Travelling With Children - Empathy for the Parent Please
By Sophie Lee - 18th August 2010
When parents discuss the relative horrors of long haul flights on which their young children accompany them, I can only murmur sympathetically. You see, my in-laws, bless ‘em, live on the other side of the world, which entails an annual commitment to twenty-four hours (or, as I prefer to think of it, 1440 very long minutes) of claustrophobic hell at high altitude, and there’s no amount of hot nuts that can make those minutes go by any faster.
I can’t decide whether my fondest memory is of being heavily pregnant and trying to stop a two-year-old exploring the highways and byways of the aircraft, or the unforgettable flight on which three children under five started a wrestling match with some rock stars who’d been performing at Splendour In The Grass.
So although I could waste time reminiscing about the midnight flight out of Heathrow during which an infant screamed his protest for a nail biting two hours as we sat stranded by icicles that seemed to seep right into the cabin, I’ll move on. Just don’t get me started on the joys of explaining the necessity for the removal of footwear at eleven p.m. to a two-year-old with a mania for keeping shoes on 24-7, or of patiently complying with demands that Teddy go on the conveyor belt just one last time to prove he’s really Teddy and not an improvised explosive device.
You see, more challenging than any of the above is the Jet Lag. I often ponder why the malaise on arrival seems minimal compared to the one that hits you full throttle on your return home. Could it be that the jet lag over there is offset by the adrenalin-fuelled glee of being on vacation? Could it be that the cooing of the Essex wood pigeons releases benign endorphins that lull you to sleep? Or is it simply that travelling one way across the globe is easier on the system than the reverse? Well, I had plenty of time to mull over these questions and more during the seemingly endless waking hours in my first week back.
See, I think this bout of lag was the worst yet, though I probably say that every year. But this time I mean it. For nine days straight everyone’s morning dawned loud and clear at three-thirty a.m., and because the kids could never conveniently align their nap times, I found myself bumbling like one of the living dead from wake-up till ten p.m. That’s a whopping eighteen-hour shift, infinite minutes to feel sympathy for the work schedules of hospital interns and breakfast radio show hosts.
On top of the mood swings, the cravings for Barbeque Shapes at five a.m. and the general sleep-deprived scratchiness there’s a grinding realisation that you’re not going to be able to keep up with the demands of children who are doubtless feeling jaded too, but don’t have the ability to express this in words. Tears, anger, shrieking, fighting and flinging fragile objects against brick walls seem to be their preferred way of coping with stress.
On the fourth day, when nightmares had given way to daymares, I had a mind blowing vision with a cast of six; me, three kids and two policemen. Even as the vision was unrolling I gave myself a pinch. Were the siren’s wails and flashing lights part of a jet-lagged/sleep-deprived hallucination? After all, I had almost certainly been a slave to the speed limit for the entire school run.
“Why are you all crying?” the First Policeman wanted to know as I wound down the driver’s side window to face him.
“Because we’ve been up since three a.m.,” I said, blowing my nose. “Jet lag… we’re not normally like this.”
“Don’t take my mummy away,” shouted a voice from the backseat, “she didn’t mean to do it!”
“Look. We want to discuss the issue of your registration,” said Policeman 1, clearly annoyed and not at all sympathetic about matters pertaining to long haul travel.
“Haven’t you heard of caffeine?” said Policeman 2 incredulously.
“I don’t believe it’ll iron out my melatonin issues,” I said, “but I’m willing to give it a try.
Any chance I can get the kids to school on time?”
“No way,” said Policeman 1.
“If I were you I’d be getting myself that coffee,” said Policeman 2.
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