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

Moving to Meydan: The new house rollercoaster

“So what do you think?” I asked, gazing at the lounge walls in our empty new villa. The smell of fresh paint tickled my nostrils as I waited for DH’s response.

I’d gone for three different colours (green, charcoal and beige; it’s a large room!) – a sort of tricolour effect, and he was either going to love it or hate it.

“Very nice.” DH’s eyes flickered from wall to wall. “Three colours … I see.”

So I gave him the spiel I always give him in these situations, which I’d learnt from my mother-in-law: “If you have a creative wife, you just have to say THANK GOD and let her get on with it!” I smiled and hustled him upstairs to see his office, where we’d settled on just two ‘manly’ colours.

Not an accurate depiction of the blogger (I paid a nice man to paint)
Not an accurate depiction of the blogger (I paid a nice man to paint)

I walked back into the spacious living room with its views of the park area outside, and felt far more positive about moving than I did when we got the eviction email four months ago. Something about the blank canvas around me made me feel calmer and more in control of my life than I’d felt in weeks. Left alone in our quiet, cloud-like space, I soaked up the peacefulness.

We moved in over the next two hot and sweaty days. Once all the bulky items had bumped their way into position, a procession of smaller boxes marched in, until finally the packers left and we closed the door. As the last truck rolled away, I stood in the living room and surveyed the now cluttered space. I’d started feeling a little deflated. The dusty scent of cardboard had replaced the smell of fresh paint. There were piles of boxes stacked against the walls, and instead of straight, linear lines and open space, there was mess and bubble wrap strewn around (the boys wanted to keep it to pop).

The day was fading to dusk and I flicked the light switches by the door. So many light switches. It would take days to learn what they all did. I padded around – my flip-flops slapping against the floor – and did some more unpacking, sorting, moving things around, trying to bring some order to the chaos.

The next day I loved the house again, then the day after I fell out with it again. A strange smell was emanating from the bathrooms, and aware of stories from fellow residents about pipes not being connected, things falling off walls, water leaks and even electrical fires, I made our first call (of many) to maintenance.

Let’s just say I’ve got to know maintenance pretty well since then. Fair’s fair, they’re fixing things fast, although the blank stare you get when you’re trying to make yourself understood – followed by the nod which confirms you’re talking at cross purposes – just kills me!

Once our taps, which are currently like mini dancing Dubai fountains with varying water pressures, surges and stoppages, are fixed, I think we’re nearly there …

My verdict: I love the house!

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00064]If you enjoy my blog, please consider buying my short e-book: Cupcakes & Heels – I don’t know how she does it abroadDownload it for 99p here. THANK YOU!

The Little Mermaid

My first e-book: A quick summer read for just 99p (or less!)

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00064]Please share!

If you’re looking for a light summer read, please think about downloading my first e-book. It’s a short (ish) story, and a super-quick, easy read. I’m raising a celebratory glass, as, believe me, I nearly went cross-eyed trying to figure out how to get this on Amazon. I got there in the end ☺ … here comes the blurb:

Workaholic mum Julie Wainscote becomes an overnight Twitter sensation when her live TV gaffe goes viral. Fired from her job, she takes up the challenge of becoming a stay-at-home mum to her son, Jacob. But when she realises the school run is a catwalk, the coffee mornings involve competitive catering and the class bear has been to Lapland, she has to admit the adjustment required may be beyond her.

Does she have what it takes to join Dubai’s ranks of immaculately groomed school mothers?

Cupcakes & Heels is a delightfully funny short story about the dilemmas facing mothers the world over.

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Thank you so much!

The Little Mermaid

A wing and a prayer

Upstate New York: Four hours north of NYC lies six million acres of wilderness
Upstate New York: Four hours north of NYC lies six million acres of wilderness

“You look nervous – you okay?” DH put the car in park and laid his hand on my knee. “You don’t have to come if you don’t want to.”

“I’m fine,” I lied. “There’s no way I’m watching you all go up without me!”

I meant it: if my family was about to be in a plane crash, I was going down with them! I might be a pilot’s wife, but small planes still make me anxious. “It’s perfectly safe, isn’t it?” I asked.

DH looked out at the Cessna we’d hired. He gave a boyish grin. “Yep – it’s fine.” He held my gaze for several seconds. “Ready?”

I swallowed and felt the bubbles of anxiety begin to pop. “Yes, let’s go.”

"This is your pilot speaking!"
“This is your pilot speaking!”

I looked up. A few white, puffy clouds were drifting slowly across a clear blue sky and I wondered if we’d fly through them. Peering through the fencing, I saw a Cessna taxi-ing out; it stopped just short of the concrete airstrip. It was a bright day and at the furthest point the runway appeared to shimmer, creating the illusion of wetness. I’d seen all this before on previous visits to small airports and flight schools, but DH’s world – the glinting metal, engines, smell of machinery and fuel trucks – never fails to intrigue me.

After the paperwork was finalised, we walked out across the apron in the sunshine. The boys bounded towards the airplane in excitement – they’d been waiting for this day since we’d arrived in the States. As DH checked the plane, I found myself wondering how we’d all fit in. All four of us. The Cessna looked gleaming and airworthy, but … small.

How did my husband, who is at least six foot tall, spend several years giving flying lessons in such a tiny, cramped space, while students practised terrifying manoeuvres, rolls and engine failures?

The aircraft was red-and-white, with a white underbelly and two dark pinstripes running along its entire length. The propeller pointed upwards like a finger. DH climbed onto the plane and pulled a rod out of the fuel tank and studied it.

“Everything alright?” I asked.

“Looking good,” he said.

He inspected the rest of the aircraft then we crawled in, surprisingly fitting snugly inside. DH was relaxed and happy, busy following the procedures on his checklist. My heart gave an exaggerated beat as the propellers started turning. The plane shuddered, and, all of a sudden, the engine spluttered and roared to life. We taxied to the runway, and through the headset, I heard my youngest son chatting away.

DH asked him to be quiet for a bit, then I heard his calm voice talking to air traffic control. “Cleared for takeoff.”

Bounding down the runway, we picked up speed, bumping along, the plane straining to escape the earth. Until suddenly it was smooth. We were tilting upwards, the nose forging through the air. The ground dropped away, and we cleared the trees. The leafy tips looked as though they were in touching distance. Then, within seconds, they were below the plane.

The plane banked to the right, and I looked back down at the airport. The buildings and planes on the ground could now be toys, the cars tiny diecast models. The turquoise swimming pools in the grassy backyards were all different shapes, a rectangle, a circle, a kidney. We were up! Now I just had to loosen my vice-like grip on the seat.

As we levelled out, I craned this way and that – my nerves giving way to exhilaration, my shoulders dropping, mouth curving upwards in a wild grin. Before us, a vast expanse of blue sky. Below, dense green forest and blue, mirror-like lakes. The whole landscape was bathed in a warm, golden glow.

Noticing I’d been struck speechless (mostly because Son2 had started jabbering over the headsets again, right in my inner ear), DH turned round to see if I was ok. He gave me a look that said, Isn’t this great? Isn’t life so much better up here? Ahead, the tree-covered Adirondack mountains came into view.

Final approach
Final approach

I couldn’t stop looking: at the lush woodland; at Lake George; at the real estate (so much land); the properties clearly visible from our bird’s eye view. I thought about my office in Dubai, stationary and sterile, and the smallness of the cockpit didn’t matter anymore. From above, anything felt possible.

The odd jolt shook the plane but other than that, we weren’t buffeted or tossed by the wind like I’d feared. If it wasn’t for the deafening growl of the engine and the vibrating metal, we could almost be gliding.

I unfurled my fingers from the seatbelt, only for my heart to leap into my mouth as DH handed the controls over to Son1. Christ, my ten-year-old was flying! And loving it! “Just small corrections,” said DH, nudging the stick gently to keep us heading straight. Out the front window, the propeller whirled round, like a baseball bat pounding the air.

We headed over glassy lakes and wilderness, eating up miles of greenery. And before too long, it was time to head back.

At some point, we started descending; the toy towns, dots on the roads and bushes became houses, cars and trees once more. The runway rushed up towards us, and we touched down.

It took a while for my ears to adjust to the silence and we climbed out carefully. “Did you enjoy that?” I asked Son1 as DH tied down the airplane.

“Yes,” he nodded, grinning broadly.

“Think you might want to be a pilot?”

Another enthusiastic nod.

Me thinks we’d better start saving …

The Little Mermaid

Why must our lush gardens be destroyed?

Soon to be returned to sand as no-one wants to pay for watering after we leave
Soon to be returned to sand as no-one wants to pay for watering after we leave

A sense of calmness usually descends on me when I stand in my garden. There’s something very peaceful about the scent of frangipani and jasmine all around, the birds chirping away in the trees, and the glorious sight of red, pink and orange bougainvillea climbing frothily up the wall. I love my garden – it was planted seven years ago, and transformed what was a fairly sizeable but barren sand lot when we arrived into a green oasis.

The grass was planted in evenly spaced clumps which, over the next few months, spread to form a lawn. Son2’s baby hair was growing at the same time, and I remember wondering which would fill in first: his fine, downy hair or the blades of grass. The irrigated carpet of green won.

Now, when I stand outside, I feel rather sad: we’re required to rip our lovely gardens out before we move. Every tree and plant, no matter the size, must be removed in order to leave our once beautiful gardens as sandpits again. The reason is money: no-one wants to pay for the watering if there’s a gap before the next tenants move in.

Starting over again in a new sandpit
Starting over again in a new sandpit

Appalled by this treatment of nature, those of us who are being relocated to Meydan South have come together to try to negotiate something very special.

We can bring small plants to our new compound, but as per the rules, we are not permitted to plant large or deep-rooted trees. Many of us are leaving gardens behind in which well-established trees are flourishing. Species include Palm trees, Flamboyants and Almond trees, to name just a few. Between us, these trees have accumulated hundreds of years of growth.

Save our trees!
Save our trees!

Many of us hope to donate our big trees to the common areas of Meydan South, and believe this well-supported, community initiative will bring a number of benefits to the new compound. Firstly, it will transform the brand new but arid development into a green neighbourhood, in line with the Sheikh’s promise to preserve the environment and create a green city.

Secondly, green areas help to keep the temperature a little cooler, and, thirdly, in a country where asthma rates are high, there are health benefits to be gained from minimising areas of open sand. Transplanting our trees will help to improve the air quality while also ensuring the compound looks attractive and verdant with vegetation.

Wish us luck as we attempt to persuade the powers that be to transport and replant our trees!

I have everything crossed.

The Little Mermaid

So how was your weekend?

It’s something you don’t expect to hear when you ask someone about their weekend. But with my son attending a school where at least 60 per cent of the students come from airline families (who get super cheap tickets), I’ve learned not to bat an eyelid when mothers tell me about what they’ve been up to.

“Did you have a good weekend?” I asked a fellow mum.

“Yes … Actually we went to Johannesburg.”

Anyone else want to tell me about their Christmas in Lapland?
Anyone else want to tell me about their Christmas in Lapland?
“Really, just for the weekend?” I have to admit I was impressed – the South African city is a good 8 hours’ flying time from here, and that doesn’t include all the getting to and from the airport shenanigans.

“We had 24 hours there. Yesterday morning, we were in the lion park! The children loved it, especially as they’re doing Africa in class at the moment.”

“An amazing field trip!” I agreed. I’d just been looking at all the photos of big animals and African plains on the classroom wall.

“It was really last minute – my husband was flying there, and I woke up and thought ‘Why aren’t we going too?’ Half an hour later, we were on our way to the airport.”

“It’s not like me at all,” she added. “I usually plan everything far in advance.”

“Well good for you,” I said, as we were spat out the school gates – and I really meant it.

Sometimes you just have to grab life by the horns.

The Little Mermaid

Middle East airlines take glamour to new heights

When my husband, an A380 pilot, goes to work, he’s accompanied by an entourage of cabin crew – I’ve lost count, but it’s something like 27, mostly women in their 20s – who manage to make that glam look seem effortless, even after a 16-hour flight.

I’ve often wondered how they do this, especially as for us hollow-eyed, travelling mums, with children barnacled to our ankles, the radiance at the end comes from the relief that the flight is over and knowing everyone’s arrived intact, rather than a lipstick refresh and spritz of makeup fix spray.

Behind the scenes, a lot of work goes into the ‘look’ you see on Middle East airlines, which count image and customer service as key components of their branding. The uniform is the starting point, and yesterday the UAE’s Etihad Airways revealed its much-anticipated new Italian-designed outfits at a catwalk show in Abu Dhabi. These photos, by a Vogue photographer, were taken among the majestic sand dunes of the emirate’s Liwa desert and on location at the Qasr al Sarab desert resort.

In-flight couture: The new uniforms to be worn by Etihad Airways flight attendants were created by Italy’s haute couturier Ettore Bilotta at his atelier in Milan
In-flight couture: The new uniforms to be worn by Etihad Airways flight attendants were created by Italy’s haute couturier Ettore Bilotta at his atelier in Milan

Made from 100 per cent Italian wool in warm chocolate brown, with deep purple accents, and accessorised with fitted gloves, belt, hat and scarf, you can see where Etihad is going with these stylish skirt suits: the look is reminiscent of the classic collections of airline crews in the heyday of international air travel, with some contemporary, modern runway-inspired twists. The new slim-line handbag, for example, is made to the dimensions of a tablet device.

Retro: The hats are inspired by the stars of the Hollywood Silver Screen as well as the sweeping formations of the Emirati desert sand dunes
Retro: The hats are inspired by the stars of the Hollywood Silver Screen as well as the sweeping formations of the Emirati desert sand dunes

Here in Dubai, at my DH’s airline, cabin crew are given a full day of training by Image and Uniform before they can even take to the skies. This is where hosties learn what products to use (primer and powder for oily skin, not liquid foundation), how to use them (SPF daily), and how to prevent the dry conditions on board from dehydrating their skin.

Emirates red: Recurrent image and uniform training helps create the desired look
Emirates red: Recurrent image and uniform training helps create the desired look

On the day of a flight, natural, daytime makeup and eye shadow in neutral shades is applied to provide an elegant base and healthy, fresh-faced complexion. But it’s the perfectly drawn smile in ‘Emirates red’ that’s the most important.

“The ladies need to find a shade of red that goes with their skin tone and uniform,” Sibille Juen, a cabin crew training specialist, tells Safar, Emirates’ staff newspaper. “We can help with that in training. We advise crew to pencil the outline of their lips with a lip liner and then fill it in with the liner before applying lipstick.”

On board, makeup fix sprays and eye gels are used to ensure makeup lasts longer and stays looking fresh. Female crew regularly reapply their signature red lipstick and on ultra-long flights often remove all their makeup during breaks in the crew rest area. They then apply a hydration pack or facemask, before putting their makeup back on again. As Marilee Vermaak, also a cabin crew training specialist, points out, “It takes sustained effort to look glamorous from the beginning of a flight to the end.”

Apparently, even the male crew moisturise regularly. So let’s see him then … an Etihad cabin boy, in his new rather dashing suit. Although what do you think the chances are that he’s straight?

Hello! A classic trench coat adds a sense of drama
Hello! A classic trench coat adds a sense of drama