It happened a while ago, but the scars are still there. When I see a family with small kids on a long haul flight, it all comes rushing back. Read about Carol, the heroic mum who has to travel long haul with 3 small kids #dontknowhowshedoesit
Carol the expat wife has done this journey more times than she would care to remember. The long haul flight back home sends feelings of dread through her, but it is so important to ‘get out’ sometimes and reconnect with home. Every year, Carol’s husband Graham thinks up some spurious reason why he can’t possibly fly with Carol, five year old Freddie, Cressida who is two and baby Annie.
“So sorry darling but I simply can’t get away from the office that week. I’ll just have to follow you a few days after.”
Carol knows very well that Graham prefers the peace and quiet of flying alone and often manages to snag a business class seat when sufficient air-miles allow it. There’s usually a row over this.
So Carol is going it alone in economy as usual. Graham drops the family at Jomo Kenyatta airport and you can almost see his heart lift as he waves them off; relishing blessed respite from continually disturbed night’s sleep with Freddie’s nightmares, Annie’s night feeds and Cressida who insists on sleeping in their bed. He will no longer have to endure the evening dose of EastEnders or The Kardashians – but instead will be free to watch Top Gear and SuperSport without the whinging and prodding from Carol that usually spoils these guilty pleasures.
Now that Carol must pay for a proper seat for Cressida on the plane (she is over 2yrs old), she decides to try to carry on the toddler car seat, in the hopes that she will be able to strap her daughter into the chair then recline it for naps during much of the journey. However, what Carol fails to foresee is that after checking in the bags, she’s left juggling the car seat, the pushchair, her own bulky hand luggage and three children. Strapping little Annie onto her chest in a sling, she then balances Cressida on top of the car seat, which is in turn balanced on top of the umbrella pushchair. Freddie complains of being too hot and begins to peel off and drop layers in the middle of the airport. Carol ignores disapproving glances from childless fellow travellers and strides purposefully on, picking up baby cups and sweaters as she goes along.
Before too long there is an ear piercing screech as Cressida face-plants onto the floor and the car seat lands on top of her. Red faced, Carol puts the ensemble back together and miraculously finds a conciliatory packet of half eaten Smarties in her bag. Nobody around her says anything but they do stare. In spite of the fact that the coffee shop is located miles away from Carol’s departure gate, she is determined that the entire family posse head straight there so that she can grab a life-giving latte.
Once at the departure gate, Cressida pulls all her crayons and colouring book out of her tiny rucksack and scatters them on the floor. It’s about time for Annie’s feed, but Carol has to spin her out until she is on board so that the bottle can be heated. She bounces her on her knee while sipping coffee with the other hand, oblivious to the fact that drips from her take-away mug dribble down her white shirt. Freddie has gone to stare at the big planes through the sheet glass windows. Carol is grateful for the respite from being asked repeatedly to hand over her smartphone so that Freddie can play digital games.
On embarking, there is to-ing and fro-ing as there are no bulkheads available for baby Annie’s ‘sky-cot’. A couple of passengers grumble as they are moved away from hallowed seats of plentiful leg room, shooting death looks at Carol and her brood.
Up in the air
Once in the plane and after takeoff, Cressida rejects her car seat, preferring to chase Freddie up and down the aisles in full cry. After a couple of laps of the plane, Carol decides not to follow them. The British Airways hostess scowls at the children rather than offering to help and reluctantly agrees to warm Annie’s bottle (but she can’t do it in the microwave, because of health and safety, so it takes ages). Now back in their seats, Carol struggles to keep two toddlers under control while holding Annie under one arm. She selects a film but is sabotaged by the children jabbing the touch screen. Annie is now screaming as it’s 2 hours past her feed.
Where the hell is that air hostess and dammit, what on earth did she look like again? thinks Carol. Finally Annie’s bottle arrives but sadly Freddie has got the hang of pressing the stewardess button on the armrest.
During lunch a tray flies, Freddie rejects his food saying it is ‘yukkie’ and Carol attempts to post bread into Cressida’s mouth. Annie is now fed in her sky cot, but not sleeping. First she sits up; then makes a break for freedom by leaning out. Carol catches her with her knee as she topples out head first.
Will this flight never end?
After lunch, Cressida wails because Freddie is being mean. Carol wedges a nappy between the top of Cressida’s head and the aeroplane headphones that keep falling off, to try to divert her attention. Freddie chooses this moment to melt down entirely and scream. Annie vomits in her sky-cot following the feed. On numerous trips to the bathroom with Freddie and Cressida, Carol gets covered in wee by her children who fail to aim properly. She regrets having removed her shoes. The air hostess tells Carol that she is not allowed to change the baby’s nappy on her lap (even though it’s not a poo-ey one), but must go to the cramped bathroom instead. When Annie has finally fallen asleep and things have sufficiently calmed down, Carol tunes into a weepy movie, ‘Marley & Me’, for some well earned respite.
The seemingly endless flight somehow does come to an end. Frazzled, covered in baby sick, food, poo, wee and coffee, Carol emerges at drizzly Heathrow and almost weeps at the sight of her old Dad in his anorak, patiently waiting in Arrivals to take them all back ‘home’.
Related post: The expat family on leave
Photo credit: Unsplash.com