The Little Mermaid

Travel with Kids: The Bad and the Worse

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Please…Help…Me!

Like many expat mums the world over, every year I take the children on a pilgrimage to the motherland, to reintroduce them to their grandparents, grassy fields and Wellington boots.

Most expat kids are frequent flyers, but I think it’s the hollow-eyed, jet-lagged mums – many of whom have to travel long distances with their overactive offspring solo – who deserve recognition for ensuring that everyone arrives intact.

Now that my two are older, flying with them is so much easier, but I haven’t forgotten what trial by two-year-old is like at 37,000 feet. Without much further ado, here’s my take on the eight steps mothers desperately seeking serenity on board must navigate:

0-8 months
Provided your baby doesn’t cry like a banshee due to earache or colic, you’re relieved to discover that small infants are essentially hand luggage, and can be stored in a wall-mounted bassinet – meaning, in between feeds, you’re left with plenty of hands-free time for other, adult-related pursuits. Enjoy it. Indulge in a glass or two (while you can). This phase is over quicker than you can say pass the earplugs.

9 months-2 years
Now mobile, your infant is classed as a lap child, a burdensome phase that sees the two of you co-joined like Siamese twins and squashed into one seat. Once sleep finally arrives (for your 30lb lead-weight bundle of joy, at least), you find yourself sitting statue-esqe – and needing the loo – as you attempt to inhale a meal and not flinch an inch in case the slightest movement rouses your child.

2-2½ years
Your toddler has progressed to a seat, but the games, toys and books you’ve spent days collecting are dispensed with in minutes. Fun is sought in mischievous ways: Meal tray up/tray down. Light on/light off. Window shutter open/shutter closed. Call the flight attendant. Call the flight attendant again. When all the un-dinging you have to do gets too much, you traipse up and down the aisle – jolting several unsuspecting passengers awake as you go – or visit the bathroom together, where double-jointedness is always a plus when assisting your offspring.

2½-3 years
You’ve reached that murky zone where diversionary tactics are all that stand between you and a mile-high meltdown. Tantrums occur due to the most innocuous of reasons: not being allowed to bring the stroller up the aisle; the seat belt sign coming on. No other passenger makes eye contact – not even the smug mother of two crayon-loving girls opposite.

3-3½ years
By now, you’re travelling with two small children – a whole new world of in-flight angst – which means that if you’re on your own, losing your oldest at the airport or on board must be avoided (if you have more than two, good luck with that). After collecting all the luggage at the other end, you feel like hugging the kind lady who, on seeing that you don’t have a seventh arm to push the stroller, offers to help.

3½-4 years
Someone’s told you stickers are great for keeping children entertained on board, so you’re armed with sticker books. But while in the toilet, your kids stick them all over the TV. Bad idea: the heat from the screen can turn the adhesive into superglue. Imagining the entire aircraft being decommissioned while engineers scrape Lightening McQueen and his friends off 35F’s TV, you start peeling and don’t stop until there isn’t a single trace of sticker left. A happy coincidence is it uses up a good 20 minutes of flight time.

4-5 years
An iPad loaded with games is your saviour and, whilst still arriving disheveled and decorated with orange juice stains, you realise you had more time to relax on board, and even watched half a movie. A basic aviation knowledge – so as to answer questions like How does the wind move? – is extremely useful during this stage.

5 years+
You’ve made it. Long flights with small children no longer fill you with terror. While queuing at security, you see a mum with a seven-month-old infant struggling with all her baby paraphernalia, juggling her little one, taking her belt and shoes off, then, at the other side of the x-ray machine, pulling it all together again like a 100-piece jigsaw puzzle, and you feel like punching the air with joy that you’ve left the aforementioned stages well and truly behind. Well done, you’ve arrived!

Sponsored by: My own personal experiences. Every.single.example.

This is an excerpt from my book Circles in the Sand: Stories about Life in the Big D. Please click on the Books tab above, or on the cover top right, to find out how to get hold of it.

The Little Mermaid

Frequently asked questions

“Your ticket is upgradable,” the nice lady at the check-in informed me. “Do you wish to upgrade?”

“Thank you, but no,” I replied, shaking my head (thinking yes, YES please. Do I want to upgrade? Of course I do! Who wouldn’t?)

But, no matter how tempted I was by the free-flowing wine, champers, gourmet cuisine, canapés, flat-bed and acres of legroom on offer in the A380’s upper deck, it was never going to happen. There was no upgrade for the boys, and they’re too young to sit by themselves (there’s always next year!).

xxxxx
Bye, bye England! (s0b)

So, instead, I leapt on Son2’s conversational freight train for the 7-hour journey from London to Dubai:

“Mummy, what country are we flying over? What’s the smallest country, Mummy? … Is Dubai bigger than England? … Are we in space? If we’re not in space, is the upstairs in space? When are we there?” …

[The moment my eyes closed] MUMMY! WHEN.are.we.THERE? [Bringing me back to earth, or at least 37,000 feet above it, in a snap.] Is it nighttime in Dubai? I’m hungry Mummy! (Me: “They just served you a kids’ meal, and you didn’t want it!’ said through gritted teeth.) Is there wifi? Can I watch YouTube? How fast is the wind, Mummy? Is England still bigger than Dubai?”

Until I could see his mouth moving, but couldn’t really hear what he was saying and could do nothing but nod at whatever his moving lips were trying to assault me with.

Whereas Son1 plugged himself into the in-flight entertainment and watched back-to-back movies, with a couple of iPad breaks. Oh the difference being nearly three years older makes.

The Little Mermaid

Flying with kids: The bad and the worse

Like many expat mums the world over, I’m currently on our annual pilgrimage to the motherland, to reintroduce our children to their grandparents, grassy fields and Wellington boots.

Most expat kids are frequent flyers, but I think it’s the hollow-eyed, jet-lagged mums – many of whom have to travel long distances with their overactive offspring solo – who deserve recognition for ensuring that everyone arrives intact.

“Please…help….me….”
“Please…help….me….”

Now that my two are older, flying with them is so much easier, but I haven’t forgotten what trial by two-year-old is like at 37,000 feet. During the 22 hours of flight time we’ve clocked up over the past two weeks, I turned my thoughts to the various stages mums go through when taking their little ones back and forth to see family. Without much further ado, here’s my tongue-in-cheek take on the eight steps mothers desperately seeking serenity on board must navigate:

Sky cot: Hands-free flying
Sky cot: Hands-free flying

0-8 months:
Provided your baby doesn’t cry like a banshee due to earache or colic, you’re relieved to discover that small infants are essentially hand luggage, and can be stored in a wall-mounted bassinet – meaning, in between feeds, you’re left with plenty of hands-free time for other, adult-related pursuits. Enjoy it. Indulge in a glass or two (while you can). This phase is over quicker than you can say pass the earplugs.

9 months – 2 years:
Now mobile, your infant is classed as a lap child, a burdensome phase that sees the two of you co-joined like Siamese twins and squashed into one seat. Once sleep finally arrives (for your 30lb lead-weight bundle of joy, at least), you find yourself sitting statue-esqe – and needing the loo – as you attempt to inhale a meal and not flinch an inch in case the slightest movement rouses your child.

2-2½ years:
Your toddler has progressed to a seat, but the games, toys and books you’ve spent days collecting are dispensed with in minutes. Fun is sought in mischievous ways: Meal tray up/tray down. Light on/light off. Window shutter open/shutter closed. Call the flight attendant. Call the flight attendant again. When all the un-dinging you have to do gets too much, you traipse up and down the aisle – jolting several unsuspecting passengers awake as you go – or visit the bathroom together, where double-jointedness is always a plus when assisting your offspring.
flying-with-kids-vs-without-kids-article
2½-3 years:
You’ve reached that murky zone where diversionary tactics are all that stand between you and a mile-high meltdown. Tantrums occur due to the most innocuous of reasons: not being allowed to bring the stroller up the aisle; the seat belt sign coming on. No other passenger makes eye contact – not even the smug mother of two crayon-loving girls opposite.

3-3½ years:
By now, you’re travelling with two small children – a whole new world of in-flight angst – which means that if you’re on your own, losing your oldest at the airport or on board must be avoided (if you have more than two, good luck with that). After collecting all the luggage at the other end, you feel like hugging the kind lady who, on seeing that you don’t have a seventh arm to push the stroller, offers to help.

3½-4 years:
Someone’s told you stickers are great for keeping children entertained on board, so you’re armed with sticker books. But while in the toilet, your kids stick them all over the TV. Bad idea: the heat from the screen can turn the adhesive into superglue. Imagining the entire aircraft being decommissioned while engineers scrape Lightening McQueen and his friends off 35F’s TV, you start peeling and don’t stop until there isn’t a single trace of sticker left. A happy coincidence is it uses up a good 20 minutes of flight time.

Happy travel days await (honestly)
Happy travel days await (honestly)

4-5 years
An iPad loaded with games is your saviour and, whilst still arriving disheveled and decorated with orange juice stains, you realise you had more time to relax on board, and even watched half a movie. A basic aviation knowledge – so as to answer questions like How does the wind move? – is extremely useful during this stage.

5 years+
You’ve made it. Long flights with small children no longer fill you with terror. While queuing at security, you see a mum with a seven-month-old infant struggling with all her baby paraphernalia, juggling her little one, taking her belt and shoes off, then, at the other side of the x-ray machine, pulling it all together again like a 100-piece jigsaw puzzle, and you feel like punching the air with joy that you’ve left the aforementioned stages well and truly behind. Well done, you’ve arrived!

Sponsored by: My own personal experiences. Every.single.example.

The Little Mermaid

On jet-charged children

I discovered a while ago that the A380 is the best plane to fly on with children, not just because there’s more space to move around, but because there’s even a staircase you could use as a naughty step.

Whenever we fly back to London for our annual leave, I always make sure we’re booked on a superjumbo, and it definitely helps the ole pre-flight nerves to know that the boys and I will be able to have a little wander around after hours of being wedged into our seats.

Of course, as all mums who have to fly solo with their kids know, there are other things that would help too – like a third or even fourth arm to carry all the luggage; the physical stamina of a pack mule; a basic aviation knowledge (so as to answer questions such as How does the wind move?); and double-jointedness to make assisting a child in the bathroom easier.

If only!
If only!

But, the single most important thing, I now realise, that makes a big difference is the passage of time. And by that, I don’t mean the slow, ticking of time that extends every drawn-out minute on the actual flight. I mean your children getting older – and easier to fly with.

While queuing at security, I got chatting to a mum with a seven-month-old baby, and as she struggled with all the baby paraphernalia, juggled her little one, took her belt and shoes off, then, at the other side of the x-ray machine, pulled it all together again like a 100-piece jigsaw puzzle, I have to admit I felt like punching the air with joy that I’ve left that stage well and truly behind.

This flight, I didn’t even have the usual two-tonne carry-on luggage – my laptop case, filled with my MacBook, an iPad, a DS machine and a Kindle, sufficed. And saw us through the flight. Just.

What I hadn’t bargained on, though, was the overexcited, unsuppressable second wind that my boys would enjoy on their jet-charged arrival. At 10pm (1am Dubai time), and after a 12-hour journey from door-to-door without a wink of sleep, they were almost impossible to get to bed (“But it’s still light outside Mummy!”)

Thank goodness for grandparents, who like highly trained reinforcements, had taken over well before I hit the wall.

The Little Mermaid

Flying with kids: Risky business

A highly coveted perk among airline families – the holy grail for many I know – is being able to travel in business class with small children. Yes, your whole tribe, seated at the front of the aircraft, or up top in the case of the superjumbo – with acres of leg-room, fine dining and the chance for some mummy respite in the A380’s on-board bar.

This story was told to me by a fellow pilot’s wife and I’m repeating it here because the incident not only makes me hoot with laughter, but (and I know she won’t mind me telling you this) it was probably THE most embarrassing mummy moment of her entire nine years of motherhood. I think we can all relate, wherever we sit on the aircraft…

And then the day was finally upon us, and we could book seats for both myself and my small children in the business class cabin of the airplane taking us home.

Now THIS is the way to travel
Business class travel is indeed very special. The cabin itself seems to sparkle and twinkle with just enough ‘specialness’ to make anyone smile. But it’s the space that’s the real bonus. Not just the extra-large seats, or the super-big TV screens, there just seems to be enough space around you and your family to be able to settle in comfortably.

And settle in we did; the pillows a little softer, the blankets a little fluffier. I soon had both of my children cocooned into balls of happiness; DS happy to explore the myriad of games and cartoons on offer, DD’s little hands searching out all the extra buttons and switches not previously discovered on any seat before.

‘What’s this Mummy?’ she asked as she picked up the console that tucks neatly into a pocket on the arm of her seat.

‘Well, you can call the attendant by pushing a button here,’ I explain, ‘But wait, if you press here your seat will give you a massage.’ Peels of delight ensue from DD, already a disciple of the body rub, as she tries out all the different ways she could make her seat tickle and shudder. Was this not heaven? If I have a predictable difficult period with my daughter on flights it’s right at the beginning, getting her to settle down. But, thanks to the wonders of the juddering seat, we’re looking like the perfect family unit and I’m sipping champagne …

During our summer stay, the kids were quick to tell everyone about their trip in business class. ‘Oh!….how lovely’ was the response as most pictured these tiny dots sipping wine and eating caviar – and I would watch as their eyebrows disappeared up into their hair lines.

The cheese platter – and the kids won’t send it flying
‘And what was the thing you liked best about travelling in business class?’ they’d ask.

‘The computer games,’ was DS’s stalwart response. The games are the same, incidentally, wherever you sit on the aircraft.

‘The massage button!’ squealed DD, ‘I had a massage all the way from Dubai to England!’ Now, this was altogether more like the example of over-indulgence that many were on the lookout for. So on several occasions during our stay, DD was encouraged to repeat the story of the seat that gave her a massage and how she was going to have one all the way back to Dubai too.

On our trip home, as we board through doors at the very front of the aircraft, I immediately see that we are travelling in an older plane than the one in which we arrived. Characteristically stoic, DS flops down in to his ample seating, grabs the control and settles down for the long flight. Not so DD.

‘Oh no, Mummy. This is not right!’ She picks at the cover placed over the arm of her seat until it comes away in her hand only to reveal the arm of the chair.

‘But where is the thing? Where is the massage button? I can’t see it!’ Her lip beginning to tremble just as the gangways either side of us fill up with slow moving – hmm, yes, now stationary – economy passengers queuing quietly to get to their seats. I sense the impending storm …

‘Why don’t we see what film we can find for you to watch, or maybe a game to play….?’ My powers of deflection moving up into overdrive instantaneously. ‘Hey, do you want to look at my magazine…..? Have that chocolate bar I bought in the coffee shop just now….. how about my entire handbag? Here, take it. Take a good look……!’ But it was all in vain…

‘But I want a massage!’ DD cries, literally cries. Huge tears rolling down her cheeks as her whole body begins to heave. All eyes are on us. ‘It’s alright darling,’ I croon, pulling her tiny frame on to my lap, ‘It’s not the end of the world. There really are worse things that can happen.’

‘But it is!” she cries, ‘It is the end of the world! I don’t want to be on this plane. I want to get off this plane right now and get on one where I sit in a seat that GIVES ME A MASSAGE!’

Powerless to stop her, I resorted to putting my hand over her mouth in an attempt to muffle what she was actually saying.

Thank heavens for the crew member (who has probably seen it all). ‘Champagne madam?’ she smiles, ‘Or is that a very large white wine?’

The Little Mermaid

Return of the Mac

I flew back to Dubai with the boys on Thursday, on what we call ‘Daddy’s airplane’. Except DH wasn’t flying it, and nor was he on it.

BB and LB are good at air travel really, and I guess for a 3 and 6 year old, they could be classed as frequent travellers, but there are certain inevitabilities about flying with small children.

They needed the toilet just as the food arrived, and also the moment the seatbelt sign came on; they couldn’t get comfortable despite being pint-sized; they weren’t hungry when given their meals then clamoured for food later on when there was none. They wriggled, fidgeted, got bored and LB kept bumping the seat in front.

Brilliant, brilliant idea
As we boarded the full A380 at Heathrow, LB asked a flight attendant if we were going to space. “Too many people today,” he told her, as though he commuted the route daily. But not funnily for me, he didn’t sleep a wink, preferring to give me the Spanish Inquisition over whether there were owls chasing us (it was mostly dark) and would they get chopped up in the engine?

For my part, I ruefully turned down an upgrade (it was only for me, not the kids!), I entertained two energetic boys for seven long hours, rummaged around for missing items, let the 3yo sit on my lap for as long as was tolerable and made multiple trips to the loo.

But, you know what, it is getting easier. Each year is a little better than the last, and when I think back to last year’s long flight with a tantruming two-year-old, playing tray up/tray down, light on/light off and ding the flight attendant, I realise we’ve come a long way, even if it’s still really tiring.

Thanks to an iPad loaded with games, there were even some moments of quiet reflection, when I looked out the window at the ink black sky and the airplane’s shadowy wing. I found myself thinking about the gleaming metallic finish, the gentle, sloping contours, the speed it was capable of, and its ability to transport me from the sights and sounds of Seoul to the sunsets of Long Island.

So, was I appreciating DH’s airplane in all its gigantic glory?

Well, if I’m honest, I was thinking about my new beautiful, super-speedy MacBook Pro laptop, which I bought in England to bring back to Dubai. Love it!

The Little Mermaid

Chaperone wanted

While flying from Dubai to London with the boys (and no DH) on Wednesday, it occurred to me that this is a task most mums of small children would dearly love to outsource.

Just imagine: if you hired a chaperone (and I think you can when they reach a certain age), you could come on a later flight by yourself, watch a whole movie, read, sit and think, drink wine and eat the meal, including the chocolate, in peace. Your clothes would remain stain-free, your sanity intact and you might even get some sleep. Remember those days of stress-free, champagne-swilling travel?

So without much further ado, here’s the advert:

Want to travel and get paid?

Position: Chaperone

Job description: Team leader needed for temporary work in a cramped environment. Candidates must enjoy travel and be willing to work long hours, sometimes nights, in pressurised conditions

Job requirements:
∙ Expert planning skills required, including the ability to pack for six weeks and two continents

∙ Must always be on time and have the ability to negotiate airports/airport toilets/fast food outlets with military precision. The candidate must also be able to speed walk, while dragging two small children along, to the furthest gate, without stopping at Duty Free

∙ Must always hope for the best but be prepared for the worst. Situations such as a sick child, delays or a lost favourite toy should be viewed in a positive way

∙ Ability to multi-task essential. Must be able to handle several difficult situations simultaneously, eg, consoling a distraught child who got stuck in the toilet, while stopping his brother waking sleeping passengers and balancing three meal trays

∙ Must be able to keep a smiling demeanour for fellow passengers while practising above-mentioned skills in conflict resolution. Must also be able to withstand withering looks from those seated nearby

∙ A basic aviation knowledge, so as to answer questions such as ‘What makes the wind move?’ and ‘What’s that noise?’, is a plus – as is the ability to tackle technical challenges such as operating the games

Airport hug: The smiles at the end make it all worthwhile and I wouldn’t miss this for anything
∙ Must be willing to be immobilised in a tight space for extensive periods of time, to dive for flying objects, to crawl on the floor for lost items and make multiple trips to a bathroom the size of a phone box (being double-jointed would help)

∙ Must possess the physical stamina of a pack mule and preferably have a third or even fourth arm to carry all the luggage at the end

Dressing/grooming: In addition to following the airline’s dress code, it is expected that, for the duration of the shift, the chaperone will have makeup applied, not wear elasticated clothing of any kind and not develop crazy eyes

Previous experience: None required. On-the-job training offered on an exhausting basis

Possibility for advancement: None. Your job is to remain in the same position for years without complaining so that those in your charge can ultimately surpass you

Overtime: Responsibilities also include rising at 5am the following morning with your jet-lagged, overexcited, overtired travellers

Benefits: Overseas travel and the joy of the airport reunion