This morning I was at the airport in Houston for the 52nd time since April 2012 when I first touched down for a flying visit to look at schools and houses. By the time we leave for good in less than three weeks, that will have nudged up to 57 times. That’s 57 times in 28 months, which is an average of almost once a fortnight. Now despite what Mr N would have you believe, this isn’t because I’ve had a holiday every two weeks or so (although, depending on one’s definition, I could be considered to have been on a permanent holiday for two years). I do acknowledge that 14 of the 57 will have been for holiday flights that have involved me. As these figures include both departures and arrivals, that’s seven holidays in 28 months which equates to one every four months. Possibly a little excessive, maybe, but four of these have been long weekends on cheap last minute.com sorts of deals, more like mini breaks than full blown vacations really, so ignore these and that’s three holidays in a bit over two years. (I’m not going to go down the road trip route today – don’t mind the pun – which are, well, arduous, driving-wise, not what everyone would typically define as a holiday and honestly quite certainly not restful.) So anyway, that means that 43 of these trips, predominantly to George Bush Intercontinental but also including William P Hobby, have not been for my holidays. Rather, they have been, mainly, to pick up or drop off other people who have been coming here to see us, or to drop off and then pick up people who normally live here who have been going visiting somewhere else.
The point that I have rather laboriously been coming to is this: as an ex-pat, life revolves around airports and aeroplanes, and as an ex-pat in the US, where exploring the country means either getting cosy with your car for many hours on the road or flying because it’s vast and doesn’t really do trains, then it’s extra aero-centric.
Firstly, while Mr N can be a bit sniffy about my holiday habit (his terminology), back home in England we were not averse to regular weekends away in London and Edinburgh, say, as a family, or trips to the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales, Wales (north and south), holidays in Devon and Cornwall and Norfolk and the Highlands of Scotland, and further afield and for longer in Europe, and I had my fair share of girls’ weekends, most recently to Bath and Oxford and London and Anglesey. The kids, too, had trips away – with school and, H and F at least, with friends and to festivals. We sometimes flew, but usually didn’t need to. Within America, more often than not we have flown, and that has included school trips – no puking on coaches for our little darlings out here! If you want to see places and visit people, air travel tends to be necessary. Now admittedly that’s “necessary” in the top-end terms of my first world privileged lifestyle, but in the context of home (UK) and here (US) and making the most of these specific circumstances in which we find ourselves, I think I can just about justify use of the word necessary.
Secondly, we are a holiday destination! In a period of 18 months we had 22 visitors in 11 separate visits. Undeniably this visitation rate has noticeably diminished over the course of Year Two, after all it’s expensive to get here, a bit of a schlepp, it’s not New York, few people are gonna come twice (put your hand up the marvellous Mildred for that one!), and, of course, we’re coming home now so everyone can see us for free. Nevertheless, it’s a fact of peripatetic life that folks will want to come and stay with you and enjoy the country you’re in while they’ve got the chance. And being visited means airport pick-ups and drop-offs as well as mini-trips with the guests squashed into the itinerary: you’ve gotta give ‘em a good time, right?
Then there’s the reason you’re here in the first place – work. Actually Mr N has travelled less while here than he used to in his previous non-ex-pat job, but he’s had a few jollies as well as his 2014 exile to Oz that have required airport trips (I always take him and pick him up, he seems to have an aversion to taxis even though they’re on expenses. How good a wife am I? Thank you). Very many of my fellow trailing spouses’ spouses spend a lot of time in the air. It kind of comes with the territory.
Fourth, there’s the daughter thing. H is at university in England. She is by no means hard done by. We give her a very generous student allowance. She always seems to land on her feet (in the words of Grandma, “she could fall in a bog and come up smelling of roses”). She’s working in Italy right now. She has another job back in England in a few weeks. With the proceeds of both, she’s planning a trip to South Africa. She almost doesn’t need us (almost is the key word here). Frankly, it’s often fraught and sometimes edgy and always shouty when she’s here. But. She’s our daughter and she’s usually 5,000 miles away. I cannot, and do not want to, deny her opportunities to come to Houston to be with us. Mr N and I miss her, her brothers miss her (they might deny it but they do), she misses them (she might deny it but she does). Why be four when we can be five like we used to be? The only answer to that is why not?
It’s been a case of logistics over luxury, without a doubt. However, very soon, visit number 57 will kick-start our final journey home and my relationship with the airports of Houston will be over. As it’s our “demobilisation” flight we get to go business class so the luxury, temporarily, is going to take over. But it’s the logistics that win, and right now I’m wishing they weren’t being quite so final.