In honor of my Grandpa Yoder, who passed away last year and who traveled annually to the Big Island of Hawaii, my parents gifted my brother and me (and our families) with a trip to Hawaii for the New Year. Likewise symbolically, we stayed at the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel, which was the last place the entire Matics side of my family traveled with Grandpa Don before his stroke in my third year of college. So for me, this trip to Hawaii paid homage in many ways to two of my three grandfathers, and their memories were with me during every step of our adventure. Whether sitting down to breakfasts of guava juice and papaya with lime and remembering sitting in the same place with Grandpa Don, or participating in the luau at the Mauna Kea resort (where Grandpa and Grandma Yoder would stay), their history was part of my present and forefront in my mind. I thought often, too, of how my parents were traveling through their own sense of symbolism: just as their parents had taken them on such trips, now they found themselves fulfilling that role. I am beyond thankful that my parents decided to share this adventure with all of us, and especially that my kiddos had the chance to revel in such beauty and novelty. Their little brains grew and grew. My hope is to write a little series of blogs about all we absorbed and appreciated.

But for now we’ll start with the plane.

I had no reason, going into this, to believe that riding on an airplane with kiddos would be the least bit easy. I wasn’t too worried about Katie: she finds entertainment in just about anything. But what about Eric, who likes to be on the move? And who loves his bed? And who gave up the bottle cold turkey two weeks before the trip?

So Bill and I prepped like madmen. Bill filled our iPads with films and videos and games and just about anything that came to mind. I made Hawaiian word lists, created a visual scavenger hunt, printed out diagrams with parts of the plane, packed books, crayons, some Legos, hand puppets, Pokey, a toy airplane, nuts and bolts, blue painter’s tape, two Highlights magazines (one of which had a story about an Hawaiian fish) and just in case it all went south, some chocolate chips.

It turns out that there is plenty to do in the airport, especially LAX, itself. We got some lunch, watched airplanes, talked about gates, walked around, and had fun learning about a new space.

Also, I need to say that at both LAX and Kona, TSA was absolutely GREAT to us. I have read horror stories about TSA, and no doubt they take a beating in the media. I understand that we must remain vigilant about our liberties and privacy, but honestly? I didn’t mind the  process, and I thought the agents were seriously nice and very respectful, just doing their jobs. I traveled quite a bit before 2001, and I hardly noticed any marked difference in efficiency or process in 2012. At LAX, the TSA agents were upbeat, saying things like, “No shoes, no belts, no worries!” as if cheering us all on. They never even touched the kiddos or made them take off shoes. Katie thought the process was interesting, not scary. Eric didn’t seem to care. When the kiddos needed their sippies tested, it was quick and straightforward. Every TSA agent I worked with seemed eager to help (like helping to put through my cumbersome double stroller) and friendly.

We loved looking at the airplanes close up. Eric really made a connection between the airplanes he sees in the sky and these planes. He kept pointing at them, then pointing at the sky and making his airplane noise.

Working on parts of the plane with Katie… Her favorite task, by far, was the scavenger hunt. I put together twelve pictures of things you see in an airport or airplane (departure screen, Delta logo, seatbelt sign, view of the ocean from a plane window, etc). Every time she found one, she earned a star sticker to put on her paper. It kept her mind alert and engaged, and she loved the feeling of collecting the stickers. She had the option of a treat at the conclusion of her hunt, but the hunt itself was so fun to her that she never even reminded me about it.

It turned out that the kiddos could not hear the sound of the iPad with the engine on, nor did they want the earbuds, so once in the air, we no longer could rely on our films, our hours worth of Elmo clips, or our Word Worlds. Fortunately, being teachers, we over-planned and had plenty of activities to spare. Eric loved playing an animal spelling game and scrolling through family pictures; the guy in the seat across the aisle was amazed that Eric could actually use the iPad and iPhone, but we were just thankful that we got lucky. Eric also spent time coloring and drawing with his sister (“Let’s all draw airplanes, guys!”), and they both loved the Legos.

Katie liked looking out of the window, and Eric (who did not have his own seat) was still small enough to fit in between rows and tried to climb into her seat to press all the buttons on the arm of the chair. It worked.

The flight there? Everyone was happy, the kiddos did great, there were no outbursts, it felt like a workday in the classroom, and we made it. I followed advice from my mentor teachers and my admin and friend Beth, all of whom used to advise changing activities for high school students every 15-20 minutes. With young kiddos, it is more like every ten minutes if we’re lucky, but I tried to apply the same principle. For a five hour flight that strategy necessitates about thirty activities, but some can be repeated more than once. Bathroom breaks mid-air also count. So does the snack time. We had a little over ten different activities prepped, and some repeated themselves. We never even had to break into the painter’s tape, but that would have been a good one.

Then there was the flight back.

Red-eye. Departing Kona at 9:45 PM. Yes, that’s right. Bedtime for the child who gave up his bottle two weeks ago and who loves his bed. This one was left up to fate. No lesson plans here.

At Kona, we brush our teeth, I take out my contacts. The kiddos are in comfy, pajama-like clothes. We pre-board. Everyone is seated, Eric’s even chilling, and I’m thinking we’re good.

We head down the runway. What? There’s an airplane in the way with a flat tire?

A one hour delay turns into a two hour delay. Eric starts hollering, “I wah ma beh! I way ma  beh!” (“I want my bed!”). He knows a lot of words, but usually doesn’t say them until absolutely necessary. I think we are in deep trouble, but my dad with his soothing dad voice walks Eric around and miraculously calms him down. I go through the stages of grief. Here is stage 1.5:

No, I am not asleep. And not yet crying. This is me attempting to find my inner Zen.

At some point, my brother and my mom start making funny quips about the process of repairing the plane. You had to be there. It was hilarious. And by hilarious, I mean that I started laughing with the tired, panicky, uncontrollably funny hysteria of a mama who knows her children or herself might not last much longer if we reach hour three stranded on the runway, or have to get off the plane and do it all over again the next day. It felt good to laugh. I think I laughed too loud. People nearby probably thought I was nuts. Or annoying. Or both.

But you know what? Then somehow it all worked out. Near 11:45, right when Eric was sleepy and woozy from his walk with Boppa around the plane, we were told to prepare for take-off. I put Eric in my lap and told him, “Pretend I am Mommy Carseat” and tried to put my body and hands around him that way. Somehow, that worked, and he fell asleep almost immediately. Katie also got snuggly. I dozed, too, then woke up uncomfortable. At some point, I did a Cirque de Soleil maneuver over Bill (I was in the middle seat) and managed to get to the bathroom. When I came back, I moved Katie to my seat, took the window seat, spread my legs out across two sets, and laid the children on top of me somewhat like a bed.

The picture above was taken somewhere around 3 AM. They slept until morning.

Sometime later, we saw the dawn. Seeing the dawn from the air is worthwhile, at least once. We came into Los Angeles right as it was morning. Even Eric woke up and saw the city below, with the bright red and orange in the sky. There was poetry about it.

The verdict on traveling with two children age four and below? Hard work, definitely, but no harder than it is on a daily basis at home. We even managed to schlep the stroller to a fro. They did really well on the airplane—this time, anyway. They adapted well to hotel life, also. Eric fell into a pattern of love with his “Hawaii bed” and the novelty of it all has given them a chance to grow. I would travel with them again in a heartbeat, given the chance. Although I have enjoyed Hawaii several times in my life, showing it to my children made it extra magical for me. Seeing anything through their childlike eyes always does that for me. It doesn’t even have to be Hawaii; it could be a new beetle they discover in our yard. I am just so thankful to my parents, though, that I had the opportunity to teach my children in such a beautiful setting and to show them new geography and new parts of life. Katie, who has a memory that is a steel trap, will for certain remember the whole trip. I am not sure how much Eric will remember consciously, but as I told him several times, the beauty he saw will be part of his mind and heart forever. Those sights and sounds will be a peace that he can call upon in later life when he feels stressed. He absorbed that beauty, and once it is there making happy synapses in his mind, that beauty will never go away.