As far back as my memory goes, I have always wanted to visit Scotland.
Perhaps it was the stories from my Grandma Goldie, whose middle name was Bruce and who always said we were related to King Robert the Bruce (we’re not).
As a young girl, naturally, this made me think I was some kind of princess who would eventually inherit a Scottish castle of my own one day.
Or maybe it was due to the fact that my father more than likely had the movie Braveheart on repeat when I was a child (as he still does today with his favorite movies); seriously, I could do without ever seeing Independence Day again!
Whatever the case, there is no doubt that the Siren’s Song of Scotland has been calling my name – luring my soul – for many, many, many years.
As an adult and mother of two beautiful babies aged 3 and 4, I finally got the opportunity to visit Scotland for 3 weeks with my family. It would the trip of a lifetime!
And here is how it happened:
My husband is a scientist and as fortune would have it, he began a research project with a Professor at the University of Glasgow.
When he told me he had to spend a few weeks in Glasgow to get the project off the ground, I gleefully requested – no, demanded – that we take the entire family along (my parents included). I admit there may have been a squeal or two as well!
Being the husband that he is, he eventually obliged (reluctantly at first), after expressing doubts about how we could afford such a trip on a meager student’s income and whether he would be able to balance family duties on a work trip.
However, having been together since we were 17 years old, he knew full well that he was not going to Scotland without me. And I assured him I had enough room on my credit card if things got hairy.
Since this was our first international trip with the babies, there was so much to do in preparation. You see, I am the type of person that needs the comfort and sense of control that comes from detailed planning.
I mean, I don’t plan things down to the minute like my sister Nancy does, but I also don’t fly by the seat of my pants either.
I had to take the kids to the post office to get their first passport. I did extensive research on the area of Scotland we were visiting, reading about its history, points of interest, etc. I talked with friends, family and patrons at my bar (yes, I am a bartender) non-stop leading up to the trip.
I actually met a nice couple at the bar from Glasgow who had some helpful insider tips, for example, that the best pub in town was the Drum & Monkey on St Vincent Street (which I can now affirm is true).
I even assembled three weeks worth of matching outfits for the kids, unsure if we would have easy access to a laundry facility (haha, as evidence you can still read this early post from the blog).
No, this is a story about the challenges of parenthood and the wonderful insanity that is traveling with young children.
So about a week into the trip my 3 year-old son decided that he hated jeans.
In fact he resolved (out of the blue) that he hated ALL of the outfits I had packed for him.
There was just one item he would actually wear without a tantrum – those horrible navy sweatpants.
He demanded this same pair of sweatpants. Every. Single. Day.
He had excessive fits whenever I tried to put him in anything but those damn sweatpants. Lord knows I tried (to no avail) every day, for two weeks.
This was a completely new and unforeseen behavior out of him that frustrated the hell out of me, but in retrospect, I think he was just getting restless and anxious about missing the comforts and routine of being home.
Those sweatpants were his security blanket, and I had no choice but to oblige and abandon any hopes of the cute coordinated outfits I had meticulously planned out for him.
Sweatpants it was.
So the trip went well and roughly according to plan.
On our flight home we had a single stopover at Newark International Airport in New Jersey. By this point we had been away from home for three weeks and had endured a 7-hour flight from Glasgow, and we still had a 5-hour flight to go.
During the trip my dad had started to experience pain in his back/hip and we basically had to stop every 50 feet or so to let him rest. It was painful for us to witness his insufferable ambulatory grimace, so we eventually tracked someone down to let us use a wheelchair to get through the airport.
This left my husband in charge of pushing the wheelchair, and left my mother and me in charge of pushing the two strollers.
But we had a problem.
Upon arrival to the US, we also had to retrieve our 3 huge checked-bags and then re-check those bags again after going through customs.
Let me tell you, this was no easy feat with the wheelchair, strollers, carry-on luggage, backpacks and a bag with 3 week’s worth of souvenirs. The only reasonable solution that would allow us to actually move as a group through the airport was to load some of the smaller items onto the strollers and ask the kids to walk.
Mind you, we also had a connecting flight and needed to rush to the other end of the terminal in this absurd state.
The kids were tired and restless. I was annoyed that the strap on my backpack kept falling off my shoulder; I was irritated that I had to dig around the bottom of my bag to find our tickets because I forgot the flight number; pissed again when they changed our gate halfway on our way to the original gate; upset that the kids were walking so slowly and lacked a sense of awareness of the difficult situation we were in.
As you can imagine, our stress level started to broil and eventually turned to anger. I snapped at my mom and husband. They were snippy with each other. My dad kept trying to help with futile comments perched from his wheelchair. My skin was itching.
The kids were starting to mimic our feelings and started having emotional outbursts of their own.
This was NOT what I had planned. And unfortunately, the worst was yet to come.
Because it was at this point that my son’s epic meltdown began.
As we neared the gate, my son decided to just collapse his body to the floor and he refused to walk. He started screaming at the top of his lungs.
I tried talking to him calmly but he kept screaming. I pleaded with him but he was unfazed. In fact, he had this uncanny look in his eyes as though he were looking right past me for something else to save him.
It was upsetting and frustrating, but more than anything, it was scary.
Still in a rush and worried that we could miss the next flight, we tried to pick him up but this only made things worse and more dramatic. He flailed his body like a demon-child on the floor and screamed like I had never heard before.
Something seemed really, really wrong.
Feeling utterly helpless I started to panic, “What is going on!? Why can’t I help my son?”
I could feel the judging eyes of strangers cast upon us, burning holes in my skin. An older woman and her husband stood a few feet away aghast – clearly concerned about what was going on, but probably feeling just as helpless as me.
I mean, what could anybody do at this point? This had never happened to me before, and I was at a complete loss of words and action.
Then a thought popped into my mind, “Wait, I have seen this before!”
Seeing my son freaking out, I was reminded of an episode of Super Nanny.
In utter desperation I Googled the phrase “Super Nanny public tantrums” and clicked on the first link (I am not sure the exact page still exists, but it may have been this one). I skimmed the article and started following its instructions.
I remember first “getting down to his level” and with a “calm, reassuring voice” I simply asked my son “what is wrong?” and insisted “I am here to help you.”
Honestly, I don’t think it was that much different from my original approach when the tantrum started, but even small tweaks in tone and body language must make a world of difference to a child.
He told me, crying with that cute quivering lower lip, that he just wanted to be carried.
He let me pick him up and I said “Is it because you are tired?”
He said “yes”.
In an apologetic tone I told him “I understand. Mommy is tired too. We just need to walk right over there <pointing toward the gate>, but we can take a break whenever you want one, OK?”
Sniffling, he said “OK Mommy”, and proceeded to hug me.
He hugged me very tight.
And in that moment an intense wave of relief flowed through my body as that familiar hug told me everything I needed to know.
Everything was going to be OK.
We made it to the gate on-time, and the flight home was rather uneventful. It was late and the kids slept pretty much the whole way home.
But I couldn’t sleep.
As my little cuddle bear slept with his head on my lap, I softly stroked his hair and reflected on our trip and everything we had just accomplished together.
I thought about the bravery my little guy showed, trying haggis and ginger beer for the first time and adapting to a completely different environment. Seriously, coming from Southern California it was jarring for us all to not see the sun for three whole weeks.
I remembered how three weeks must feel like an eternity to a 3 year-old.
I thought about the strength he showed climbing the Royal Mile in Edinburgh and exploring that enormous castle on the hill.
Yes he was annoyingly fixated on that noisy water bottle with rocks practically the whole time, but not quite the whole time, because I also remember holding his hand as we breathlessly toured the dark catacombs under the city together.
I thought about all the fun memories we made chasing each other at the Arboretum, eating fried Mars bars at University Café, and touring the University of Glasgow which looks like a scene straight out of Harry Potter (and may actually be the inspiration for Hogwarts).
I realized that with family travel, you really have no choice but to take the good with the bad.
But if there is one thing I have learned traveling the world with my babies, it is that the good immeasurably outweighs the bad.