made the right decision to decide to cut back on travel during our tour here (though I had hoped I might be wrong).
On my brief taste of US freedom:
The first thing I did upon landing in the US was turn on my iPhone (not used in China) and update my Facebook status. I could do it RIGHT THEN. Oh, the freedom! No waiting for the lengthy lag to get my computer started (which slowed after our arrival in China) and then log on to the VPN. Just doing that made me realize the accommodations I have made to enjoy our life in Shanghai. We DO have a nice quality of life in Shanghai. But it was great to use my iPhone and Facebook. It was great to not think about checking the air quality monitor. It was also really great not having everyone around us taking photos of us (ok, my toddler, no one cares to take pictures of me anymore) discreetly or otherwise.
We are glad to be home. Now only the four months during the busy, sultry, Shanghai summer stand between us and our next big vacation.