How to Fly a Family of 9 Overseas During a Pandemic: Johnson Style

Having flown across the sea a number of times with any number of children, I’d like to think of myself as a veteran child/luggage/passport wrangler. I’m not easily phased by the prospect of 24 hours of travel with multiple dependents. At this point in life, traveling with less than 4 children is basically like flying solo, in my book. And if Jed is with me and we can tag-team? Oh baby, Amazing Race has nothing on us. We are unstoppable.

Now, flying during a pandemic with this many dependents, two of whom (I’m looking at you Bmo and Evie) will keep masks on for approximately 3 seconds before sending them shooting across the room, is pushing our skills to the next level. If it wasn’t for the fact that we haven’t been back to the US as a family for 2.5 years, and have in-person-Wide-Awake-business that needs to be done, I’m not sure we would attempt it. Am I nervous? Maybe a little. But, you see, our whole married life has been preparing us for this. When we were newlyweds we were taking teams of teenagers on short-term trips to work with Jed’s parents in Kosova. Flying with 15 teens and a 3 month old Addy during our second year of marriage was good prep for our current situation. ๐Ÿ˜‰

You’d think with all my gloating confidence I would be uber-prepared with laminated checklists and labeled passports…but, I have to confess that that is not the case. Jed and I are more “fly by the seat of our pants and pray everything gets done in time” type people. Somehow we manage to check everything off the lists (which we scribble on the back of receipts and lose 5 times before we actually check everything off), but I’m not sure our method is for everyone.

A few of the passports. I guess I should go find the others…

One week Till Go-Time

  • Decide to host a Thanksgiving feast for 25 people. Be sure to include everything on the menu and don’t cut any corners! Erect a tent outside to keep the feast pandemic-friendly. Make everything from scratch, as all the conveniences can’t be found in your host country. Spend 2 days in your kitchen totally destroying the deep-cleaning you did the week before while you were thinking you were “ahead of the game”.
  • Contact your brother to ask to borrow his van while in the US. You know, since you’ll be in the US for almost two months, it might be good to have a vehicle to drive…(face palm).
  • Check travel requirements and the lockdown situation in the states you are headed to. Search the internet for COVID testing sites that don’t require a physicians order. Make sure Boris can still enter the US on his visa and keep your fingers crossed that the world stays intact for just a few more days till you all cross the border together.

5 Days Till Go-Time

  • Stress about how you’ll keep a mask on Bmo and Evie for 20 hours. Lay awake at all hours of the night thinking about that instead of sleeping. You wouldn’t want to go into the travels too rested! Also, don’t forget to worry about Anton and Ruslan and if they’ll understand that you’re coming back. Sleep is for the weak.
  • Stock up on groceries for the next several days so you won’t be running to the store constantly and can focus on preparing for the trip. Make sure to forget TP and milk and at least three other items, just to insure you do have to, in fact, run to the store constantly.

4 Days Till Go-Time

  • Get all the suitcases out of the old house on the property where they’ve been stored for the past couple of years. Make sure to open them outside, as last time you opened one inside the house a mouse ran out and emotionally scarred you for life. You’ll never trust a suitcase again. Also, they’re covered in dust and nastiness. Employ teenage sons to give them a thorough cleaning. Argue with Jed about how many suitcases you will actually require for a family of 9 to spend 7 weeks away from home. Jed argues you can get by with just a couple of carry-ons- or maybe just a backpack for each? You argue that you would like to be able to change your clothes more than once during the 7 weeks and ask for checked bags. Jed considers…you drop it for the time being. (But you know you’ll win…hehe)
  • Check travel requirements and the lockdown situation in the states you are headed to, again. Double check that Bmo will still be able to enter the country (assuming he’ll wear a mask long enough to be allowed on the plane…)

3 Days Till Go-Time

  • You have your team over for the day to work and plan for your absence. You drink a lot of coffee and make another batch of homemade egg nog…because this day is a wash anyway. Nothing is getting done. The day might as well be tasty if it’s not going to be productive.

2 Days Till Go-Time

  • You venture, tentatively, into the pits of despair, aka dumpsters, that are your children’s bedrooms and sift through empty chip bags and wet towels and Seth “science experiments” to search for dirty clothes. I mean, if you’re going to fight with Jed over checked bags, you might need actual clothes to fill them. You then come to your senses and remember that your children are capable human beings and they, are in fact, the ones who should be sniffing through the piles of clothes on their floors. You come up out of the fog of teenage boy smells and instruct your children to do their laundry, if they intend on spending their time in the US clothed.
  • After much debate, you convince your 10 year-old son that it really is better to clean up the “science experiments” before travel. Yes, it could be fun to see what grows in them over the next 7 weeks, but it would be less fun to come home to a room full of mold. You assist him in cleaning his room. You want to poke your eyes out.
  • The house sitters come over for instructions. You share all the idiosyncrasies of your home and about how to care for your approx. 527 animals. When you get to the part about which drawers in the kitchen are prone to mice and which aren’t, you see their eyes grow wide and wonder if you should just stay home after all. On Instruction #182 their eyes kind of glaze over and you all just agree to text each other if questions come up. You never realized your house had so many idiosyncrasies!
  • You do laundry non-stop while the toddler destroys the house.

1 Day Till Go-Time

  • I guess it’s time to pack. You really do try to fit it all in the agreed amount of luggage, but there’s just so.many.people. The teenage boys fetch a couple more suitcases out of storage and Jed dies a little on the inside.
  • Run to the kids’ school to sign them out for the next couple of months. Oops. You actually should have done that last week. Better late than never!
  • More laundry, because it never ends.
  • You remember your children still need to eat today, but you didn’t really plan for that. Hmmm…haphazardly feed your children whatever is left in the kitchen: pickles, cheese, oatmeal, eggs? Never mind. You’re on your own, kids. Mom’s up to her eyeballs in laundry. Candy for lunch? Whatevs. You’ve got bigger fish to fry.
  • Clean and pack and wash and launder and pick-up and clean and pack and wash till the wee hours of the morning. At some point Jed runs to the store (again) for snacks for the plane. You heard they won’t feed you much on the plane these days, but teenagers and Bmos are hungry all the time, so you better stock up.
  • Pack the passports and check them 20 times to make sure you have 9 of them. Obsessively check travel sites to make sure Bmo will still be able to enter the US. Read up on airport rules and pray everyone wakes up healthy and ready to mask up.
  • Pack the suitcases in the van in the dark of night. Jed remarks more than a few times on the amount of luggage. You remind him that this isn’t a backpacking trip, and yes, you really do need more than one pair of shoes for a 7 week trip. You call truce and drink some egg nog.

Go-Time

  • Wake the troops in the middle of the night and check the passports 15 more times before groggily heading out the door.
  • Pat yourselves on the back for successfully exiting your life for the foreseeable future. You’re sure you forgot something, but you’re headed to the US! Anything can be replaced. -Except passports. You better check them just a couple more times…

See you on the other side! We’ll let you know how the Bmo-in-a-mask-for-20-hours goes down. If anything, it’ll make for good writing material. ๐Ÿ™‚

My McDonalds Alter Ego

Yesterday I had McDonalds for lunch, and it was delicious. Big Mac Meal with Coke, thank you very much! Don’t mind if I do. ๐Ÿ˜‹

Something interesting has happened to me over the past (almost) seven years of living in Ukraine. I have developed an alter ego when it comes to McDonalds. This change came upon me almost immediately upon moving to Ukraine, and while for some years I was embarrassed to admit it, I now fully embrace the McKrainain version of myself. No shame. No hiding. This is me- with ketchup.

Let me explain.

I feel like the US has this thing going on where everyone publicly denies their love for McDonalds, and yet McDonalds thrives and thrives. Last year they reported a revenue of more than 7 BILLION dollars…in the US alone! Soooo…as much as we might hate to admit it, someone’s gotta be eating all that McD’s…

I get it, I get it. It’s not necessarily the cool place to be seen at. I mean, if I was at McDonalds in the US and someone I know walked in, I’d feel like I kinda owed them an excuse. “Ummm Jed just really loves McDonalds. Of course I think it’s gross, but he’s just gotta have his McRib! I much prefer Chipotle, but you know…anywaysss…” (It’s so much easier to throw Jed under the bus, since he’s literally impossible to embarrass. Not that I take advantage of that. Ahem…) ๐Ÿคทโ€โ™€๏ธ

I have a friend who lives just up the hill from McDonalds in our home town in Oregon and I feel like I would do just about anything to make sure she never saw me in the drive-thru. Is it just me? Why all the McShaming? You gotta admit their fries are the besssssst. Come on, don’t be shy!

So yeah, when we lived in the US I was totally on the bash-McDonalds-bandwagon. But then, something about moving 6,000 miles away from everything familiar made me shift my perspective. Can’t imagine why.

In our city, McDonalds is the only American chain restaurant to be found. It’s also the only drive-thru, so there’s that. A couple hours away in Kyiv you can find KFC (but no biscuits or coleslaw, so yeah, not the same), Dominos, and maybe a small Baskin Robbins? But I think that’s it. And in our town, McDonalds is all we’ve got.

Upon our arrival in Ukraine with 4 littles and zero language skills, those Golden Arches spelled “HOME”. Once the jet-lag wore off and we kinda began to realize we were here for good, we couldn’t get there fast enough. Anytime we felt homesick or sad or helpless or stupid, a double cheeseburger and fries was what the doctor ordered. The food tasted the same. The menu was super similar. We could order basically in English and they could “mostly” understand us. In those early days, McDonalds not only filled our bellies, but it reminded us that we were not just the dumb Americans who couldn’t even grocery shop without feeling stupid. We were smart people with friends and family who loved us and a whole history of not-stupidness behind us. Seriously, Guys, nothing brings on humility stronger and faster than moving to a foreign country where English is not the official language. It’ll bring you down about 50 notches in the first 10 days. Ouch.

Evie and Daddy on a McDonalds Date

Over the years we’ve come to rely less on McDonalds to ease our pains, and it’s become more of a special treat. We take our kids there on dates. On the rare occasion when Jed and I are in town together without kids, we go there and it feels like our special secret. It tastes like home, even though we rarely ate it till we moved away from home. Oh the irony.

Another thing to note is that McDonalds is a totally legit place to eat in Ukraine. You would never be embarrassed to find one of your friends at McDonalds in our town. McDonalds is always a good idea here. It’s something special and it’s different than any other restaurant in our city. I feel zero McShame while in Ukraine. Bring on the burgers!

But, the minute the airplane touches down in the US, all that changes. I instantly become a person who wouldn’t even consider McDonalds. I am so high above McDonalds I can’t even be bothered to watch their commercials. All that grease! Why I never!

Is it because I don’t want to waste my time eating food in the States that is readily available in Ukraine? Is it because I’m surrounded by so many much tastier restaurants in the US and McDonalds isn’t special there? Or does the high schooler in me so readily succumb to peer pressure that I slide back in to my old prejudices as soon as I return to my old stomping grounds?

I could dive deeper into how all the parts of my personality shift from one continent to the other, but I’m not in the mood for introspection today. Let’s just say, that my McEgos are just one facet of the confusion that comes with living cross-culturally. What is widely acceptable to me in one place, does not always make the cut in the other. We’ve all become part chameleon over the past 7 years, I guess.

What about you? Have you ever traveled overseas? Did you have a hankering to eat at places that were familiar to you? Did the Golden Arches beckon? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments on food as “home” and on McDonalds in generally. Because, why not? ๐Ÿ˜†

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