Ah, the holidays: Christmas cheer and seasonal music, wonderful gatherings with family and friends.
Right, but all I can think about is holiday air travel with my children. You think traveling with two is stressful? Try five. Here's what it's like from this harried mom's perspective:
First of all, the planning starts at least a month in advance. Not because I have to book the flight early, but because I have to locate every article of clothing the grandparents bought the kids over the past year so that the grandparents can see the kids dressed in those clothes. Forget the fact that the kids have outgrown everything months ago. The fact that Grandma is smiling and talking about how cute they look in those sweaters or what a great deal that dress was is worth the temporary loss in circulation around the wrist and collar.
Second, I have to make sure all the kids' prescriptions and checkups are up to date, and preferably recent, because someone always brings up a health concern during my travels. Often, the health concerns are fabricated, but I still have to come up with proof of wellness.
"Come here, son. Let me see that smile of yours," asks the uncle who is forever checking out the children's teeth. No, he's not a dentist. "How long has this tooth been out?"
"I don't know, about a year." Yes, the child does answer that the three-weeks-missing tooth has been gone for a year.
"He didn't mean a year, Uncle. It's only been a few weeks."
"Sure, I hope you takin' these kids to the dentist."
The skepticism makes me want to scream, but out of respect, I just say, "We sure do. Every six months. Thanks for looking out, though."
As for the prescriptions: Ever since one of my children referred to her asthma medicine as "old as dirt," I am careful to flaunt the recent renewal dates on everything.
Third, I have to practice my "Why do you homeschool?" answers far in advance. Given the traditionally conservative nature of my family and the fact that I am the most formally educated among them, I have to give simple, concrete answers void of radical or political statements.
"Oh, so you think you're smarter than the teachers now?"
"No, I think I have more time than they do."
"Well, we fought to get you in the best schools. You need to do that for your kids." Of course, it's never my parents who start these conversations — it's always my extended family, suddenly taking credit for my successful schooling. I just love how that happens.
"I don't feel that the best schools can do a better job than me. I personalize everything according to their learning style." Oops. I probably shouldn't have opened this can of worms.
"Learning style? What kind of crap is that? See" — and my aunt turns to my parents — "that's why too much education can be bad for a person."
I'm used to the questions about testing and socialization, but when the questions turn to curriculum, I sometimes have to laugh: "So, you don't know the capitals of the states and you're in first grade. When I was in first grade..."
I've taught the kids to just smile and nod their heads.
Fourth, I have to remember to check for metal in all my kids' clothing. No overalls, no belts and none of that funky metal print on my daughter's jeans that resembles sequins. The security check alone at any major airport makes the idea of driving eight hours in a rented minivan seem worth it. We have to practically strip in order to get through. I will never forget the time my youngest daughter's clothes went off while she was sleep. I had to wake her up and undress her bit by bit. First they thought it was her shoes, then they thought it was her overalls, finally they realized it was her shirt, embellished with Christmas decorations. Good thing she was too young to remember that experience!
Fifth, I have to carry at least two empty expandable suitcases along. Even though I ask my relatives not to buy the kids toys and clothes, they don't listen. They just love the looks on the kids' faces when they open their gifts (and they magically misplace receipts if the kids like the gifts). I guess I can't blame them. And besides, after juggling all the flight preparations to go see my family, I don't have much fight left in me once I'm there.
As long as tomorrow's travels are better than the Christmas I spent crying and nursing my baby in the airport for eleven hours because my flight was cancelled and they couldn't get me on standby, I'll be okay. Still, there are two things this harried mom cannot forget to pack: extra snacks and a whole lot of Tylenol!