Even though Munchkin repeatedly fought sleep like a champ (I think everyone sitting within three rows of us knows all ten verses of "The Ants Go Marching"*) on the outgoing flight, we arrived back in the US relatively unscathed. Considering how easy it was to distract 3 1/2-year-old Monkey (food! toys! hours of kiddie television!) and how hard it was to distract 14-month-old Munchkin (I want to walk! No, I want to climb stairs--Ooooo, cheerios--No, I want YOUR food!) I think there should be a ban on children traveling between the ages of 6 months and 18 months. It's just too hard to keep a toddling infant with strong opinions and poor judgement under control. We sat in one of several bulkhead rows and our seatmates with younger babies had a much easier than us: give milk, sleep, cuddle, repeat. Munchkin slept sometimes, but she also wanted to keep walking everywhere, touching things and asking baby questions. By the time we flew back, she had at least acquired the endearing habit of blowing kisses to everyone which surely saved us from dirty looks on the last 15-hour-leg.
Besides the actual travel and jet lag, there were other changes to navigate. We had to keep Munchkin from breaking multiple items in non-baby-proofed homes. She begged us to give her pieces of everything we were eating--even the spicy food--but I don't know if letting her do so proved to be so smart for her tummy. The kids and I stuck to bottled water and we were extra careful to not to take any risks eating uncooked food.
Since the kids had only seen their grandparents on Skype for the last year, we were a little worried how they would do when left with them only days after our arrival. However, the kids had a blast and didn't mention our absence once. In Dubai, Monkey was so enthralled with his four-year-old cousin, he barely noticed our presence. In India, Munchkin and Monkey's older cousins took them under their wing and played with them, patiently guided them and made them laugh throughout our stay.
In contrast to the playground visits and casual play-dates here, Monkey spent hours outside, out of my sight. The property was walled in from the chaotic traffic outside, and I could hear him as he tried to play cricket with his uncles and learned to climb trees.
Not only did my kids get a chance to know their cousins, we had the opportunity to reconnect with my husband's sister, brother-in-law and parents. His college-aged cousin joined us rafting on the Ganges and we all got to go out for a night out while the grandparents watched all four (mostly-sleeping) kids. The days full of activities and company were a lot of fun and so different from my more solitary existence at home.
I'm enjoying being back in my home and, despite the travel challenges, I know I'm lucky to be able to make the trip and that everything went so smoothly. It was good for all of us to spend so much time with family. I only wish I could bring them back home with us.
*Why no airline has created a sound-proof seating area for parents with young kids is beyond me. They could include a play area and both parents and kid-free travelers could breathe a sigh of relief.