With nine children (and 11 dogs and a pot-bellied pig), I will admit that when my children were growing up, there was occasionally a comic aspect to our daily lives, and lots of opportunity for chaos and humor. In order to make our life work smoothly, I was supremely organized. When we boarded a plane, people would cringe to see a family with that many children (each child with their own bag of games, toys, art supplies, and headphones). Fellow passengers and crew always complimented us on how well behaved our children were. The secret was to keep them busy.
We traveled a lot, from San Francisco to Hawaii, New York, LA, and Europe, so my children were seasoned travelers. At the time, I was also writing four books a year, doing three or four TV films and miniseries a year, and was a hands-on mom. The TV shows made it necessary to commute to LA, and to make that easier, I bought a “rock star bus” to take all the kids with me. Everyone I knew teased me mercilessly for our “land yacht,” but the kids loved it, and so did I. Two big living rooms, a kitchen and bathroom, 44 feet long, with two TVs and DVD players. We could take everything with us, in tote bags, odd-sized luggage, and even shopping bags.
So we set off for Wyoming one summer, as usual. The bus gave some very ugly noises on the way, and died in the middle of nowhere. On those trips, we were a visual combination of the Beverly Hillbillies and the little car in the circus with the clowns. After many hours at the side of the road, we got a flock of cars to pick us up and get us to Salt Lake City, so we could fly to Jackson Hole. The children thought it was a fabulous adventure. I was a little less amused. And we left the driver to deal with the ailing bus.
When we left the bus, my then-6-year-old son was clutching his two beloved sleep animals to his chest, Rocky and Fluffy, a well-worn bear and dog. He couldn’t sleep without them. Worried that he might lose them en route, I carried them for him as we boarded the plane to Wyoming and tucked them in with our other belongings in the overhead racks. Before he loosened his grip on them, he warned me sternly, “Don’t lose them!” Of course not!
In my role of Super Mom, there was no way I would lose Rocky and Fluffy.
Arrived at last in Jackson Hole… guess what? No Rocky or Fluffy. Super Mom had forgotten them on the plane. Disaster. My son was bereft, I felt terrible, and he cried for hours.
Sleep was out of the question without them. Desperate, I called Lost and Found at the airport, and the airline, and was informed that our plane would literally cross the country in short hops.
As tearful as my son by then, I called the ground agents at every airport, explained the disaster I had created, and begged them to check the plane for his lost friends. At each airport, I was minutes or hours too late, and the plane had just taken off again. I was told repeatedly that no beloved sleep animals had been found, and we must have left them somewhere else. I knew they were on the plane, and needed someone to check. I even promised my son I’d pray for them. Chasing them down was like chasing down a flea on a large dog, as the plane we’d been on crossed the country.
The last stop of the plane was Washington, D.C. It was midnight for us by then, and my son hadn’t stopped crying. By some miracle, the ground agent I spoke to in D.C. said she had two children and understood completely. She went out to the hangar to check the plane herself… and half an hour later, she had Rocky and Fluffy in her arms. She was instantly my best friend, and had confided that her own children’s dream was to go to Disneyland. Somehow she got Rocky and Fluffy on a flight, and by morning they arrived in Wyoming.
Hoping to chalk one up to religion I reminded my son that I had prayed for their safe return and said with a pious air, “And what did you learn from this?” He swiftly answered, “Never to trust you with Rocky and Fluffy again!” Amen. He didn’t lose them, I did! But the story had a happy ending for all. My son got his beloved sleep animals back, and our bus driver worked in security at Disneyland when not driving for us, so I was able to send the ground agent an all-expenses-paid weekend of VIP experiences at Disneyland for her and her children.
My reputation as Super Mom was somewhat tarnished after that adventure. But all’s well that ends well. Everyone was happy in the end. I was immensely grateful. And as a bit of travel advice, don’t forget your sleep animals in the overhead rack! Safe travels!
Danielle Steel is a best-selling author who has written 191 books. Her latest, The Butler, is out October 5.