I’ve a secret to share.
A secret that saved my life… or my sanity at least, as we braved a three-hour flight with my nine month old a few years back.
When jigging didn’t work, nor the usual repertoire of happy clappy songs or bouncing wiggly feet on laps, we dug deep (into the actual travel bag) and pulled out our secret weapon. Peppa Pig stickers. An hour later, the back of the seat in front was entirely covered with Daddy Pig and George’s dinosaur.
Another hour was spent watching her uncoordinated but adorable attempts to remove them and restick them. I gazed around at our seat neighbours smugly as if to say, see; she is the world’s best behaved child.
But we all know that when travelling with little ones, things don’t always go to plan. And as amazing as they promise they’ll be, when it comes to sitting still in a confined space for an hour or two, strapped down and unable to bounce off the walls (although they try), flying with young children can be….gin inducing.
Inevitably there are a core four things that will happen as you soar through the clouds.
They’ll need to go to the toilet at the worst possible time.
No matter how many times you take them to the bathroom before the flight, the moment the seatbelt sign lights up stubbornly in the panel above your head, your smallie will need a wee. But it won’t just be a wee, it will be the most excrutiating, urgent loo-trip they’ve ever needed in their lives.
Or their faces will tell you that anyway. Eyes screwed up in hyperbole, legs crossed as they move backwards and forwards beseeching you to release them from the torture they tell you that you’ve inflicted upon them. Mean Mummy. And all the, “just try hold it ins” are futile. As are the desperate glances over your shoulder, back at the stubbornly red-lit toilet doors and the stewards who shrug sadly, their eyes telling you what everyone sitting close are also thinking. Bad Mummy.
Finally, finally, the relief of the dull ping that signals the release of your seat prisoner as you scurry down behind your abscondee. You eye the drinks trolly mournfully as you squeeze inelegantly past. You’ve a job to do, to convince your nervous child that the horribly-sounding flusher doesn’t suck you down, even though you usually press and run yourself. You walk back to your seat, steering your small charge forward, safe from any toilet emergencies for another 20 minutes at least.
My ears hurt
Of course, sometimes this isn’t something that can be avoided. But the theatrics involved never changes. A hand in the air, flapping towards the general direction of their ears. Ouchy. “Yawn”, you command, doing it yourself – a giant exaggerated one, head rolling back, sound and everything. They look blankly at you. You remember the sucky sweets weighing up the sugar to ear-pain ratio and proceeding. But that’s no good either. The flapping has evolved into ear pulling and rising hysteria.
You ignore the quick glances from the people in the seats ahead and behind, and escalate to Plan C. “Pinch your nose and blow!”
More blank looks, but you can tell by the familiar twitch of your child’s face that things are about to get So Much Worse. You equalise the pressure in your own ears but only one pops. Your child is frantically blowing raspberries in their failed attempts to clear the pressure. You curse leaving the Calpol in the suitcase as the crying worsens. There’s only one thing for it…Peppa stickers.
Spilling family secrets
‘Mummy (loudly, too loudly) why did you say a bad word to Daddy in the car this morning’ The usual hushing of your little loudspeaker doesn’t work in such close quarters. Prepare to be mortified by your entire pandora’s box of indiscretions to be smashed WIDE open. ‘Emily hit me in the Pee Pee’ is followed by ‘Why is your tummy so jiggly’ and rounded up nicely with a finale of ‘your hair is half yellow, half black’ while examining it closely with their sticky fingers, ape-style.
There is no escape. The sooner you realise that and accept it the better for all your sakes. Just another hour you tell yourself as a sock lands across the open pages of a book you are pretending to read. You eye the exit longingly. Means to an end, you chant silently as they accuse you of having nits. Means. To. An. End.
The crying child
Dear everyone who doesn’t have young kids anymore, sometimes children cry because their tiny ear canals aren’t yet developed to cope with the pressure of flying. Sometimes they express their frustration or exhaustion by opening their mouth and wailing. And yes, it is annoying but it’s not because the frazzled parents are doing something wrong.
A friend of mine who flew recently told of the ultimate horror flight when a male passenger muttered out loud, as she tried to sooth her crying toddler, that if you can’t keep your kid quiet you shouldn’t bloody have them. Another pal described an angel of an air steward who held her baby and helped quieten him down while she dashed to the toilet on a flight she was taking solo.
Be more like that person and less like the first. We are doing our best here. And if you are getting upset or irate by small child in pain then here’s a roll of Peppa stickers.
Knock yourself out.
This article was originally published in June 2022.