Friday, January 16, 2009

travelling with children, for groverjones

i have done a lot of travelling-with-child. let me bring you up to speed with some of my without child experiences, because this a perfect excuse for me to air a couple of other special times.

1. i once made a stewardess get the giggles while she was doing that thing with the mask and safety vest. i was in year 12 and simply pulled faces at her. i was on a school trip, and no, i'm not proud of myself.

2. i once was on a plane where the captain neglected an important part of take-off procedure. you know, the part which goes like this:

will all cabin attendants please take their seats for take off.

this meant that the plane took off while staff were still walking around. i remember a stewardess throwing herself into her seat, and a steward come flying sideways, running off-balance, yelling


3. i once was allowed on a plane with someone who had a gamelan as hand luggage. for those of you who don't know, this is an indonesian wooden xylophone type thing. these things are huge and this one had been dismantled and resembled a large bundle of firewood. my musician friend had bought it in indonesia and we flew back to australia with it under our feet.

4. once i mucked up the arrival time in a flight london to melbourne. my mother was waiting at tullamarine and i didn't arrive. i worked out i'd made a mistake in singapore and felt like such a dick.

5. this is not exactly one of my flight stories, but once, someone i was meeting at tullamarine airport, was arrested as soon as we walked towards the exit doors. the next 4 or so hours were spent at broadmeadows police station. i think it was broady, i've kind of blanked it out.

which brings me to travelling with children.

when princess was 10 months old, i flew with her to turkey. her dad, ali, was already there, having flown across a couple of months before. so, i was on my own, and flying olympus (greek) because it was the cheapest ticket i could find. i was assured it was a direct flight. it wasn't.

so, groverjones, first point:

make sure that the flight is as direct as possible.

the reason for this is that when you are in singapore airport, or athens airport, or frankfurt airport, and your kid is tired in a way that you've never seen before, and you are about to fall over with exhaustion, you do not want to be having anything like 12 more hours, 12 more hours, running through your brain.

i can't remember the connections of this flight, but i know that we were in places i hadn't expected, in the middle of the night, and at one stage i remember letting princess crawl on the floor of the airport where we were changing planes, thinking shit, that floor must be so dirty, and not caring.

this leads me to my second point:

minimise hand-luggage.

now, i know you want to take as much infrastructure as you can, to keep him amused in as many ways possible. i had bottles, nappies, etc and because she was so young, i didn't have games as such. but i think i had an enormous bag of stuffed toys and "developmental aids" worrying i wouldn't be able to get them in turkey. that was silly, i could and did. so that might be the next point:

plan to buy or borrow some of this bulky, heavy stuff over there. you don't need it for the plane.

i do remember having a stroller but i had to check it, and they wouldn't give it to me at each connection, and they didn't have one they could lend me, so i was basically fucked. i had to carry her, and my nappy bag and this huge bag of toys, and it was a marathon. we flew melbourne-singapore?-athens-london-istanbul from memory, and i think even sydney first.

it was endless. it was a nightmare. and there was no one to share it with, even how bad it was. there were terminal changes on buses in the middle of the night, walking through airports carrying this baby. i don't know how i managed. they must have given me a trolley or something! i've blocked out the memory, too traumatic.

but she was great. on the flight, towards athens, i remember at one stage her being handed around the plane by greek grandparenty types. i leaned back and closed my eyes for a break, and would open them, turn around, check her position every 10 mins or so. i knew she wasn't going anywhere far, and i got a bit of rest. those smiling greek grandparenty types saved my sanity.

i had a hook-on bassinet in front of me, that was resting on my knees the entire way. i had no help whatsoever from the cabin staff. in fact, at one stage, middle of night, i had to heat a bottle. i went to the galley to ask for help, the curtain was pulled across, i opened it, and guess what i saw?

the blonde, attractive female attendant was sitting on the bench, head back, mouth open.

the male attendant was putting a strawberry in her mouth.


another thing i'd considered for this trip was phenergan, that anti-histamine which can also act as a sedative. well, not considered, but been told about by other parents. i didn't want to give it to her for obvious reasons, drugging my child, are you crazy? but also because i'd been told she might react to it, and it might keep her up and have the opposite effect. as it was, she was great. i made sure she was having a bottle when we took off and landed (for her ears) or her dummy and she didn't cry at all, didn't bother anyone (on this trip) and was fantastic.

when we got to istanbul, her sleeping was out. she'd be up at 5am laughing and clapping her hands and rocking back and forth to the call to prayer, but soon settled down and that was all cool. i don't remember the flight back other than we were sitting next to a very snotty english lady. princess was fine in my mind, maybe a little wriggly (she was 14 months by then, and walking) but she didn't cry and wasn't too noisy. this woman kept sighing and looking as if she was being so bothered. i had princess on the other side of me, away from the woman, and was doing all i could until i finally just said to her

you don't have to be such a bitch, you know.

then we had a little conversation about how she was or wasn't being a bitch, and that was it. we ignored each other for the rest of the trip.

the next time i flew with princess long-haul was when she was 3. again, we flew to turkey, again i was on my own. i don't have as many memories. i would have had books, and some toys and kept her busy with food. she was great, and i think on the return trip we were upgraded to business class where i made a little nest for her on the floor with a blanket and she slept and maybe it wasn't the safest thing to do but oh, the bliss of being able to sleep a little myself. there still weren't those personal screens where you could watch stuff, but she was still a little young for that anyway. we amused ourselves by going to the bathroom, i remember her being very interested in all the mechanics of the toilet, but scared of the sound of the flush. a warning there.

this trip we also flew across to america and back, but i don't remember those flights other than our time spent in frankfurt airport on the way there and back. terrible connection times meant that we drifted around for hours, like that man in that tom hanks movie who was living in an airport. there was a giant polar-bear ice cream dispenser, but i didn't have coins. we slept on benches, and at one stage i had princess sitting atop the mountain of luggage on our trolley parked just outside the toilet door while i went for a quick wee (i figured she could make sure no one stole anything by sitting on it, and she had to be right near the door so she couldn't get stolen), next thing i know, she's fallen off from tiredness. she was only 3.

the latest flying with children was 2007 when we flew with the 3, aged 8, 10 and 11? by this age, of course, they can amuse themselves a little better, and it was a breeze. you need those tvs in the back of the seats, and you need them to be working. they need their books, their DS games, and you need a little glass of wine to relax. then you can sit back and feel sorry for the people with little kids, who are struggling. on one of these flights there was a man getting very agitated about a little one near him who wouldn't stop crying. the parents were doing all they could, but often you can't stop a baby or young child crying. you just can't. and on a plane it's harder. you can't take them out, you can't take them for a walk, or a drive in the car. you can't put them in a bath, to let the water soothe them. this man was being a prick, and had made a couple of comments along the lines of can't you DO something? the rest of the passengers were sympathetic to the young couple with the child, and were actively starting to turn against complaining man. finally, someone stood up and told him to be quiet (he'd been starting to stand up, turn around, beseech the other passengers for support in his anti-child movement, what were they going to do? kill the kid?) and other passengers called out, yeah, shut-up, they can't do anything! it was a cool moment, but some people just don't get how hard it is to fly with kids. these are the people who don't like seeing kids in restaurants; imagine them trapped in a plane with a crying brat?

if you are one of these people, just know that no one is feeling worse than the parents right at that point, and you need to do everything in your human capacity to give them a break, and try to give them a supportive smile.

so, basically, the only things you can do are be prepared, have some stuff, direct flights, lots of food and snacks and things to do, sticker books if he is that age. i've just checked, it seems he is an infant? is he a he, even? so sticker books are out. as inc suggested, an evening flight would be good, then there might be sleep.

the final suggestion is this:

know that no matter what, it will be over and you will forget the pain. it will become part of your story-telling, part of the family legends, something you will be able to tell your child over and over.

it will be a bonding thing also for you and your partner.

keep thinking:

this too will pass.
this too will pass.
this too will pass.

when do you go? you must blog from there, and let us know how the flight was.


sarah said...

I was once on a flight sitting next to a man and his 1 year old baby and the baby was screaming the entire time. The flight attendant came over and asked did he have a bottle for the baby because he was crying because his ears hurt and the man said no. He was on a 4 hour flight with no food or water for the baby! then the flight attendant asked would he like some water and he said no! So she went and got it anyway, and funnily enough it stopped the crying! The worse part was halfway through when the baby pooped and the man had no diapers so the entire plane stunk for the rest of the way home. Not many happy people on that plane! It wasnt the babys fault, just its fathers!

groverjones said...

Wow! Thanks for that post. We're off tomorrow for 3 months in Donegal.

I reckon I'm about 50% of the way on your checklist. We have a lot of hand luggage, but it's mainly my laptop and camera. We are borrowing a stroller over there I think. We're avoiding phenergan, but Dad may well have a wine or 2. I've got In The Night Garden and Wiggles on the laptop if the QANTAS system fails to have exactly the music Little Miss Grover (who doens' yet have a consistent interwebs nom de plume yet, but is nearly 2 in answer to your question) wants at any given time. Our flight leaves in the evening so if we can get her to sleep after dinner we may have some sanity.

On the negative side, we're going indirectly via Singapore and Frankfurt with a 3 hour drive from Dublin to Donegal at the other end. And I'm thinking more 'dour Germans' than 'Greek grandparents' on the last leg.

My suspicion is that it will probably be great fun from her point of view as at 4 in the morning when she wakes up there will be about 350 other people she can chat to!

I'll let you know how it goes.

Another Outspoken Female said...

I so wish my friend with twins who has to travel scotland to NZ regularly was blogging to tell her story!

Melba said...

Sarah, hi, yes that was the father's fault he probably thought 4 hours was nothing and he could wing it. Parents can be idiots. I'm guessing you're from the States? We just had a couple over here in Australia give their 10-week old baby half a tablet for "her headache" but it turned out to be an ecstasy tablet.

Grover, I'm so glad I got in with my thing, you're going so soon! It'll go well, you can't help connections sometimes. Look out for the giant polar bear ice-cream dispenser at Frankfurt! Your Little Miss will like to say hello to him, even if you don't have any coins.

AOF, I'm sure there's a whole world out there of blogs about travelling with children.

groverjones said...

Made it! More details at my blog (yes, that's right, I did a post!)