Monday, January 17, 2011

The Fine Art of Packing

Mollie writes:

Having achieved the ripe old age of 58, I can look back and count multiple times I've had to pack. I packed up a few times when I was a single woman, moving from one apartment to another, packed for a trip to Hawaii, packed again when John and I married, packed for our months long stay in Europe, packed for camping trips, sailing trips, ad nauseam.

Packing for myself was a breeze when I was young and unmarried. Imagine having a suitcase and carry-on for one's self only.

Every time I've packed since, I've had to repeatedly ask my self, "What do we need" "What can we do without, and what, if any, luxuries we should take with us."

I think the most challenging packing I've done is when we took the kids to Europe for three months (two months in Switzerland, two weeks in France, Easter in Salzburg and a week in Boston. I was packing for myself, Peter and Roger - I let John pack for himself! He needed two of the four suitcases we were allowed, he needed work clothes (suits & ties) as well as leisure clothes. He also had to bring a swarm of paperwork as we didn't have cd's floppies, laptops and the like in those days. It turned out that with four suitcases and four carry-ons, luxuries were just that, luxuries. We did with only absolute necessities.

Pete was just four years old and growing like a weed. Roger was 20 months old, still in diapers, and also growing like a weed. Roger was taking a Phenobarbital elixir for febrile seizure prevention (he'd had a lulu of repeated seizure activity when he was 10 months old). AND he was still in diapers!

Taking a look at our needs, we decided that we should bring a minimum of clothing - I figured I could find a laundromat where I could keep up with our washing. I converted from cloth diapers to disposable diapers, packed up a bunch of medication for colds, flu, and pain, a medication spoon, and the other accoutrements of basic parenting. We packed some toys, books, cassettes and cassette players with the regulation adaptors for Switzerland and France and Austria On the day we left, we each took charge of a child and slung carry-ons over our shoulders and made our merry way to 'Yurp.

We actually packed quite well, but not well enough. We ended up buying more clothes for the kids because they had the nerve to grow while we were gone. We ended up borrowing toys from friends in Switzerland when the few we packed just didn't cut it. We were amazed how expensive toys were in Europe, as well as children's clothes. My days of buying $.99 pants at K-Mart were still in the future.

When it came to deciding what to include in the carry-on versus checked luggage, we found it was a no brainer. Into the carry-ons went some of the toys and all the drugs, diapers, and sippy cups. Diaper wipes were in abundance, as were earplugs and security objects (blankies and the like). Even though we'd packed our carry-ons conservatively, we still looked like a pioneer family as we ventured off into the unknown.

Well, a Mollie can't pack too many diapers, as this Mollie learned on the flight over the Atlantic. Apparently there was another family who didn't pack diapers, assuming that disposables would be available on the plane. When we finally landed in Zurich, I found we had only three diapers left. It was a Sunday, and in Switzerland in 1986, all stores were closed on Sundays. Fortunately, we had friends in Switzerland who helped up scrounge up a dozen more diapers before the stores opened again on Monday. I have no idea how that other family coped once the plane landed!

In the end, I used up the Acetaminophen, cold medicine, diapers and Phenobarbital. Old clothes for the kids were replaced by a few new items, and Mom and Dad bought precious few souvenirs. But we had rolls and rolls of film that packed quite nicely in the carry-ons on the way home. That was enough.

So now we are packing for another trip to Europe this spring. We no longer have to worry over diapers and phenobarb. These concerns are replaced with the medications I bring for MS and other medical issues John and I have. I'm charging my DVD player and taking it on the plane with me, as well as my Kindle. I'm figuring out how much we can do without in the carry-ons, which really isn't a problem as you can carry-on very little these days. And with no pre-schoolers in tow, we actually have to pack things to amuse ourselves!

I've learned how to multi-task with the basics. I pack only black and brown clothes with a few scarves for color. I keep my cosmetics at a minimum since I don't pack 'em in the carry-ons, and packing things that spill, leak, ooze and seep seems futile anyway. I pack comfortable shoes so I can tromp anywhere I want, and I pack letters from my physicians to justify the small pharmacy we carry with us.

Packing for any trip can be a challenge, be it camping, sailing, touring or moving. But with the struggle comes the ultimate reality: what do we really need and what's a luxury. It turned out all we really needed were drugs, diapers, film, camera, and, of course, each other.


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