Whatever can go wrong . . .


Writers of how-to articles about traveling with kids usually talk about Baby’s ears popping in airplanes and keeping little Junior and Sis amused on long drives so they don’t refight the Macedonian War in the back seat. Older kids, these writers seem to assume, can take care of themselves, when they deign to travel with Mom and Dad at all.

Of course, parents who believe that also believe in the magical repeal of Murphy’s Law the minute they step on an airplane. Having been on enough family trips to know that each contains its own seeds of disaster, my wife made what she thought were adequate preparations before we took off for Paris and London June 15. Travel insurance, of course, together with all the requisite supplies for my son’s allergies and asthma and my daughter’s nose bleeds.

I stocked up on Bufferin — headaches always hit me at the worst times on my jaunts around the planet. I knew that I would pack at least one thing that I would never use and forget at least one thing that I would definitely need, but two world capitals were not deserts. I could always pick up that pack of missing razor blades later. So, on to Narita.

Five years ago, I would have dreaded this trip, imagining the choruses of “I’m tired” and “When are we leaving?” at every gallery and museum. What, I wondered, was the point of schlepping off to Europe, if you’re going to end up at the local version of Disneyland? This time, with a middle schooler and high schooler in tow, I could hit the touristic high spots knowing that, educationally at least, I stood a chance of getting my money’s worth.

And so it proved. The kids survived the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and Versailles with nary a word of complaint, while showing a few glimmers of interest. True, they would have eaten pizza and spaghetti every day if they had their druthers, but that was a detail (anyway, I picked the restaurants).

I was also, without realizing it, running myself down playing tour guide and, on our last day in Paris, came down with a raging head cold — no help from Bufferin there. Then, just as we were about to board the Eurostar for London, my daughter exploded with the all-time Niagara of nose bleeds, while misplacing her luggage. Murphy was having one big laugh. In the first hour on the train my daughter and I ran through every tissue my wife had packed. Every trip must have a low point and this was ours, fathoms below the English Channel.

In London, I thought, things could only get better and for a while they did. My daughter, now fully recovered, thought she was in Harry Potter Land, while my son found all the rock ‘n’ roll cool he could hope for. Me? I thoroughly enjoyed that tourist trap I had avoided when I was a post-adolescent globe-trotting snob — the Tower of London. No Disneyland, it’s the real deal: 1,000 years of English history in one gloriously romantic and famously bloody jumble of a castle that is still home to the Beefeaters — the guys in the red uniforms who serve as tour guides and photos ops for the millions of tourists flowing through the place every year.

Fun times never last, do they? The last night of the trip my son had his worst asthma attack in months. His inhaler, which might have cleared it up, was in a drawer in Tokyo — he hadn’t used it in nearly two years. What to do on a Sunday morning in a strange city? Call a cab for the short ride to St. Mary’s Hospital, next to Paddington Station. The people in the reception room looked as though they had been camping out for weeks; a scrawled notice informed us that waits for “major” problems averaged five and a half hours. Including coronaries?

Perhaps Ray’s problem was super major. A wonderful no-nonsense nurse named Caroline treated him within half an hour (and scolded him for not knowing the names of his medicines, while I ground my toe into the linoleum). By noon we were on our way, chastened but immensely grateful to the good angels at the National Health Service. The cost? Nothing. Hurrah for socialized medicine!

The Guinness I drank in celebration at a neighborhood pub was creamy and delicious. We were going to make our airplane after all — and the hell with Murphy anyway.