Going to Jersey Without an Alligator: By SUSAN PARKER

Tuesday October 12, 2004

When I told friends I was flying back East with my two and a half year old nephew, Bryce, they looked at me like I was crazy.  

“Are you nuts?” Rose asked.  

“Better to travel with an alligator than a two year old,” advised Ruthie. “When the air conditioning kicks in, the alligator goes into hibernation.” 

No amount of explaining seemed to dissuade the skeptics. I bragged that Bryce had already flown to and from Philadelphia once before to visit his paternal grandparents, and that he had been to Japan three times for extended stays with his maternal grandparents. 

“He has more stamps on his passport than I do,” I boasted. “He was once handed over the customs desk in Tokyo and traded for a video camera. His parents flew to Bangkok. Bryce left in the arms of his Ji-ji and Ba-ba. He never looked back.” 

My explanations were met with deaf ears. Everyone said I was asking for trouble. After awhile I began to think they might be right.  

But my brother and sister-in-law are optimists. Every day for months they talked to Bryce about going to New Jersey with Aunt Suzy until he was waking up in the morning and yelling, “Is today the day I go to Jersey?” 

My brother answered, “No, not yet, but when you go, can I come too?” Bryce replied, “No way. I’m going to Granny and Pop Pop’s without you.”  

When our flight was called at SFO, Bryce shouted. “That’s us.” He barreled down the aisle and found his seat like a seasoned traveler. He snapped his seat belt in place and said, “What’s to eat?”  

By the time Bryce had finished the fish crackers and teddy bear cookies his mother had packed for him, our plane was speeding along the runway. It was when we were over San Francisco that he turned to me and asked, “Where’s Daddy?” 

Big crocodile tears formed in his eyes and I knew I was in trouble. “Where’s Daddy?” I repeated, stalling for time.  

Bryce nodded affirmatively.  

“Why he’s… he’s… he’s not here,” I stuttered.  

“Yes he is,” said Bryce. “Let’s find him.”  

Together we walked up and down the aisle fifty or sixty times. Bryce kept looking for his daddy while I sweated bullets and wondered how we were going to make it through the next four hours. Finally, after the flight attendants told us to sit down, and after bumping into the man in seat 3A for the hundredth time, Bryce fell asleep. I didn’t get a wink of shuteye, but Bryce snoozed all the way to Philadelphia.  

Our visit to New Jersey was magical. Granny and Pop Pop were the embodiment of doting grandparents and Bryce was only too happy to comply with their expectations that he was one of the greatest grandchildren of all time. After four days we headed back to Philadelphia International Airport, where all hell broke loose. 

At the check-in desk I learned that our flight had left two hours earlier. Apparently, I had been sent emails informing me of the change in the schedule. I had thought it was spam and erased the messages without reading them. I hadn’t confirmed the flight before the 90-minute drive to the airport, naively thinking that if the trip East had gone as planned, the return flight would do the same.  

There were no other US Air flights leaving that night for the Bay Area. We had to take a motel room and wait until morning. My nephew gutted out this unexpected change like a pro. My parents and I didn’t do as well, although liberal quantities of cheap red wine eased the pain. The return flight home was easy. Bryce slept the entire way. I had a headache. 

I once read an article that advised that one should visit Paris only with someone they love. I’d like to amend that statement by suggesting that if one has to go to New Jersey, one should go only with someone they adore. I’ve done it, and it’s fun.t