It’s a Small World is soothing our Christmas withdrawal by collecting together posts about the joys of travelling with children. As it happens, my friend Sarah edited a book on this very subject; and I should possibly have read it more carefully before deciding to fly alone with a baby and a two-year-old, by Ryanair, to Stansted on Boxing Day to visit my parents. Let’s have that again but with scary music: I flew alone with a baby and a two-year-old. On Boxing Day. By Ryanair. Actually there were no projectile vomiting incidents or lost bags or cancelled planes, and I didn’t even murder my firstborn, but there was enough adrenalin for a Schwarzenegger movie even so.
For example: the moment when, just as we were waiting at the gate, I realised that Hugh needed a rather serious nappy change. So we left the queue (because it is the custom, when waiting for a Ryanair flight, not to wait comfortably in the seats but to form a vast grim queue that straggles past four other gates) and made for the baby-change cubicle; but we were beaten to it by another toddler; and then the flight started to board. I ended up making poor Hugh wait until we were in the air and then changing him on the ridiculously tiny shelf in the plane loo, with his legs sticking up in the air because there was no room for him to stretch, so that when the plane lurched as I was re-dressing his lower half I dropped a shoe on his face. Fortunately another family were kind enough to look after Frank while I did this.
For example: the hideous moment when we began to descend and we were told we had to turn off the laptop and stop watching Bob the Builder. Cue major tantrum – kicking, shouting, crying, and then slipping off his seat-belt (why are aeroplane seat-belts so laughably un-toddler-proof?) and slithering off the seat, while I instructed him in increasingly hysterical tones to sit down and tried to wrestle him back into his place. Making this even more fun, Frank was also screaming, as he objected strongly to a) the pressure in his ears (he did not settle down to feed or fall asleep on this flight); b) being squeezed and tipped and joggled as I struggled with his brother with my other arm; c) being put down when one arm was clearly not enough. Then when Hugh had been wrestled into submission, exhausted by his tantrum he fell asleep. Which was nice in a way, but it meant I had somehow to carry a 16kg toddler off the plane as well as two bags, the coats and the baby. Again the kindness of strangers came to our aid. Despite the fact that Hugh must have been kicking them in the back for much of the flight, the three nice Irish people in the row in front popped up and announced that they would do whatever we needed to help us get off the plane. One of them carried Frank and another the bags while I concentrated on Hugh, and the third helped me re-erect the buggy, which had been unloaded at the bottom of the steps. There’s an odd sort of camaraderie among Ryanair passengers, born of shared humiliation and suffering, and my helpers were getting an enjoyable glow from being so much more attentive than the paid staff. With righteous indignation they recounted how they had seen a little girl hesitating at the top of the aeroplane steps, too nervous to climb down on her own, and on pointing this out to a stewardess had been told it wasn’t her problem. Anyway, they made us their problem, and I was very grateful.
Third example: Hugh doing a lying-down protest just past the metal-detector arch as we came back through Stansted on the homeward journey. I had Frank strapped to my front and all the coats and bags to repack. A total stranger lifted Hugh back into the buggy, and he wasn’t quite horrible enough to kick someone he didn’t know. He would have kicked me.
In fact we had been allowed to queue-jump at security. “Are you alone with those two? Come this way.” And then, to the other staff: “she’s alone with two.” Unusual kindness as the reward for unusual folly.
And, fourthly: as we were showing our travel documents and passing through the gate at Stansted, Frank still on my front and Hugh in the buggy (which is a double buggy, graced with pneumatic tyres but nonetheless large and heavy), I suddenly had a hideous premonition. I grabbed a passing Ryanair person and asked “Is there a lift?” “I don’t know,” she answered helpfully. And there wasn’t. There was a double flight of steps.
The boys were quiet on the return flight, and clever grandma had provided little parcels with chocolate money in to unpack when Bob had to be turned off (see previous post). Still. Never again. Next time, if Ken can’t come too, I shall put stamps on Hugh’s head and post him.