One Saturday afternoon in early February, both of our kids were napping at the same time, which was 1) a damn miracle and 2) an opportunity for Matt and I to have a conversation lasting longer than 22 seconds without interruption. I truly can’t remember how the idea first came up, but as we talked in some depth about upcoming travel for his job and bigger picture life and career things, Matt asked me if I’d be interested in temporarily moving to Brazil for a major project his engineering firm was leading. I felt a strumming vibration in my heart and said yes without hesitation. He asked me if I’d really be okay leaving my job. I said yes again. I said I’d want enough time to leave the right way, but that yes, I would give up my job for a chance to live abroad with Matt and our kids. Since our failed move to Argentina in 2012, we’ve dreamed about trying again.
Matt and I are planners to the core, and before the kids woke up, we started fleshing out details and writing out lists of questions and tasks. The paramount task was to propose the idea to Matt’s company. The paramount question was what to do with our house, which we love and moved into only two years ago. We decided that the best case scenario for us would be to ask my sister and her husband to live there and take care of it until we got back. Conveniently, we were spending time with them that evening, and giddy with the possibility of this move, we blurted our plans out to them on a train ride into downtown St. Paul. They were on board immediately. We then moved forward, full speed, with the goal of getting to Dourados in mid-July.
After months of preparation and paperwork, excited conversations and teary goodbyes, July 16th finally arrived.
MS(t.) P(aul) → ATL → GRU → VCP → DOU(rados)
Saying that you’re moving to Brazil has a very exotic ring to it, which overshadows some of the realities of our relocation. For one, our new city, Dourados, is not known to have any real tourism infrastructure or attractions. It is not a place that Brazilians would choose to visit, let alone travelers of international origins. Second, it requires difficult travel to reach. Our itinerary for our inaugural journey to Dourados was 27 hours long, from airport to airport (to van transport to airport). Quasi-minimalists that we are, we elected to check all of our belongings rather than shipping anything. We showed up to MSP on the afternoon of Monday, July 16th, with four massive suitcases, two carseats, a double stroller, three carryon bags, and ourselves.
I thought we were pretty smart packers, at least as far as our checked luggage. We pared down our clothing to near-capsule wardrobes, in terms of size and functionality, and we brought only favorite paperback books, a smattering of well-loved, durable toys, and a few items made necessary by our kids’ ages (i.e. a collapsible booster seat for August and a flat, compact toilet seat-adapter for Oscar). But even with our careful planning and relatively frill-free packing (one jar of peanut butter does not a luxury make), our bags were still enormously heavy: three out of the four were 15 pounds overweight.
Our carryon bags were heavy, too. We brought with us our laptops, water bottles, changes of clothing, Kindles, a few books and toys, and snacks. We’d been given the very good advice to prioritize snacks over toys for the kids, and what I learned en route was that at least for our kids, and at least at this age, I’d actually cut out the toys completely and save my back the weight of activities they ultimately would have no interest in.
We had plenty of time for activities, too, even though our longest flight was our overnight flight. Both kids were wide awake for our three-ish hour flight from MSP to ATL, and we knew then that we were in for it. Oscar is plenty happy to binge episodes of Paw Patrol and Mighty Machines, but right now, August only wants to move around or nurse, and he’s teething.
Shortly after we arrived at the international terminal in Atlanta, our planned layover of just under two hours was extended by half an hour. Then half an hour more. Then talk of a mechanical problem started, circulated by the flight crew, who were hanging out near us. For awhile, the chances of us spending the night in Atlanta looked good. But after a three hour delay, at 12:30am, we were finally boarding.
This was travel as we’d never done it before: international flights with our kids. Matt and I have done a lot of international travel together, and we always have a blast. Once we breeze through security together (thank you, TSA Pre-Check!), we usually get a cocktail and some yummy food from one of the great spots in the G Concourse at MSP, and then we snuggle in for a long plane ride of movies and half-decent sleep.
I love my children, which is good, because only love kept me from abandoning them on our 10-hour flight to São Paolo. It was six hours past their normal bedtime by the time we got off the ground, and we gave them melatonin, so we were hopeful to get at least a few hours of continuous sleep out of them. We got two. TWO. Oscar slept on and off after that, but August was up for the REST of the flight. The only times he wasn’t screaming were when he was nursing and when we were holding him standing up. (Matt had the excellent foresight to book us the four bulkhead seats for this flight.) I nursed him to the point of pain and repeated the advice of a frequent flier mama friend: you’ll never see the other passengers again!
The flight was also stressful because we weren’t sure we’d be able to make our connection. Once we arrived in São Paolo, we had to get through customs, retrieve all of our luggage, get into a van for a minimum 90 minute journey to the domestic airport at Campinas, recheck all of our luggage, go through security, and board a prop plane to Dourados. If we missed that flight, it would mean spending the night in Campinas. At this point, we were pretty tired and just wanted to get to our new home. The three hours we lost in Atlanta meant that everything had to go perfectly and as quickly as possible- no lines, no traffic, no delays.
And incredibly, it did. When we showed up at the Campinas airport, they were calling our names to board. As in, last-calling our names. We quite literally had not one minute to spare in our race between airports, and we made it.
Once again, both kids were wide awake for the two-hour flight- and they were crabby AF. Oscar had a meltdown at one point that drew the attention of a very kind flight attendant who brought us some fruit snacks, which obviously I ate, because Oscar was screaming like a lunatic and of the two of us, I was the one who really needed/deserved them.
But we did make it, by mid-afternoon on Tuesday. The Dourados airport is from-a-movie tiny. The only flights from DOU go between there and Campinas, all via prop planes. There is one creaky baggage carrousel, very few doors separating you from the outside, and lots of palm trees in the parking lot. Matt’s colleague Daniel, who recently relocated to Dourados from São Paolo, picked us up and arranged a taxi to bring our luggage to our new home. He also stocked our place with all of the basics we’d need on our first night and beyond: sheets (which his wife, Pâm, washed for us!), towels, snacks, drinking water, dishes, clothespins (no dryers here), laundry detergent, and more. It was incredibly thoughtful, and it meant that once we arrived at our home, we could just shower, eat a little food, and go right to bed. Which is exactly what we did. It’s winter here and we’re much closer to the equator than we are in St. Paul, so the sun set around 5:30pm, which made it easier to be in bed an hour later.
So we made it, and all things considered, the only real lasting negative consequence is that August needs to find another family to take him back to the States because we refuse to do that flight with him again, but he’s very cute, so I’m sure he’ll figure it out.