APLS Ohana’s Incidents, Accidents and Adventurings in Australia: Chapter 1

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Our first family trip to Australia was a year in the making. Tickets are expensive and, although well-employed and a two-income family, we needed to make sacrifices and stretched ourselves a bit to make this trip happen. We knew that Australia would be our first international trip as a family. My wife is from there; born and raised and Aussie through and through, we have been dreaming about exploring her home country at her side for quite a while. We were ready to see our Aussie family – who graciously and generously make the trip to Hawaii to visit us fairly regularly – on their turf and in their world.

Planning for a milestone family trip is not a simple matter. Unlike the requisite travel to and from the mainland for Shortstack to visit the other side of his family, Australian travel – or any international travel, I suppose – is complicated by cost, availability, accessibility and scheduling hiccups. We had been keeping our eye on flight costs for quite a while and, randomly, one night we saw prices be at the lowest we had ever seen for Australia during our ideal travel time. It took Panda and I five minutes to go from “hmmm, should we?” to “buy that sucker NOW!” We have a lot of experience with watching airfare schizophrenically convulse back and forth, up and down so we knew there was no guarantee that this would be the cheapest ever, but they were definitely the cheapest that we had seen and that worked for us. Now, here’s a little hiccup that being a bi-national and LGBTQ family throws our way; Panda needs to renew her visa and paperwork every time she leaves the country. And, of course, bureaucracy being what it is, the US embassy doesn’t make it easy or efficient for long-term planning to make the necessary appointments more than a couple months in advance. So, we were rolling forward on a little bit of faith. We purchased tickets that allowed Panda a week in Australia prior to Shortstack and I arriving and we figured that she would be able to get an appointment and wrap up all the visa details before we arrived. Blessedly enough, it all worked out tidily. But until it did, we were both a bit on edge and anxious. {Sidenote: now that I can legally sponsor my wife for her green card – after she’s legally been here for 17 years, mind you AND we’ve been married for two and together for four – we just want to remind people that for reasons such as this, marriage equality MATTERS!}.

Tickets purchased, family informed of our imminent arrival (read: we gave our Aussies fair warning … if they needed an escape plan, they had almost a year to formulate one), the weeks and months stretched ahead of us throughout which we chattered together about our wish list of what we hoped to see in Australia and how we thought it would all feel. I started picking up books at my handy-dandy thrift store about Australia; travel books, picture books, travel memoirs and “speak like an Aussie” vignettes. The months sped by and all of a sudden, Panda’s day of departure was only weeks away, we hadn’t figured out what luggage we were taking, I hadn’t figured out how to stop the mail without freaking out that I stopped the mail for our neighbors as well, we were still searching for the perfect omiyage (gifts that we bring to those we visit or those that we leave behind) and Christmas gifts for our Aussie family and friends and we needed to figure out how Santa would get the notice that Shortstack was not in Hawaii for Christmas so it would be greatly appreciated if he could kindly jump over the Pacific for a quick stop-in but not be ridiculously indulgent. All the while, keeping myself somewhat calm and sane for the next week of semi-single-mamahood while completing the packing for Shortstack and myself, finishing out the end of the semester at work, and keeping all of the holiday school event happenings that we had previously committed to. Well, I managed to not lose my mind completely – until the morning of departure when I wanted to beat up everyone else at the airport. Packing was finished but there was no guarantee that we had all that we needed while in Australia (thank god we were going somewhere civilized, right?!). I wrapped up the end of the semester but had to remind students and colleagues multiple times that, no I would NOT be checking email or taking phone calls while on my VACATION, in fact I would be fully disconnected and even smoke signals would likely not break my reverie. As for the holiday events and happenings that we thought we had committed to, yeah – I uncommitted. Shortstack and I hibernated that week; there were quiet nights, packing and unpacking and repacking, enjoying christmas lights, easy-peasy dinners and many, MANY Skype chats with our very-missed Mama Panda.

We made it to the airport bright and early on Saturday morning. Not quite as early as I had planned. But early enough. Somewhat. Next time we’ll get there earlier. Here’s one of the MANY lessons that this trip has taught me: no matter how comfortable and accustomed to travel you are, if you want to get to the airport remarkably early for whatever reason – get there remarkably early and don’t worry about the entertainment that you are providing others. I know the travel ropes. But I was anxious about this trip – only my second international travel, we were not traveling light by any means, I was worked-up by the weeks that preceded our departure and I hate crowds. Guess what – the damn airport was CROWDED. And it wasn’t the normal, “oh-gotta-get-to-my-gate-and-through-security” crowd. Nope – it was the “oh-my-god-my-whole-extended-family-and-his-and-hers-and-theirs-is-here-to-say-goodbye-but-don’t-want-to-say-goodbye-drama” crowds. And it was a crowd that was unmovable, took up the whole-freaking-sidewalk, completely oblivious to the mama and child who were pulling big-ass luggage behind them. Not the greatest obstacle to overcome in the journey from curb to ticketing/check-in lobby. And, of course, the check-in was its own challenge because, why on earth would technology want to cooperate with the process that it asks you to comply with. Check-in kiosk: Please scan your passport. Me: Run passport through scanner. It gets stuck. I try again. It gets stuck again. Check-in kiosk: Please scan your passport. Me: I DID scan my bloody passport. But your freakin’ construction does not allow for the bloody passport to go all the way through! WTF??!! Check-in kiosk: Please scan your passport. Me: WHY CAN’T YOU BE A FREAKIN’ PERSON! FIND ME A PERSON!!!

And this is where the next in the series of hard-earned lessons from this trip came into play; sometimes your little one is wiser and more patient than you are. When that happens, listen to him, kneel down for a cuddle, and then restart the process that is pissing you off in the first place. Shortstack looked up at me, with our luggage and bags and his carseat piled up around him and said, “Mama – it’s alright. You don’t need to get impatient. We’ll get on the airplane.” Well, hell, baby. You’re right. We will. And we did. There was a coffee detour and a potty break on the way to the gate. We let the crowds board before us and we got settled in our seats without much more of a fuss. There was a lot of comfort in that part of our travel ritual. Pull out our pillows and blankets (we have comfy ones that we use for travel since both of us are pretty good at crashing out), locate the earphones and the audio jacks, familiarize ourselves with the technology, find the iPods and chosen books, settle the crochet projects between us and snuggle in so that we can both fall asleep within moments of being airborne. The engines grumbled awake, the luggage compartments were closed, little man was playing around with the touch screen tv on the seat in front of him so he could figure out what he could lose himself in for the next 10 hours, and we were off. Going to Australia. Going to our Mama Panda’s arms. Going on our next big adventure.

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