Visit 3, Part 1: The travel and the toll it takes on us ...
Food Visit 3 was a trip for two. Due to significant increases in airfare and travel expenses we decided it would be a trip for just El and Mom this time. I’ve solo-traveled a lot and love it. I have no issues flying, driving or dinning by myself. I find it exhilarating and peaceful at times. Throw a food-allergy five-year-old in the mix and I’m a hot mess!
I’m pretty commonly a reck before any air-travel with El, especially long air travel. As confident as I have become traveling with a food-allergy kiddo and the precautions we take, there is still a fear of being confined in cramped space with a lot of people eating many different anaphylactic allergens of El’s and no ‘quick’ (yes, we are in a plane, but no pun here) way to medical treatment. Then you add going through all this alone and it adds a whole new level of concern I had not experienced before.
One of the least common aspects discussed related to food allergies is the impact on mental health. Though this can be an entirely separate post in of itself, it’s fitting here too.
I have seen a positive change over the past five years, but it is still not discussed as openly as it should be. I even find myself forgoing this aspect of the conversation regarding the program and our life, as friends, family and acquaintances ask how El is doing and how the program is going. I discuss the benefits, the positive strides and the outlook of hope and good health. I share how great of a life we still live and the energy our curious and adventurous five-year-old exudes.
What I neglect to mention, mainly to encourage the healthy and positive conversation around El’s life, is the real struggles we face every day. The mental burden of living in a state of constant anxiety and concern. The financial burden due to lack of childcare, purchasing speciality foods and significant medical bills. The emotional toll of constantly upholding a certain level of calm when your body is riddled with concern to ensure your children still live a seemingly normal life. The functions we cannot attend because of food and cross contamination, the friends birthday parties that are missed, the family events, summer-camps and dinning out, or quick pizzas to go that can’t happen.
The list continues with change in pet food, laundry soaps, arts and crafts, and so on. The state of numbness you feel when talking with other parents that (fortunately!) do not have to adapt to a life of food-allergies, asthma and severe eczema. Feeling angry when people talk about seemingly normal activities and opinions on day to day life that (currently) we cannot partake in or experience with El.
Headed out to Cali this time with just El brought all these feelings and emotions to the surface, reminding me how important it is to talk, share and grow. Grow from the experience, the knowledge others provide and the act of just being present in the moment.
As I pulled my 5 year old out of bed at 3:20am EST to plop her in the carseat she woke with the most beautiful smile and positive attitude “mommy, today we get to go to California – I am so excited!”. It was just what I needed. It put a smile on my face and provided me the energy I craved to feel confident about the day.
With coffee in the car, suitcase loaded, snacks ready, I plopped her in her carseat and after a quick ‘see you later’ (to my half asleep husband who wouldn’t have it any other way than getting up to see us off) … we were on our four and a half hour drive to Boston to catch a direct flight.
I planned in a quick pitstop half way to Boston at my parents for El to change from her Pjs to travel clothes and eat a warm breakfast. To my shocking surprise the kid stayed awake the entire 2 hour drive from our house to my parents!! … talking to me the entire way. (Now any mom can relate to this – ready to have a couple hours of solitude before a long travel day listening to podcasts and music of choice … but blessed with conversing about flying dolphins, why California is so far from Maine and how is it daytime some places while night time others, instead…).
After our pitstop (staying on time!) we were on our final leg to Boston. This is where I am inserting my favorite travel find! When driving to larger airports parking is difficult, even frustrating at times. It can require shuttle buses and multiple places to unload and load all the baggage one travels with with children.
One time flying out of Boston we received a message on our way to the airport that due to weather our pre-arranged parking wasn’t available, nor could we find anything else, I had to spend the money on valet at the airport. My only logical option at that point due to timing…
Well, I am here to tell you that that was the best extra $80 I have ever spent! We unloaded the car right at the departure terminal and the valet took our car. When we returned they met us right at the baggage claim before we even exited the jet-bridge. I was hooked!!
Traveling with two small children (that time), two carseats, two suite-cases, two backpacks and a stroller is a lot and having to load it in and out of shuttles and vehicles multiple times makes for impatient children and frustrated parents. Valet was my new gold. I can cut costs elsewhere for the pure convenience of loading/unloading and the invaluable aspect of time. Getting right into our own car when exiting the airport to continue on our four and a half hour drive home is worth way more than $80-100 (to me).
Check ‘Favorite Travel Tips’ for more conveniences of traveling with any children
This time was smooth sailing from here! Though I minimized our ‘stuff’ to excluding the carseat, only one carryon size suitcase and a backpack for each, plus our cooler of food, I still used valet. We jumped out of the car handed the keys to a sweet woman named Jody, printed the pre-checked bag tag, dropped the bag and headed to TSA pre-check line.
We were third in line with no hold-ups. I checked my watch when we got to our gate … 20 minutes. That was 20 MINUTES from driving directly up to the departures terminal, dropping a checked bag and getting through security at Boston Logan airport. I took a deep breath and prayed everything would remain on time.
Thanks to Boston Logan there are amazing ‘play spots’ for children in each terminal. After almost five hours in a car getting ready to board a six hour flight it was great to let El run around for an hour – stretch her legs, exert energy and make friends. As a food allergy mom I also love the signage (for what it is worth) “NO SHOES, NO FOOD, NO DRINK allowed in this play space”. And, from what I have seen it seems to be obeyed by the majority.
After over an hour of playing “the floor is lava” with a couple kids El’s age we had a quick bathroom break, time to get a coffee and wait inline for pre-boarding.
I go up to the counter when we arrive at the airport (if there is an attendant there) and again right before boarding. I remind them of the allergies, ensure seat assignments are still accurate and that we will pre-board (due to allergies and wiping everything down). We were flying Delta this time and the woman at the gate was extremely kind and reassured me that it was a nut-free flight and just to speak with the flight attendant once we boarded.
We were second to walk onto the plane greeted by warm faces and energetic welcomes. As we got to our seats toward the back I quickly pulled out the wipes, feverishly wiping all the seats (even the third one that wasn’t ours), the tray tables, armrests, window, seatbelt – anywhere El could touch or lay on.
Then I take out a crib sheet, place that over her entire seat and headrest and place her Stoke Kids mat on top. She can finally sit as I hurry to get the bags under the seats and overhead while I watch the wave of people start walking down the isle toward the back. I take a deep breath and settle into the seat next to her. Another feat accomplished. Now just 6 hours in a plane …
Major shout out to Delta for this flight. We’ve flown quite a bit with El since she’s been born, it is always mixed the reactions we get when sharing the allergies and being extra-cautious. And, when I say mixed it’s from people seemingly not caring/understanding, to acting as it’s a burden to them, to the friendliest – most caring – strangers I’ve met. This was one of the later of the flights!
I let the flight attendant, Mary, know of her allergies as we reached the back of the plane and she instantly assured me the plane was nut-free (peanut included) and then asked if there are any other snacks she should remove from the flight, if I would like to read any of the ingredients and asked how best she could help. She also provided me a bunch of extra wipes and said “please, take some more so you have them for the rental car and hotel!”. I was almost in tears with her warmth and empathy she shared with El and I. Mary also proceeded to tell me about her daughter (now in her 20’s) allergies and how difficult life was for them. I felt a sense of calm settling into this flight and it was purely based on the reaction I had with Mary … And then, how caring and cognizant she was of El the entire flight.
… Breathing, smiling and ever-vigilant – we had a smooth, slightly ahead of schedule, calm flight from Boston to Los Angeles. We departed the plane, walked up to baggage claim, grabbed the suitcase, walked outside and almost instantaneously boarded the shuttle bus to be dropped at the rental car facility … walked into the Emerald isle, El picked the car (her favorite thing to do) and we packed up and took off to Long Beach. I was one happy Momma, with one excited little girl! <3
First stop – The Bakery!
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