Flying around the world is easy - until you have children, that is. I used to catch planes like buses, booking my tickets just days in advance and packing my suitcase with an hour to go. I laughed at family and friends who used to get stressed about it: “Why are you packing a fortnight in advance? Why are you getting yourself worked up about it? Ha ha ha! What silliness!” I was such a cool, hip, relaxed traveller. I even knew the shortcuts at airports to get to passport control in record time. Queue up with the rabble? Not likely! I’ll just whizz through this shortcut, grab the elevator, and then shoot the crowds behind me a victorious smile as I take my place first in the queue.
So why am I sat here, feeling a little queasy about the thought of a 7.5 hour flight back to my home country? Why am I checking the airline website obsessively to make sure that we still have the seats with extra legroom? And why is my hand luggage already packed, with 48 hours to take off, just to ensure I haven’t forgotten jars of food, bibs, spoons, milk, and a change of clothing?
That last one is important; change of clothing. Having taken my 13-month old on long-haul flights six times since his birth and never needed the spare set that took up so much room in my hand luggage, I flung them aside when I last flew with smug satisfaction. What a waste of space! My darling toddler was way past the stage where his nappy would explode mid-flight! What a lucky mummy I had been to avoid it! Wrong. During a perfectly innocent nappy change at 40,000 feet, darling child decided to wee all over his trousers and socks, which I had placed at the end of the tiny fold-down changing table. They were soaked and with no spare clothes, he had to spend the remaining 4 hours with a blanket fashioned into some kind of kiddy sarong.
Gone are the days when he fit into the basinet and slept peacefully for hours at a time. We tried it last time – his head and feet bulged out either end, attracting worried glances from other passengers. So even nap times bring the joy of a passed-out toddler on your lap, cutting off circulation to both arms and wishing death on the drinks trolley when it jogs your arm and wakes him up after 20 minutes. Reading this, you probably think that I fly alone with the child. But no – I made that mistake once and will never make it again. I will only fly now if I have a willing pair of adult hands helping me, which is usually The Husband. It makes things marginally easier (when I need a loo break or really need a glug of something strong to get me through it), but always adds to my stress levels too.
Last time we flew, I watched The Husband pack into his hand baggage the following items: a pair of top-of-the-range noise cancelling headphones, a thick tome of a book purchased specifically for the journey, several magazines relating to one sport or another, and his iPad (just in case the other forms of entertainment didn’t fill all that spare time). And as we sat down in our seats and I struggled with fitting a wriggling toddler into the baby seatbelt, he pulled out the Inflight Entertainment Guide and proceeded to flick through to select his film.
It always leads to arguments at mealtimes too. Who gets the child first? And who gets to eat? Whoever gets the child has to attempt to feed him a jar of something thin and gloopy, eventually giving up and letting him loose on their own dinner tray. Somewhere over Eastern Europe on our last flight, a soggy bread roll landed in the lap of a passenger behind, while the husband simply shrugged in a ‘good throw, son’ manner, before getting back to his chicken tikka masala.
We take these journeys for a reason and it’s the thought of seeing friends and family at the other end that gets us through it, along with the chance to venture outside without feeling like we’ve opened the door of an oven and thrown our child inside. It’s short-term pain for long-term gain – and I will try to remember that as we pull up at DXB International in 48 hours time. But as we pass the sign that reads “Unaccompanied Minors” I know I will be just a little bit tempted… Wouldn’t you?