I had intended this post to be an informative and useful one. One in which would be bursting with advice and offering comfort and reassurance. I was going to stray away from my usual sarcastic tone and provide you with my top (serious) tips for flying long haul with the kids (whilst trying not to swear). I had visions of this post being a serious attempt at providing a sound, constructive, tried and tested guide to getting you and your little ones through a long haul flight.
I wanted to discuss all sorts of things. I wanted to take you through preparation, including organising activities to keep the cherubs entertained, through to handling mid-flight tantrums. I wanted to talk about my top tips for success including sticking to routine and how to cope when boredom sets in. It was going to be amazing. A proper parenting post with pictures and everything.
However, like most things, my good intentions ultimately turn into a steamy pile of shit.
Flying long haul with three kids, four years old and under, in my opinion is the ultimate test of parental strength. It is simply parenting torture. I actually felt like Ant and Dec were hiding in the cockpit organising cruel parenting tasks pushing us to the limit, waiting for one of us to cry “I’m a parent get me out of here”. Bring on that jungle I say. I have sat on an aeroplane for 12 hours with kids; I would piss all over eating sheep’s nads and beetles*
I jest, I am exaggerating a little.
But it is a bit of an ordeal. When shit gets real you have nowhere to hide, no quiet corners to issue a dressing down, no garden to run off steam in and no toy room to send them to so you can assume the foetal position on the floor. Your travelling parenting show is being viewed by a couple hundred strong audience, 30,000ft in the air.
YOU CANNOT LEAVE
and you cannot march them out whilst spitting ‘you wait till you get home’ at them. The whole thing is just a process you have to get through because at the end of it there is glorious sunshine and white sandy beaches waiting for you. You have to keep your eye on the prize (that is the only bit of advice included in this post).
So here is my account of
flying long haul with kids. It offers no further advice what so ever. It merely reflects upon the experience; summarised in six emotional stages (apologies for the puns, they were unintended, honestly)
ACTUALISATION – You make it through airport check in and security. You’ve survived the baggage-on-the-trolley jenga game and you have not lost anyone. Confidence is high and you actually enter the mythical parenting world, which you didn’t think existed, where all things go to plan. You are really doing it.
There were no tantrums in the airport and not a murmur of anti-social behaviour. Maybe partly to do with the fact that they were told the police men with huge guns were watching all the children to make sure they behaved. If they didn’t then they wouldn’t be allowed on the plane. You just have to do these things sometimes. Our process was sound. We folded down the pushchair at the gate whilst holding bags and handed over boarding cards whilst holding onto three small children. Not one cross word was uttered at each other and not one eye roll occurred; we were a slick parenting machine. Before we knew it we were all seated and belted. Proudly displaying our buckled belts and the toddler happily bouncing on my knee. We were ready to go.
“MUURM, MUURM, I NEED A WEE”
REALISATION – You begin to realise that this is not going to go perfectly according to plan and just like most days, you will most probably have to wing it.
I always fall into that parenting complacency trap, where I believe things are going well and then, bam, I am given a small sharp lesson bringing me crashing back down to Earth (I know, bad taste considering the topic of this post). I realised this within twenty minutes of being on the plane that we were not going to be allowed to slip into any zone of comfort. After the eldest child needed a wee just milliseconds before we were set to take off, I knew we were going to have to be alert and prepared at all times. I could feel the anxiety creeping in but after the kind flight attendant quickly ushered us to the loo, order was restored.
We set off with all smiles, talking the kids through what was happening and comparing the speed of the Thomas Cook A330 Airbus to that of Blaze, off Blaze and the monster machines, while the toddler was being entertained by daddy’s phone. Within seconds of the ascent, a quick flick of the toddlers arm and the phone is now sliding down towards the back of the plane with a Mexican wave of legs flying out from seats trying to stop it. Oh bugger, I forgot the toddler was going to be…. well a typical toddler. As the phone made its way back up to me, I nervously thanked everyone involved in the maneuver. Further more I added a classic parenting statement “Oh he’s hit that ‘throwing everything is a game’ phase, he loves it”, (NB. This is not a phase at all, but I find ‘the phase’ thing a good cover in situations like these).
Having not yet reached cruising altitude and the seatbelt signs still on, I found myself issuing a verbal disclaimer to all passengers around us, “Oh you’re the unlucky ones that have been sat next to us *laughing nervously*. I hope you’ve bought your ear plugs”, *still laughing nervously*.
The fear had just got real.
FEAR – Your parenting approach is on show and up for judgement, you feel the stares, all eyes are on you. You realise there is no going back, you have to get through this. You pray for them not to be little bastards.
My fear of being judged as a parent was probably at its greatest on a plane. The journey could go in one of two ways; they behave well by acting sociably and bypass meltdown city and other passengers look on at us in complete awe applauding our parenting ability, or, they could have behaved like complete dicks (I could list many examples here but I think we’re all familiar with this type of behaviour). The latter is typically when judgement is at its highest and the fear of what people were thinking was running through my head. I imagined them saying all sorts of stuff; ” Why on earth would they bring kids on a flight this long”, “Look at them going to the toilet again, she should’ve told them to go the last time they went; ten minutes ago”, “They should tell that kid to sit down”, “Look at the mess they are making. I’d hate to see what their house looks like”, “That toddler needs to be told”, “The mother has just necked two mini bottles of red wine and he’s had a Stella. TUT”, and it goes on.
Within two hours of the flight, the floor beneath our feet was awash with crayons, colouring books, shoes, snap cards, books, pants and blankets. Their individual bags had been devoured and gutted. This was not supposed to happen. We were supposed to do one thing at a time in an orderly fashion and now it’s all on the floor. The plan had officially gone tits up. Oh my god I’ve lost control already.
“Right lets watch TV for hours…where’s the headphones, I forgot the headphones, bugger I meant to get some at the airport *throws money at a member of cabin crew for overpriced crap headphones*
Hopefully they’ll sleep. Please let them sleep. Dont panic, keep calm. Oh my god what are we doing.
DISILLUSIONMENT – You check the progress of the flight on the TV screen map and realise you are only just under half way into the journey. You sob inside. You wonder if it’s worth it.
There was nothing but chaos in our seats and the surrounding three seats that we had invaded. Remnants of dinner and its packaging littered the floor. We’d been playing musical chairs and pass the child for what seemed like ages, entertaining them in any way we could, but exhaustion was starting to creep in. The glorious sunshine and white sandy beaches seemed like a million miles away.
All the other families looked in control and completely comfortable. I didn’t feel in any way like I was in control and handling it. I was not enjoying it. I wanted to cry. It made me wonder why on earth we were taking them on such a long flight and putting ourselves through such hell. Why didn’t we go somewhere closer. Why are we even bothering to go on holiday. Two hours on a plane is enough, even with one child, let alone three. The one child family sat behind us were snoozing and reading books. They seemed relaxed. I hated them.
Why did we have so many kids.
Come to think of it why did we even have kids in the first place.
Your body’s fight or flight responses have been engaged for hours, primed to deal with any crises that may present itself at any moment. You are physically and emotionally drained.
Half way through the flight after dinner I still held onto hope of keeping some sort of routine; settling everyone in front of a film and a nice afternoon snooze. Then, maybe, I would be able to sit peacefully and zone out for half hour whilst being able to relax my shoulders which were currently sitting up in my neck area. I was exhausted from the ten million trips to the loo and crawling around picking up dummies and other random stuff that the toddler had lobbed on the floor.
It soon became clear that the toddler was not going to sleep. Warm milk, repetitive singing and rocking failed to work. I resigned myself to standing up as there didn’t seem any point in sitting down anymore due to said trips to the loo and the toddler being a toddler. I glanced around the plane and all I could see were more people snoozing and reading books. I was exhausted. I found myself staring longingly at the mum from that one child family who was ASLEEP. Yes she was asleep and clearly rubbing it in my face. WHAT A BITCH. Who does she think she is with her silly arse neck cushion, sprawled over a couple of seats while her perfect-non-stop-film watching child is just sitting there all lovely and quiet. I was so tired and prayed for my stamina not to leave me.
Then like an angel appearing from the heavens.
The drinks trolley makes its way down to us oozing beer and wine.
“We’ll have one of each please.”
(I didn’t actually say that, but I did want to drink its entire contents. I wouldn’t have done though as I was still fearful of the judgement)
AKA fuck it, do what you want, I don’t care just sit and be quiet. Get another drink.
Routine and rules go out the window and we were now doing whatever we could to get through the final few hours. The pull-up goes on the middle child because I just couldn’t cope with anymore toilet breaks and the potential piss on the seat. The toddler is now free to run up and down the aisle because the nap attempt has been abandoned. The eldest has a dummy because there is nothing left in the parenting tank to cope with taking it off her. The cake, chocolate and other sugary snacks that we had tried to avoid are willingly given to appease. It is safe to say that after 12 hours on a plane and they had regressed by 12 months.
The children now needed to be re-tamed.
The final hour was taken up by collecting all the flight debris from crayons and frozen playing cards to searching for shoes and socks. All bags were re-packed and the kids were changed into their cooler clothes ready for when we landed. We all looked completely had it. We were on the edge and extremely tired but we were nearly there.
As we began our descent the toddler drifted off to sleep, which was just bloody typical. I had spent most of the flight trying to get him to sleep and now he sleeps.
“Look mum, I can see the ground”.
I glanced out the window, we were there. We’d made it. We’d survived.
I turned to my other half who was exhaling in relief, “That wasn’t too bad really”, I say. “Really?” he replies, looking at me in a where-have-you-been-for-the-past-12-hours kind of way.
But that’s the truth, it wasn’t that bad, apart from feeling a bit clammy and extremely exhausted, we were all ok and talking pleasantly to each other. The kids had their moments but nothing unusual, it was just standard kid behaviour. Everyone around us was still talking too us and the cabin crew were still happy to help us**. We both felt like complete shit though, but that was due to the enormous amount of pressure we had felt to keep things peaceful and under control.
Would I do it again. Yes, definitely, because it’s worth it. As with all parenting decisions; you fear the judgement, you feel their judgement and you question the decisions you make. But when you see happy faces splashing around in the pool and smiles as they build sand castles on the beach. You realise that you’re not doing such a bad job.
*no I really wouldn’t be able to do that at all, but I feel I am now closer to having the strength to achieve something equally as ridiculous.
** The Thomas Cook cabin crew were AMAZING. They made us feel as if they were completely on our side and there was nothing that was too much trouble.
Up next in the Holiday Memoirs series- Part four; holidays with kids, 10 reasons why I am a knob.