“Juliette… Il est cinq heures moins cinq, chérie.”

It’s the first time in months that I don’t wake up to the sound of Mark’s voice—whining, playing, talking to himself or calling us. I jerk awake, slightly disoriented.

Oh, right. The moment has come.

We are leaving.

I must have fallen asleep around 3 a.m.—definitely not enough shut-eye time. Whatever. There is no way to ease these early-morning departures; I didn’t even try to get a full night’s sleep. What do I need to be rested and alert for, anyway? Feng and I have been through these before-sunrise departures a hundred of times before. When did it happen last… let me see… oh yeah, that early flight from Santiago, Chile, to Puerto Iguazú, Argentina, last winter. Again, we hadn’t slept much. But we made it, right? It’s the result that matters, I’m telling you. Not remembering how you made it? Meh. Irrelevant. Yes, even with a child in tow.

We aren’t new to the game.

We packed the night before so we just have to put clothes on and get Mark ready. Socks, jeans, t-shirt. I brush my teeth, clean my face, and run my fingers through my hair. Good enough. I’m aiming for “not a bum/kind of look like her passport picture”, not entering a beauty contest.

This reminds me to double-check for passports and wallet—these are the most important items.

Mark sounds alert, which doesn’t mean he is. Kids are weird.

5:10 a.m. I’m standing by the door. “Come on guys, go, go!”

My dad is getting dressed.

“Non, non, papa. We’re good.”

He protests but I don’t want him to walk us to the tramway station.

I have my reasons. First, it’s early and he doesn’t need to go through all the trouble. Feng and I are backpackers and we carry just that—backpacks. We don’t need help, really.

Second, and most importantly, I want to avoid saying goodbye. I can’t stand it. It’s painful, too painful, and if I stop moving and snap out of “action” mode, I’m going to start crying.

And I won’t be able to stop.

There is only one way to leave—quick.

I don’t hug, I don’t say much. Let’s pretend we are all asleep, let’s reinforce the “shit, we need to hurry up” feeling.

“Bye!” I say, closing the door behind us.

We run downstairs, put Mark in the stroller, open the door and step into the empty street.

I know my mum is behind the window, upstairs, on the second floor, watching us leave. Just thinking about it makes me want to cry. I’m pretty sure she is crying.

I can’t cry now. I need to focus.

Crying won’t help, anyway.

I walk as fast as I can, pushing the stroller to the tramway station.

There is no right way to say goodbye. It’s like taking a bandage off, you have to rip it off fast and hope for the best.

It heals eventually.

I’ve been leaving people and places for a long time now. I should know.

5:25 a.m. The 5:30 a.m. tramway should arrive soon. I hope so, anyway, because Plan B would be to walk to the station.

The tramway arrives. Phew. Three stops. Mark insists to sit by the window. I’d rather him stay in the stroller but I won’t win the fight.

Nantes’ train station is busier than you’d think on a Tuesday at 6:00 a.m. We are on the Nantes – Lilles train, with stops in Angers Saint-Lô (no, it’s not pronounced “Anger”), Le Mans and Roissy – Charles-de-Gaulle. A three-hour long trip and only the first leg of the journey for us.

I see the sunrise, I hear other passengers, I cringe every time the train manager makes announcements in French and in bad English, and finally, we arrive. I think I was deep asleep between Le Mans and Roissy and I’m sore—I rested my head on my bag, not exactly an ergonomic position to finish the night (or start the day).

The TGV station is packed and we slowly make our way to Terminal 2A, tripping over people’s suitcases. The Air Canada check-in counter has just opened and the lineup is long. In front of us, an argument starts between a passenger (country unknown, but he spoke French and held an olive green passport) and an airport employee checking travel documents.

“You’re skipping the line!”

“I did not. My friend queued while I was buying a ticket!”

“I’ve been standing here since 9:30 a.m. I didn’t see you.”

“How can you prove it?”

“Passport and tickets. How long will you be in Canada?”

“This is none of your business.”

“That’s it! I’m calling a supervisor. Sir, we have to ask these questions.”

“You’re not the police.”

“You have to answer my questions.”

“If you make me miss my flight, I’ll sue.”

People are on the edge at the airport. It’s packed, soldiers with machine guns patrol the terminals and between luggage, carts and people you can’t move without bumping into something or someone.

I see the passenger’s point, I understand the airline employee. I just hope he won’t be in front of us for passport control in Toronto because this kind of attitude won’t fly in North America. Plus, I can’t help wondering what kind of person buys a plane ticket at the airport, especially when he already has a visa for Canada.

None of my business. The lineup is finally moving and we get the boarding passes.

We take a breather outside and we go through security, managing to sneak in a bottle of juice for Mark.

The terrorists have won.

Oh, and I had lighters in my bag as well.

I thought we would be stuck at the gate for a while but it’s almost time to board. We buy Mark a last overpriced ham-and-cheese sandwich, bribe him with Sprite like any other good parent would have done and we step into the aircraft just to realize that 1) it’s a fairly small plane for a transatlantic flight 2) we aren’t seated together.

We aren’t the only parents travelling with kids who have different seats. As tempting as it is to leave perfect strangers to deal with the brats, we team up to figure out how to make it work.

“The flight is oversold,” the stewardess complains. “I’m tired of dealing with ticketing issue. There is no guarantee that members of a same family can sit together.”

Oh yeah? How about figuring out a way to sit families of three in the row of three seats, and couples in the row of two seats?

We finally all take seats that weren’t the ones assigned and sigh loudly.

The movie selection sucks, it’s an old aircraft and my entertainment system lags. First-world problem, I know. Mark has the tablet and watches Despicable Me (his new favourite movie since we took him to see Minions in France) but he falls asleep just when his meal is brought. Feng and I eye it. Chicken and potatoes, salad (just lettuce, I really can’t see why this is part of a kid’s meal), three packs of ketchup and a cookie.

Feng steals the cookie.

Food with Air Canada is invariably “pasta” or “chicken”. I made the mistake of choosing “pasta” on the way to France and I ended up with soggy macaroni covered half in white sauce and half in tomato sauce. This time, I pick “chicken” and promptly hand my two-inch big piece of meat over to Feng, therefore eating carrots and broccoli. I also give him my cookie but I eat the bread.

We finally land in Toronto eight hours later. I know that most people dislike their national airline company but I can’t help thinking Air Canada is barely average. Old aircraft, flights that are often delayed or oversold, unhelpful employees… oh, and on a Paris-Toronto flight, apparently, no employee spoke French. Go figure.

3 p.m. local time. Our flight to Ottawa is at 4:10 p.m. Can we make it or should we add it to the long list of “Canadian domestic flights we missed”?

We rush and we make it, only to realize that, once again, we aren’t seated together.

Air Canada really doesn’t want parents to parent.

I give up on moving people around for our convenience and Mark sits with Feng. I need to get ready for Ottawa, whatever that means.

A six-week long break.

Reset.

I hope.

Nantes' Train Station at 6 a.m.
Nantes’ Train Station at 6 a.m.
Nantes' Train Station at 6 a.m.
Nantes’ Train Station at 6 a.m.
Nantes' Train Station at 6 a.m.
Nantes’ Train Station at 6 a.m.
The "fuck what I am doing here" selfie
The “fuck what am I doing here” selfie
Half asleep in the TGV to Charles-De-Gaulle
Half asleep in the TGV to Charles-De-Gaulle
Half asleep in the TGV to Charles-De-Gaulle
Half asleep in the TGV to Charles-De-Gaulle
Half asleep in the TGV to Charles-De-Gaulle
Half asleep in the TGV to Charles-De-Gaulle
Between the Police and the Military at Charles-De-Gaulle ("Look Mark, trucks!!)
Between the Police and the Military at Charles-De-Gaulle (“Look Mark, trucks!!)
No comment
No comment
Half asleep somewhere above the Atlantic Ocean
Half asleep somewhere above the Atlantic Ocean
Desperate for coffee at Toronto's Airport
Desperate for coffee at Toronto’s Airport
Desperate for coffee at Toronto's Airport
Desperate for coffee at Toronto’s Airport
You know you're back in Canada when you read the Globe & Mail while drinking Tim Hortons coffee
You know you’re back in Canada when you read the Globe & Mail while drinking Tim Hortons coffee
Flying to Ottawa
Flying to Ottawa
Leaving Toronto
Leaving Toronto
Leaving Toronto
Leaving Toronto
Landing in Ottawa
Landing in Ottawa

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14 Comments

  1. Jeruen August 13, 2015 at 9:42 am

    I am glad you guys have made it back!

    Waking up early for a flight before sunrise is definitely not fun; I can only imagine how much more difficult it is when you have a toddler traveling with you!

    Reply
    1. Zhu August 13, 2015 at 7:50 pm

      Yes and no… I mean, I just want to be left alone and if he is hyper it annoys me, that’s the only potential issue.

      Reply
  2. Lynn August 14, 2015 at 9:55 am

    Ugh, just reading this made me feel exhausted. it’s so strange how sitting in a bus/car/plane for a whole day can really wipe you out. Hope you’re recovering well now that you’re home!

    I heard lots of scary stories about people on Air Canada flights not sitting with their kids, so I actually coughed up the cash ($10 per person) to pre-pick our seats on our flight home from Calgary. It was worth it to me for the peace of mind – I knew I’d have a freak out if they tried to sit my kid with strangers. The flight was indeed oversold and other families were not seated together. Do you think they are trying to build up a reputation for this in order to extort the seat-choosing money from people? GAH.

    Reply
    1. Zhu August 14, 2015 at 2:12 pm

      I had no idea you could choose your seats on long-haul flights. I’m naive, I guess I assumed it was in everybody’s best interest to sit families together…! I refuse to pay for that, though, although I understand your choice.

      Reply
  3. Julien August 15, 2015 at 1:34 pm

    Beau défi ! Mais je me demandais, en temps normal, l’été, il n’existe des vols directs Nantes-Montréal ?

    Reply
    1. Zhu August 15, 2015 at 10:29 pm

      Oui, avec Air Transat (c’est ce qu’on a fait l’été dernier). Mais là les disponibilités ne collaient pas, les prix non plus… puis en fait, on ne gagne pas tant de temps que ça. Il faut quand même aller à l’aérport de bonne heure!

      Reply
  4. I Say Oui August 15, 2015 at 8:40 pm

    Yes! Like ripping off a band-aid is exactly how I have been describing the possibility of leaving Paris. And it applies to each time I have said goodbye to my family when leaving the States.

    Reply
    1. Zhu August 15, 2015 at 10:30 pm

      I’m sure you know the feeling too… there is just no right way to do it.

      Reply
  5. Martin Penwald August 16, 2015 at 6:05 am

    Tsss, tsss, tsss …
    After this long, you still cry when you leave your parents ? That is not serious.
    Same thing here, I can’t help it.

    Reply
    1. Zhu August 16, 2015 at 11:18 pm

      Ce sont les onions. Ça doit être ça. Ou une poussière dans l’oeil… enfin, les deux yeux.

      Reply
      1. Martin Penwald August 18, 2015 at 11:10 am

        Ah, ouais. Elles sont terribles, les tempêtes de sable, en France.

        Reply
        1. Christine August 18, 2015 at 8:37 pm

          Nous, ma famille, on appelle ça des allergies! Yep, oh, allergies again, just as I am saying goodbye to my sister and nieces as we are separated once again! The image of your dad wanting to walk with you and your mom at the window brought tears to my eyes. It reminds me so much of my parents! Every second spent with you is cherished by them, I am sure!

          Reply
          1. Zhu August 18, 2015 at 10:41 pm

            This cute, I’m stealing your line for the next time. Sigh. There will be more goodbyes… more happiness… such is life!

  6. Pingback: People of Nantes – Summer 2015 [4]

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