We had a wonderful family trip in Puerto Vallarta over the holidays. Getting there and getting home were both equally horrific though. On the way to Mexico we had a delayed flight due to de-icing which resulted in us being stuck in Denver for a couple of days, splitting up (Carlos and the boys went out a day earlier than I did), getting us on via standby and on the way home…well here is that story.
We were sad to be leaving family, the palm trees, and the ocean but we were ready to go home too. Especially Leo, my youngest, the one that I want to stay my baby forever. He just turned 9 but he is a young 9; innocent, cuddly with the biggest heart ever. He is more of a homebody. To keep him grounded and comfortable as we zoom around on adventures he has an obsession, of sorts, with little toys that he can keep in his pocket and he likes to bring his favorite stuffie, Monkey, when he can. He has had Monkey since he was 5 or so. He comes with us on weekend trips and vacations (he even traveled to the Philippines with us in 2011).
You get where I’m going with this…he is part of our family to the extent that Monkey is in some family photos and he even got a Christmas present this year. Of course, he came along to Puerto Vallarta with us in the carry on with his head poking out to get some air.
Our return trip itinerary was pretty unrealistic but we were hopeful. So hopeful. Here is what we were up for:
Puerto Vallarta to Denver. Arrive in Phoenix at 9:30am. Catch a 10:38 flight out of Phoenix. That is a one hour layover. The flight attendant spent some time giving me tips on how we could get through customs, recheck our luggage and where we needed to go so we could run to the next terminal to get the next flight. Her name was Megan. She was such a doll and she was hopeful too – as long as there wasn’t a long line at customs.
On the flight to Phoenix the boys were on their screens. Alex was playing video games on his iphone and Leo was watching a movie. I opened my book, The Art of Intuition, by Sophy Burnham and the first thing that I read was this quote, “You’re not to worry. Everything will work out the way it’s supposed to.” I loved it. It was exactly what I needed to hear so I closed the book and grabbed my sketch book and colored pencils and wrote the quote in pretty letters with doodles around it.
Carlos had seen me talking to the flight attendant so he came over (he was sitting a couple rows back) to see what her advice was. He saw my drawing and laughed. He opened the book he was reading, The Power of Latino Leadership, by Juana Bordas, and showed me the paragraph he had just finished, Esperanza – Hope, Gratitude and Celebration. It mentioned the saying, “Canta y No Llores,” that means “Sing and Don’t Cry.” I added it to my drawing and we agreed that we were going to do our best to make it a great day and get home in time to have dinner with my parents. And if something went wrong we were going to sing and not cry.
It was about 10 minutes after we got off the plane and were standing in line at customs that we admitted to each other there was no way we were catching the next flight. Customs was short staffed that morning. The luggage guy refused to recheck our four bulging suitcases because we had missed the flight already and sent us to the Frontier desk. Leo was distressed and Alex was just happy to be in the United States again so he could text his friends. The line at Frontier was a blessing but I didn’t realize that until an hour later. There were only 4 people in front of me but when I got there they all were freaking out because they had been waiting for over 30 minutes already. I settled in knowing it would be a long wait. Leo and I set up a table using one of the carry ons and played Uno. I was watching the only woman working at the desk and I was worried she wouldn’t be able to help. She just didn’t seem like the brightest bulb. As the guy in front of me finally finished up with her and it was almost my turn, another Frontier employee arrived for his shift and took the station right next to her. I knew instantly that he was my guy and would get us home. Sure enough Travis was money. There were no flights for 3 days and a long wait at customs wasn’t a valid reason to book us through another airline but Travis was awesome. He was smart, nice, calm and knew how to work the system. It took him an hour and a number of calls to a supervisor somewhere to get us booked through to Madison on US Airways and American.
We ended up with tickets for a flight that day to Dallas where we would spend the night and fly to Madison the following day. Everyone remained calm and positive. So far so good. We had missed our flight and no one was crying. Travis gave us a tip to have US Airways send our luggage all the way to Madison so we wouldn’t have to double pay to check them with different airlines and we would avoid lugging them around in Dallas overnight. That meant I had to quickly repack a couple of bags so our carry ons could hold what we needed for an overnight. I grabbed one of the Organic Valley grocery bags that I had stashed away, threw some extra tshirts in it and since Leo’s little suitcase was full now, I put Monkey in the grocery bag and off we went to our gate. We had 2 hours to wait for the next flight and an important Packer game to watch.
4:30pm. Gate 22. We were all ready when they started calling for Zone 1 to board. I did a quick check of our stuff. Where was the grocery bag? Where was Monkey? We all looked at each and tried to remember where we had it last, who saw it last? I ran to the restaurant and Carlos went to another area we had stopped at. We checked back in with each other at the gate…nothing. The look on Leo’s face was horrible. I had to find that bag. I gave Carlos the tickets and told them to board without me. I ran to the coffee shop I had stopped at although I was certain it wasn’t there. She told me to check the customer service area so I ran there. I was like a crazy lady running for my dear life. I cut to the front of the customer service line to ask if the grocery bag had been turned in. Nope. There was nowhere left for me to check.
I had pictured myself running onto the plane just as they were closing the door, holding Monkey in the air and seeing Leo’s beaming face as I brought him his Monkey. That was my vision, it was crystal clear. I even had the purple Super Mom cape on and it was floating behind me as I ran down the aisle. It was what was supposed to happen. I ran back to the gate exhausted and in some sort of serious panic.
This is when it got a little ugly.
I had too many carry ons and the gate checker lady that takes the boarding pass told me I couldn’t board with all my items. I explained that my kids and husband had already boarded and between the four of us we were within the guidelines. She continued to argue with me and told me I should have boarded with them. That is when I lost my shit. My eyes welled with tears and I yelled, “But I had to go find Monkey!” and then the tears ran down my face. I sounded hysterical. I looked like a train wreck. She stepped back, people were staring. I tried stuffing my laptop in my purse (which was ridiculous) and she shooed me through. I choked on a huge lump in my throat and I cried.
What the hell happened to everything working out the way it was supposed to? What happened to Canta y No Llores? Now that the tears had spilled over I had to bite my lip to keep from sobbing. But I couldn’t stop the tears and they were streaming down my face as I pathetically passed everyone in their seats and made my way to the back of the plane where Leo was waiting for me. I was trying not to cry but the harder I tried the worse I felt. I tried reminding myself that nobody had died. But really, it felt like that. And I felt so horrible for Leo.
Carlos and Alex were sitting together so I had to pass them to get to my seat which was further back and next to Leo’s. It was a big mistake to have me sit with Leo. He saw me and immediately started crying. There was a guy in the aisle seat so he had to get up to let me in. I’m sure he thought something really horrible happened. Leo and I didn’t say anything to each other. We just hugged and cried together. I was aware enough to know that I had to get my shit together because I was the Mom in this situation and not the kid. But I didn’t want to be Mom at that point. I was tired. I felt bad for Leo and I suppose, if I am honest about it, I felt bad that I wasn’t able to have the awesome moment I envisioned with the purple cape and all. I was so sad I couldn’t make it right for him. Leo pulled it together better than I did after we took off. He said we would get him back because there is always a lost and found. I had to look out the window and bite my lip again. I mean really, he is in a grocery bag with no name, no contact info…nothing.
When we got off the plane I immediately called the lost and found and the recorded message gave specific instructions on what information to leave and warned that they would only return calls if they found the item within 24 hours. I left a babbly message about a lost Monkey…but I couldn’t even remember what terminal we were at so I hung up feeling defeated (and ridiculous again). As we waited for the shuttle to take us to the airport hotel we tried remembering the series of events in hopes of recalling where exactly the bag was. Then we opened one of the carry on suitcases and we found Leo’s sweatshirt. I had sworn I put the sweatshirts in that grocery bag too. Now we started to doubt the existence of the grocery bag. I had checked everywhere. Maybe we hadn’t even brought it and it was packed in the big suitcases that were checked through. All of a sudden we had this moment of…oh yes! Monkey is safe in the big suitcases. We all rejoiced. It had been such a long day and I was so exhausted I really could not remember. But that made sense and we were holding on to the hope that the next day we’d get to Madison and Monkey would be safe in the suitcases.
Well that didn’t happen. We got to Madison and found our suitcases – no Monkey. It was confirmed. He was in Phoenix. There were no more tears at this point. I had come back from the dark side and was my normal positive self again. I kept Leo hopeful that we would find him in Phoenix. Somehow.
The next day I called again and left a much better message for the lost and found people. I had all specific information about the terminal and gate number and I described the bag and the contents clearly and then I pleaded…to an answering machine.
You know what is next…miracles happen. I got a call the next day (as promised within 24 hours of my good voice message) from Diane at the Phoenix Airport lost and found and the sun broke through the clouds, the harps played, the angels sang – She had Monkey. He was safe and she told me to make sure my son knew that he was okay. I totally teared up again. We had left the bag at the security check through. She explained how we could claim him (we had to set up a fedex account, email her the info and she would use it to send the bag). I wasn’t nuts enough to have it sent overnight (there was that thought), ground transportation was just fine. At least we knew he was on his way home.
I was so excited to tell Leo about the call. He had this sweet look on his face and I asked, “Are you happy?” (stupid question, I know) and with his hand on his heart he said, “My heart is pounding so hard right now, feel it.” Melt. Totally worth it. I never let him know I had my doubts. I didn’t want to kill the hope. He had so much faith that Monkey would come back that I wanted to leave all doors open until it was time to let it go. But we didn’t need to go there. Thank you angels!
5 days later the Fed Ex truck arrived! Monkey smells funny but he is back again and all is well in the world. Carlos probably thinks I’m a bit of a nut case, but that’s okay. Monkey is back. There was Hope, Gratitude and Celebration. And everything worked out the way it was supposed to…as it always does.