“We’re all going on a summer holiday, No more working for a week or two, Fun and laughter on our summer holiday, No more worries for me or you…” I would never dare to argue against the wisdom of Sir Cliff, but “fun and laughter”? “no more worries?” He’s obviously never been an expat mum with small kids needing to fly across time zones for the school holidays. The stress of a job has nothing on the physical and mental pressure of keeping your offspring quiet/amused/alive by yourself for a month.
Shortly after I had my son, now three, I remember sitting in the Emirates Airline ticket office booking our flights to the UK for the summer. My two-year-old daughter was sifting the soil from one of the plant pots through her fingers, while my son was ensuring the air was turning more fragrant by the minute.
A well-dressed chap at the next counter leaned conspiratorially nearer to his ticket clerk and said in a loud stage whisper, “Can you please make sure I’m not sitting next to THAT family?” This comment haunted my travels for the next couple of years, and I overcompensated by taking 17 different snacks on board, a new toy per half hour of the flight, five different sticker books and I even contemplated going down the Medised route until I realised that drugging my children for no reason apart from enhancing the comfort of strangers was insane.
I love the story last year of the couple travelling for the first time with their 14-week-old twin boys on a flight across America. Upon boarding, the mum handed out little packages to every passenger in their cabin. They contained sweets, earplugs and a little note from the twins apologising in advance for any noise or disruption on their inaugural flight.
I love this generosity and simple act of kindness, but I have to admit I’ve become hardened to the plight of my fellow passengers. It’s less than eight hours out of everyone’s lives. Eight hours people; that’s nothing. That’s like watching Lord of the Rings back to back. Actually, scrap that. That sounds like a lifetime. But my point is, however loud the shrieks, however constant the loo-trips, it’s a finite amount of time and then you can all get on with your lives. I still have the return journey to fret about.
Now I’m not talking about badly behaved children and parents too busy tucking into the trolley freebies to control them, that’s just bad parenting. A good friend of mine had to travel by herself to a family wedding recently. To celebrate the fact that she was flying solo, she treated herself to an upgrade to Business Class courtesy of some hard-earned air miles and even harder-earned dirhams. Her first experience of turning left at the cabin door was utterly ruined by a family with six young children who ran riot around the cabin, even going through her handbag that was by her feet!
A few hours into this ‘experience of a lifetime’ she even begged the crew to move her to economy to escape the tyranny of the jail-bound children and their oblivious parents who had put their headphones on before take-off and were merrily halfway into their second blockbuster of the trip.
But this is, by far and away, the exception and not the rule. Most parents do the very best they can to ensure harmony, and if they look weary, it’s because they are, so give them a break. And the crying from the child I’m comforting in my lap? Well it’s louder from where I’m sitting, so get over it.
I still remember the five-hour car journeys we used to take as a family to our caravan in West Wales every Easter and summer. My two sisters and I had a cling-filmed square of sandwiches each and an age-appropriate Enid Blyton book for company. Swap the books for a couple of iPads, the sandwiches for a family-sized bag of Quavers and you now have an idea of the hand luggage I’ll be taking on board in a couple of weeks.
But to give you ample warning and the chance to change your own travel plans, we’re travelling on July 12 and we’re sitting in row 37…