Mar 2, 2009

21 hrs in pictures, DCA-ORD-PEK

We got back to Beijing late yesterday afternoon, after even more of a marathon of a trip than usual. In its infinite wisdom, United chose to suspend the Dulles - Beijing nonstop, just for the month of February, so we had to fly through Chicago in both directions, which probably doesn't sound like a lot, but added about 6 hours' travel time to the "usual" 15 door-to-door for the nonstop. Heading out from Beijing is always easier, because the flight departs late in the day and Bella generally sleeps most of the way. Coming back, though, is another story. We left my parents' house in Virginia at 7:30 a.m. EST, and between then and the time we arrived at our apartment at 5:30 pm, Beijing time (21 hrs later), Bella had slept a total of TWO HOURS. She had dark circles under her eyes, would start howling at the least provocation (like her Pappa explaining that the sun was going down, and her, insisting that in fact it was going UP), and was barely able to take five steps without falling down. Poor baby. Dinner, a bath, and that was it for her that day.

On one hand, she is, unquestionably, a great little air traveler. She loves to watch the airplanes and general activity at airports, and only requires a lollipop or gummi bears to get through takeoff and landing. She charms the heck out of flight attendants by running into the galley and saying, "Please may I have some milk" in her teeny little voice, and then following with a resounding "Oh TANK YOU" when she gets it. And yes, she is on planes a lot. I will admit to quietly (and hopefully discreetly) rolling my eyes whenever someone complains about two- and three-hour flights with their kid.

But the fact that she doesn't throw tantrums or run screaming up and down the aisles is as much because of the little entertainment arsenal that I carry in my backpack. And that, my friends, requires preparation. Here's what I was packin' on this last trip:

- MacBook with her library of Backyardigans, SuperWhy, Kailan, and Little Einsteins
- Extra battery for the MacBook
- iPod with a smaller selection of above shows
- Ponies from McDonald's happy meal (one of which was brand new and she had never seen before)
- 2 coloring books (also never seen before)
- Crayola Magic Markers (the kind that only draws on the special paper) and a pad of the special paper
- Small packet of foam beads (from the $1 bin at Michaels)
- stickers, post-its and a small pack of origami paper (I forgot it this time, but I usually also have a small roll of tape)

The key to a lot of this stuff is that they were things she'd never seen before. The amount of quiet time you get out of an item is roughly in direct proportion to the novelty of the item. And you can't forget to factor in the weight of the item (since you're carrying it around) - that's why those foam activities from the sale bin at Michaels are the best. The mac, though it does provide the longest stretches of quiet time, is also heavy, and on this trip she actually preferred to play and color rather than watch something. And what parent isn't gratified to hear their kid turn down TV?

Mik complains that I buy Bella too much STUFF. And yes, in the whole scheme of things maybe I will cop to that. But if a $1 coloring book will keep her from climbing the back of her seat and dangling from the overhead luggage bins (which she WOULD do, given half a chance), I dare him to say that isn't a purchase worth its weight in gold. Or better yet, HE can try keeping her busy for 18 hours at 36,000 feet.

ps. You'll look at these pictures and say, "Didn't she pack a HAIRBRUSH?" and yes, I did manage to change her clothes and clean her up a bit before landing. I, on the other hand, went through immigration with matted hair and the back of my sweater tucked into my underwear. Nice.