I had just made a two day trip with two small children, no cell phone, and no idea where I was going.
“The trip is off… again.” I put my head in my hands and took a shakey breath.
My mom shook her head and pressed her lips. “No. It’s not.”
I dressed the boys in their clothes that night before bed.
We left long before dawn, arriving in Charleston, South Carolina mid-morning via a commercial jet.
I could hear my husband’s smile when I talked to him on our way to the Air Force terminal, in a yellow taxi. “It looks like you and the boys will be in Germany before I do!”
“Yep. Charleston has three or four flights to Ramstein a day. I’ll probably be there in a day or two.” I was so stinkin’ glad the hard part was finally over.
We were really on our way to Germany. All we had to do was make it to the terminal, find some food, and…
there was no food.
Nada. None. Nothing.
The “terminal” was a one-gate room with a little “family room” off to one side.
And no food.
We hadn’t eaten anything but graham crackers and cheddar bunnies all day.
Thankfully, a sweet older woman in the terminal took pity on us and drove the boys and I to get sub sandwiches. Our tummies were full, and it was almost time to find out if we made it on the first flight.
“Six seats.” The Airman announced across the building. And there were at least fifteen people waiting.
But, hey, it was just the first flight and there would be three the next day. No biggie.
We hailed another taxi and found a nearby hotel.
I felt adventurous. Brave. Bold.
We were on our way. I’d be in Germany within 24 hours.
There was still just the tiny problem of not having any food. And not having a car with which to find food. But we could just live off of pop tarts from the vending machine if we had to. Right?
The next morning brought a ray of sunshine to our hotel lobby in the form of my beloved Arianne.
We wrapped each other in a tight bear hug and talked as if it was perfectly normal to drive around in Ari’s van with our five boys laughing behind us.
We looked like two crazies (which we are) walking into a restaurant with five little boys. People stared. But, hey, we’d never see them again, right? And our boys were all surprisingly well behaved.
Until the food on their plates ran out and they were ready to move.
So, like true boy moms, we traipsed across a surface road, in the rain, to a grassy area.
The grassy area? Just happened to be on the side of a highway off-ramp.
We like living on the edge. Literally.
I reminded myself of this an hour later, when I missed the next flight.
And the next one.
Aaaand the next one.
Ari left the terminal that evening to make it be late to a chiropractor appointment. The boys were sad. And so were we.
It turned out there was food–other than the vending machine we’d discovered, full of candy, chips and pop tarts. The food was a half mile away. In 458% humidity. And crazy high heat. At the bowling alley. And, the rules stated luggage had to make the trip with you, if you decided to brave it for a hotdog.
I was immensely grateful for my husband’s faraway wisdom that told me, “ONLY PACK ONE SUITCASE.” I guess he probably would have advised against packing a backpack that would be heavier than any suitcase. But, you know… I didn’t ask him about that one.
We ate hotdogs. And walked back.
And missed another flight.
The funny thing about places like tiny military airport terminals with doors that open to both weary and hopeful mothers traveling, alone, with their children, is that make-shift families form quickly.
We’re all doing the exact same thing. If we’re spouse-less and traveling, it means our other half is in Afghanistan.
There’s no wimpering about the fact. There’s no proving you’re strong or showing you’re weak. No whining or crying about the hardship.
Because every other woman in that place is rowing the same boat.
So that night, at 2:30 am, I woke the sleeping, cranky boys and climbed into another taxi with a new friend and her toddler daughter, and rode back to the hotel we’d left the day before. We shared a room with two queen beds. But there was a shower. And a vending machine with pop tarts.
The next morning, on our way out the door, my new friend said, “I don’t even know your last name.”
It was a line meant for Vegas.
And so we cracked up.
That night everyone pitched in and someone with a car picked up pizza.
It was the only meal we ate that day. Unless you count a poptart.
We missed another flight. Or three.
And we slept in the terminal. On the floor–concrete covered with thin industrial carpet.
My four year old was up half the night, crying because of his tummy–aching from eating nothing but junk.
The days started to blur.
We made another trip to the bowling alley.
This time we ordered chicken fingers. Now THAT is Living on the edge right there.
We all watched as planes filled, carrying deploying soldiers, leaving no room for any extra passengers.
We’re military wives with deployed husbands and a couple dozen crazy kids running around the terminal like wild banshees.
We didn’t give the soldiers a whole lot of sympathy.
Three more flights. Three more “no seats available.”
Another night on the floor.
Still in the terminal.
We were all brushing our teeth in the bathrooms and using scratchy brown paper towels to wash our faces.
But the STANK in that building? My word.
Midday, I turned on a movie for the boys, and curled up in a corner. I started tweeting about where I was at on this wild ride.
Twitter went ablaze.
I was getting tweeted from people who lived right there in Charleston, offering me food, lodging, money.
And because of Kaira, I received a phone call from a friend of hers, telling me she’d prepared a room for us and that if we missed the midnight flight that night, we had better call her.
Just the prospect of being in the same house as a shower was enough to convince me.
We did miss the midnight flight.
The words commerical tickets kept floating through my consciousness. But as much as I wanted to see that Marine of mine, I just couldn’t quite justify spending almost $10,000 to make it happen. I didn’t think he would be able to, either.
I texted Kaira’s friend April, who hurried over–at 2:30 in the morning, people–and drove us to her welcoming home.
I carried my sleeping boys inside, pulling off shoes and clothes that had been worn for three days.
Collapsing between them on the bed, I prayed that these complete strangers weren’t axe murderers.
And that we’d get a flight in the morning.
Because I didn’t know how much longer I could keep going.
My pillow was wet with salty tears as I fell, quickly, soundly, into the rest of the bone-weary.
They weren’t axe murderers or members of a thievery operation or a child kidnapping ring.
April and her little ones were beyond what I could have imagined. Beside the number of life tidbits we had in common, she let us sleep till noon AND take showers.
And she fed us. FOOD not made with plastic! The boys played. Ate some apples. I rested. Sipped clean water. The boys devoured some oranges. I felt my shoulders relaxing. The boys laughed.
April’s close friend Amanda came by for a visit (so we’ve had two Amandas, an April and an Ashleigh–good thing nobody had to remember who was who) and upon hearing that we were on our last pair of training pants, tricked me into thinking she had to make a Walgreens run. Instead, Amanda–an avid couponer–used a Walgreens coupon to buy us some training pants.
And on the way there? She stopped at a local fruit stand and bought us a bag full of fresh, juicy, beautiful fruit. You’d think it was obvious we were feeling fresh food deprived or something.
I kid you not–my two year old ate an entire container of strawberries in one day. By himself. Heaven help the person who touched his st’awbewwies.
I melted when faced with being so blessed. Who knew God would remind me of His love and His provision through my online community and the way they reached out for me?
I knew these open, loving arms were His and I ran to them.
I need those arms. And this love.
“If nothing else, this crazy trip is showing me Jesus in huge, amazing ways. And that is enough.”
That afternoon, April’s mother in law helped us load up and head back toward the terminal.
I carried my bags inside and met the eyes of another of the terminal-camping moms. The defeat I saw worried me.
“Did you hear?” She asked. “No flights today.”
My feet froze. I dropped my 20 50 300 pound backpack with a thud. “None?!”
“Nope. All canceled or full.”
Leaving my bags in a heap, I trudged back toward to the car to get my sleeping boys, stopping by the check-in counter to find out about the next possible flight.
“So.” Heavy sigh. “Since there aren’t any flights today, when is the next roll call?”
My back was already aching at the thought of sleeping on that cold, hard industrial carpet again.
“Where’d you hear that?” The Airman glanced at his screen. “We still have a flight in about an hour. And look–the seats just came up. Fifty-four.”
“What?” I was motionless, arms poised against the ticket counter. “Did you just say fifty-four seats?”
The other Airmanbehind the counter turned in his swivel chair and nudged his buddy’s shoulder. “Hey, did you just see that next flight has 54 seats?”
“Are you two serious? Like, I mean, what if, is this… are you sure?”
“Yes ma’am. And. let’s see, you are passengers number… five, six and seven.”
“So I’m on the flight? We’ve… we’ve got seats?”
He started to roll his eyes and caught himself.
“Yes, ma’am. You’re on the plane.”
“Now this isn’t going to change, is it? I’m not going to hear your voice on the loudspeaker in ten minutes, saying the flight was canceled, am I?”
This time he did let his eyes speak of exasperation with The Crazy Lady.
“Ma’am. You will be on the next plane to Ramstein, Germany.”
Wings carried me outside.
I spun in circles.
I choked back sobs.
We all whooped and hollered and danced between the rows of terminal seats.
“Happy buzz in the terminal today! Fifty-four seats on the plane tonight AND WE’LL BE ON IT!!!!!!!”
An hour later, every single person in that terminal clustered in the main waiting area. The veterans trying to get to Normandy, the families on their way home after vacation, the women going to visit family in Germany, the wives hoping to meet up with their men, the children, giddy over riding in an airplane.
Another young mom looked my way. “How long have you been waiting?”
One of the veterans piped up. “She’s the one that’s been here five full days. With kids, even.”
“Wow. Five days? And is your husband already there?”
“No. He’ll arrive tomorrow.”
“Just in time! How funny is that?” She laughed.
I smiled slowly. “Yeah. Funny…”
And I tweeted:
“They called our names for roll call. The entire terminal clapped and cheered. I seriously fought tears.“
Then we walked through the gate.
Pictorial proof ~ coming next!