We have arrived! Our travel days were full of depending on the kindness of strangers and happy reunions with the closest of friends
On our last day in Chicago, I took advantage of being on East Coast time in a central time zone to go for an early run along the lakefront and the river walk. I can tell running with the double stroller has been good conditioning because I am much faster without it. It was pretty wonderful.
Our room came with breakfast so we had a tasty buffet before Chris ran off to deliver his paper. Christopher kept saying that Daddy was delivering a paper and mentioned a forklift several times, so I’m pretty sure there was more manual labor involved in Christopher’s imagination than in the reality of the panel. I took the kids to the playground at Mary Daley Park. Christopher loved the play boat in keeping with his current pirate phase.
We walked back to the hotel to get all packed (how we make such a mess in 24 hours is always a mystery). I frantically got everything together while the long suffering bellhop I called too early helped me out. It was embarrassing.
We waited in the lobby where Christopher told everyone who could hear about the airplane he was about to go on. Chris arrived and we jerry-rigged all of our things together and immediately regretted bringing the car seats. Such is novice traveling, I suppose.
We looked like pack mules wandering the streets of Chicago as we made our way to the Blue Line ‘L’ train. It was scarily full as it pulled into the station, but thankfully a rather, shall we say, eccentric older lady complete with babushka scarf shouted “Go to the front of the train!” and started running. We followed because it seemed more productive than the deer in the headlights hesitation we were currently engaged in. She kept looking back to make sure we followed her as she pushed her way across the platform. She picked a door and started yelling, “Move for the mommy and the baby!” and by golly people made room. I said thank you and she sang a little “Every day is Mother’s Day!” ditty I can only assume is an original. I was feeling pretty sheepish about having the stroller and car seat and all our stuff on a packed train but people were understanding and helpful. I don’t know if it’s because of the kids or because it’s the Midwest, but we find Chicago to be a friendly city in general and the guy with the little dog who helped me maneuver a car seat continued to prove that true.
We got to O’Hare rather sweaty, but right on schedule, three hours before our flight to Frankfurt. Our credit card came with comped TSA Precheck, so post-luggage dump took about 10 minutes at the most to get to our gate. Chris had mercy on me and took Christopher to a kids’ play place when we reached the 200th iteration of “I want to go on the airplane.”
We got settled in our seats, mentally prepared for the 8 hour flight, picked out our movies (Chris: Passengers; Me: La La Land, again; Christopher: Toy Story 3), and I worked on getting Therese to sleep. The flight attendant brought us our bassinet after takeoff and Therese managed to transfer for a bit before waking up and wanting to party. Sigh. Eventually we all got to sleep after dinner, around 9:30 Chicago time. Poor Christopher had a tough time getting to sleep, but slept he did, for a bit. We probably got a total of 3-4 hours of fitful rest, helped by the free wine.
We made it to Frankfurt and wandered the labyrinthine halls for what seemed like forever, following signs down deserted corridor before we finally got to our gate. We had two hours to kill, so Christopher played with some kids from around the world at the play place. We chatted briefly with a man wearing a Georgetown shirt who was moving back to Saudi Arabia. His wife had gotten her physiology degree at Georgetown. Tiny world.
We managed to get Christopher to sleep for half of our flight to Birmingham, where we made it through passport control and baggage claim in record time. Unfortunately, we had budgeted a lot of time when we bought our train tickets to Oxford so we loitered in the train station lounge for a long time. Hurry up and wait, amiright? Also, the vape expo was held at the convention center connected to the station, so a truly interesting piece of humanity was out in full force. It was now that I started feeling the effects of very little sleep. The despair of ever making it to Oxford was exacerbated by the sheer amount of luggage we had to hoist onto the train and strategize about dragging off. This was the brief grumpy period, but the scenery on the train was beautiful and full of sheep.
Finally, we had made it to our destination! Oxford! Our friend, Jon, picked us up and dropped us off at our friends’ apartment that they are graciously letting us stay in while they’re in the US. Our brief drive showed that Oxford is even more magical than I expected. It is no wonder it is a literary place; I half expect to meet fairies in the meadows and dwarves in the pubs.
I passed out briefly to reenergize before dinner. The Askonases hosted a group at The Trout in celebration of CJ’s baptism. We drank Pimm’s and hugged and caught up and our friends played with our kids (until Christopher passed out at the table and was asleep for the next three hours…score). It was the happiest reunion of best college friends. It’s making a magical place even more extraordinary to be back with our sweet group. It’s incredible not only to be back with everyone, but also to celebrate the expansion of the posse with spouses and children. Jon cited our dear professor, Fr. James Schall’s last lecture in his welcome to all of us and it has been on my mind constantly the past two days.
Yet, it is quite clear that human life ultimately is about meeting again, about love and friendship and serious joy, about a final home. So let us think of meeting again, of drinking again from those great flagons in the inn at the end of the world, where we shall meet Dickens and all his friends, Socrates and those with whom he converses, yes, with the God who has told us, when we meet again, that we shall see Him, as we would want it, “face-to-face.”
There is more to say, but this is too long and I am exhausted. More next time!