I know what you’re thinking, Cleveland is not a valid vacation destination. And while you’re totally right, I am also obligated to take offense because that’s where I grew up. I actually love Cleveland, thank you very much, but it is certainly not Miami Beach. My young family, which at the time consisted of my willing husband, my not-so-willing preschool son, my one year-old still nursing little boy, and me, happily pregnant with our first daughter, were flying from our home in Denver to Cleveland for some much-needed R&R with extended family.
R&R… ummm right…
I recall a not-so-promising start to the trip when the baggage carrier who unloaded our two giant car seats from the cargo hold, took in the state of us, my husband loaded down with luggage like a sherpa, squirming kids in hand, and me with my frazzled look and swollen pregnant belly, “And how are you going to manage this when that little guy comes?” He nodded toward my bump. I quipped, “We will probably never travel again.”
Cue light laughter, followed by ominous music… Ultimately, I was wrong, we did eventually travel again, but it took a good few years til we were stupid brave enough.
Where to begin? I could start with the flight itself—searing pregnancy lower back pain while I enjoyed the comfort of all that legroom in coach. My youngest had a bad case of the fidgets, which turned out to be stomach upset. Changing a fully loaded diaper on a packed plane, not recommended. My oldest son asked a ga-zillion questions THE. WHOLE. WAY. And my husband, like a seasoned narcoleptic, began snoring once the pilot turned off the overhead seat belt sign. Up, up and away…
We waited in line for over an hour for a rental car—a luxurious, fully-loaded (not) compact car which was not what we reserved. Apparently there was a big convention in town, as well as a country music festival. I know—Cleveland! From the get-go, we had decided to stay in a hotel in order to be able to spread out and keep our own schedule. We unloaded our bags, dragged the kids and car seats to a middle floor room, unlocked the door and were bowled over by the pungent smell of vintage ashtray. “It’s not that bad, right?” my husband and I tried to tell ourselves as our three year old jumped on the bed shouting, EWWWWWW! It’s stinky in here. Cleveland smells funny!” We lasted a dreadful 15 minutes as I imagined my unborn child chain-smoking a pack of Marlboros. They had no other rooms to offer us, but they were kind enough to direct us to a nearby hotel, similarly priced. Back in the car we went.
My husband dropped me at the hotel entrance so I could ensure they had a room. Nope. Try down the road. Nope. It was early October, so naturally it started snowing. Needless to say we weren’t prepared. I had on a flimsy cardigan. I remember feeling like the Virgin Mary trying to find lodging in Bethlehem. Although, I pictured her way more serene at the front desk. Finally, we found a place that had a room. At this point the kids were melting down, and fast. Crushed goldfish from my purse was no longer cutting it. We opted for fast food. As we sat in our hotel room snarfing down McDonald’s, I texted the fam to let them know we were set up. With excitement, we made plans to see them the next day. That didn’t happen because around 2 am, nature called. The food poisoning set in. It was so bad, the next day we headed to urgent care to ensure none of us was dangerously dehydrated.
The trip did pick up a little from there. Some highlights include being told how cute I looked, “like a little oompa loompa!” and constantly being quizzed about whether or not I was sure I was having twins. NO. TWINS. Or the hotel accidentally losing my son’s favorite stuffed animal when they changed the sheets, and waiting on the tarmac for two excruciating hours because a Presidential candidate had been cleared to land.
When we look back on that trip, my husband and I laugh about it. It wasn’t so funny then. It was actually beyond tough. Even writing about the food poisoning, now 11 years later, I wince. But we got through it. In the rear view, there’s so much we would have done differently. Some of our situation was just plain old bad luck, but some of it was because we were inexperienced family travelers—there’s a big difference from an average independent traveler and a family traveler. One path is a lot more clear cut, the other full of more twists and turns, and air sickness. But if there had been a guide who could have wisely counseled us the best area to stay, to pack for snow in case, what restaurants to avoid, and why it’s not ideal visiting family when you're 6 months pregnant and the last time they saw you was pre-kids days…
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