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Thursday, 1 September 2016

#21 On Long Haul Travel With Children

They say children are a societal leveller. I would say this is nowhere more true than with air travel. That is, unless you can afford your own private jet, or at least have your nippers banished to coach class with the nanny while you sup champagne (Madonna), then I'm afraid we're all in this together, parents. And I must admit to a tiny bit of schadenfruede, as someone who has never exceeded premium economy, imagining those used to business class not only returning to coach but also with a sprog or two to really enhance that experience. Double whammy.

And then my smug grin packs up and sods off because I'm awoken from my reverie (probably by Son pouring yoghurt into my lap) by the reality that I too am in coach class and about to embark on the very same journey. Cue Husband and me mentally readying various banalities to be trotted out at crisis points to come: it is what it is, it'll be over before you know it, this totally sucks; you know the ones.

And whatever we say to ourselves, there is nothing quite like feeling you've been airborne with children for a biblically, bum-numbingly long time, rolling in and out of consciousness, only to look at that bloody diagram of where the plane is on the map and see you've covered about a sixth of the journey so far. That is a feeling indeed.

So, why were we doing this two weeks ago? Well, we were headed to a wedding in east-coast USA: Massachussets. Flying East from Sydney, changing in California, rather than west over Europe, we used United rather than our normal choice of Emirates. The switch was a mixed blessing, to say the least. United has none of the crispness of Emirates on any level, but where its relative slapdashery meant shabby check-in service and a lost suitcase on the ground, onboard we were never hassled to shift all the bags or sleeping toddler beneath our feet at any point, and whatever the turbulence Daughter slept unhassled in the bassinet. It was like being looked after by Uncle Buck rather than stiff Aunt Edie and I have to say, it did improve the actual flight for us.

Because nice menus and plush fittings aside, when you travel with kids - much like when you do anything with kids that you once did without them - your standards change (slip?) to simply wanting them happy; in this case this means either asleep or iPad-comatose.

But nonetheless do not mistake this for a highly pleasurable experience, or even one to be compared with the flight of the childless. I've said before that pre-kids I would inwardly tut upon hearing infant cries on a flight, when all it would take was some earphones or headphones and I'd be free of said cries once again. How little I appreciated the decadence of being bored, of apathetically punching my way through entertainment choices on a little screen. Now, I am nostalgic for boredom and apathy. They have not been my inflight friends for a very long time. Instead, I am lucky if both children sleep at the same time. On this journey, our first with Daughter, she sensed when we'd all truly had enough and picked up nicely, wailing plaintively while I marched up and down the aisles trying to shush her in the darkness, passing row upon row of slumped bodies with slackjawed and eyemasked faces, all in a state of rest. Bastards.

That said, thanks to the aforementioned ‘United touch’ we were left alone when the kids were actually sleeping, and at such times Husband and I got to enjoy those uniquely aeroplane experiences such as eating freezing cold, stale bread rolls and sipping chilly red wine from a little plastic goblet with the relentless din of the plane engine in your ears. Screw you, first class; we’re in the lap of luxury here, we thought.

But it didn’t all end with the flight, of course. For, when once youngsters we assaulted jetlag head-on with nights of partying, now we were condemned to see in the wee hours in a far more sobering (and sober) way. Arriving at our overnight B and B, we packed the kids off to bed at 8 and despite feeling fairly woozy, managed dinner downstairs followed by our 10pm bedtime. All was silent in our one shared room and we plopped into bed feeling quite tidy.

Then. I remember Husband and I both coming to, confused. The room was weird and everything bathed in navy blue darkness. The one familiarity was the sound of Daughter’s cries, shortly followed by Son’s slow yells:

‘Muuum. Daaaaad. I wan’ get up.’

And so it began, the 2am eternal wakeup. Sleep would elude us for another twenty hours. And despite any previous experience with newborns, there is still a special nightmarish tinge to wakeups like these; blinking into the gloom you await that feeling that when morning peels around, bleak and blank, you have a whole day to face in a fuzz. And in the meantime, some dark hours where you and your partner may exchange many hissed swear words. All of this must you face.

And you do. And you live. And it gets easier each day. Now the trip is over, we are experiencing all the same stuff this end like some cruel mirror image but with Getting Up For Work thrown in for good measure (at least in Husband’s case).

I get it, kids: we put you on the jet that gave you the lag. But come on. Seriously, come on.

Still, if it gives you any idea how great the actual trip and wedding were, then I shall say this: it was still worth it. There were long nights, swear words and hazy daytimes and yet the laughs and the sight of naked infant bumcheeks flashing in the sunshine made it all worth it. Perhaps it was just a two-week version of the last three years of our lives.


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