The Steam Chocolate Mission

Words by Sloane Citron

When I go to visit my son, Coby, in Israel, I always make it my mission to get presents to bring back for the grandchildren. My daughters were once included in the gift category, but with seven grandchildren now, I’m good for only so much shopping.

Before my recent trip, my two oldest grandkids, Evan and Liav, both got it into their heads exactly what they wanted from me. They’re each three and a half and have clear and distinct preferences. I wasn’t sure where they got their big ideas, but they reminded me of them every day, whether on the phone or in person.

Evan, two weeks older than his cousin, has, like many three-year-olds, an obsession with trains. He always keeps one of his Thomas engines in his hands, sleeping with it and taking it with him to daycare. He loves to lie on the floor of his living room and make his trains go around and around his wooden track.

“Saba,” he told me, “when you go to visit Coby, I want a steam engine.” This was repeated ad nauseam, though I don’t think he has a true understanding of a steam engine. But his request was firmly on my mind, and I wondered if fulfilling it was possible.

Liav, on the other hand, cares more about putting on her dresses, playing with dolls and occasionally becoming a superhero. My daughter, Tali, must have influenced her, since there is no way she could have come up with her request on her own. “Saba,” she asked, “can you get me chocolate in a bag?”

I didn’t immediately understand what she meant, but then Tali reminded me about the bags of chocolate milk that they sell in Israel that the children all love.

My visit with Coby was wonderful and, as always, the time flew by. I looked wherever possible for a steam engine—in toy stores, the malls and in the open-air markets. But nothing fit the bill. I decided I needed to take another approach and looked on Amazon. There, I found the perfect train: a Brio steam engine that actually blows “steam” and has lights. Though I would normally want to buy this at Menlo Park’s Cheeky Monkey, our wonderful local toy store, I needed it to be at my home upon my arrival, so I ordered it online.

I wasn’t so sure about bringing chocolate milk on the journey home, but the day I was leaving, Coby picked up four bags of it and I figured that I would give it a try. I kept the bags in the freezer, and just before going to the airport, I placed them into a plastic container and then double-Ziploc-bagged it. My goal was to arrive home without finding chocolate milk all over my clothes and the other kids’ presents.

Apparently, air traffic is back. I got to the airport more than three hours before my flight—always wary of the time-consuming Israeli security—and yet only arrived at my gate with 45 minutes to spare. My bag was checked through United to SFO on the fantastic non-stop flight that departs daily just after midnight.

My 14-hour flight home went smoothly, and I comfortably made my way through customs and into the baggage area. Usually, my luggage is one of the first off, but I watched as one unfamiliar bag after another emerged onto the round conveyor belt. Since “many bags look alike,” I did take a good look at several that looked like mine, but to no avail.

When the conveyor belt stopped with me empty-handed, I knew it was time to go over to the line of people at the baggage claim desk. After waiting my turn, I showed the agent my claim slip. After looking into the computer for a few minutes, she shared the news with me that Israeli security had held my luggage. And then it hit me: “Chocolate in a bag!”

A day and a half later, my luggage was delivered to my front porch. When I came home from work, I quickly opened my bag, completely expecting the tightly-wrapped chocolate milk container to be gone, suspected of being some kind of semi-frozen explosive device. But then, there, under some clothes, I spotted a flash of plastic. I pulled it out, and, amazingly, it was still rather cold and went straightaway into the fridge.

The next day, I took the prized package over to my daughter’s home. No one was there, so I placed it in their fridge as a surprise for Liav. I wasn’t sure about the freshness of the chocolate milk after its long journey, but the next morning, Tali sent me the above photo. And Evan loves his steam engine, which remains firmly clutched in his hand day and night. Missions accomplished!