Monday, 13 June 2011

No Such Thing As A Vacation

So a few people have told me that there is no such thing as a vacation with small children. 

These people are telling the truth. This post will be scattered, because I am scattered. We've been here nearly 72 hours but I'm still not quite sure which way is up.  One thing I am sure about- you know that place where you live? Take it from me, the place where you live is fantastic. It's great. You love it. You never want to leave. There is no need for you to go on a long plane journey with your kids, ever. The rest of the world isn't worth it. Trust me. (Joking- sorta).

If you don't trust me - here's reason #1 why you should stay home: Fake Aeroplane Night.   What is WITH this? I'd forgotten that airlines seem to think that once you're in the sky, it's night time. Every long haul flight, no matter what time of day it happens, no matter which timezones it crosses, seems to begin with lunch and then immediately segue into this odd, pitch-black affair where all the cabin lights are turned off, the shades on the windows are compulsorily down and the stewardesses only talk in whispers. FYI: this is not ideal when travelling with bored toddlers. We got on a plane at 11.30am, and within two hours it was too dark for our children to play with any of the myriad toys that I had lovingly packed (in identical pairs) into ziploc bags.  Unfortunately, it was not too dark for them to kick and scream, or jump on things, or try to destroy the aircraft.  Also - the A380 is weirdly quiet. I was counting on engine noise to drown out their yelling but it didn't work and  - this may be the only time anybody has ever used this sentence - I really wish our plane had been louder. We did have a laptop for videos and two old mobile phones (these were GREAT in the dark - wonderful, wonderful idea, thanks Shonda!!!) but I don't think they have ever behaved with quite the level of naughtiness that we saw on our first flight. I know it was hard for them, etc etc etc, but it started in the car on the way to the airport (seriously, Pink and Blue?) and  by the time we were flying over Turkmenistan I was filled with a hollow, aching rage and inches away from storming the cockpit and demanding that the pilot turn the plane around or at least give me access to an ejector seat.  We were stuck in oppressive, whirring darkness with two children we were utterly unable to control, fielding angry glares from the other passengers and trying not to shake them and say 'if you think you can do better you are welcome to do a few hours of mid-air babysitting, pal'.  There was a moment of relief when they finally, finally, FINALLY both went to sleep, but within sixty seconds - sixty seconds - the seatbelt light came on and we had to remove them from their bassinets to comply with safety regulations. Something to do with the oxygen masks. Because obviously, by the time the oxygen masks are dropping from the ceiling, everything is going to be fine, and we are totally not going to die at all, and it's really really really going to matter that my kid is in a bassinet.  (If you are an airline safety engineer and know a good reason for this rule, I'm afraid I don't want to hear it - I'd rather stay mad about this). I told the stewardess - if you make me wake this boy up I guarantee he will scream at you for every remaining minute of this flight - but she did make me get him up and the whole experience went from tortuous to apocalyptic as I held him, screaming, through the rest of that too-dark imaginary night. Next to me, Pink slumbered peacefully on J's lap and he kept making a face at me, the one that says 'can't you keep your kid quiet? I've got a child here who's trying to sleep, you inconsiderate woman'.  It's a good thing it's not possible to file for divorce in mid-air, is all I will say about that particular experience.  

After a few not-too-bad hours in Singapore, we got on our next flight and had - you guessed it - lunch, and were then plunged back into night again, although it was 10am in the country we were leaving and midday where we were going. Fortunately all the yelling on leg one had so tired the children out that they fell asleep as soon as the bassinets were fixed to the wall. I got out my phone to take pictures of them - finally, finally, finally sleeping - and before I had put the phone away the seatbelt light came on again. Horrified, we decided to see if we could get away with sitting there quietly and not doing anything. Ummmm.... 'no' is the answer to this, for those of you ever planning to fly Singapore Airlines. The stewardesses began to mass behind us in battle formation and I'm afraid I started to ugly-cry.  "They haven't slept for about 23 hours" I wept "and I just cannot doooooooo it. I cannot wake them up. I can't beeeeear it" and then I put my head in my hands and sobbed, because nothing says 'mature, successful, in-control woman' like boo-hooing at the top of my voice in front of a few hundred airline passengers.  Anyway, they clearly cover this kind of emergency in stewardess school because five minutes later they had found us enough spare seats for both children to stretch out and stay asleep, where they then slumbered peacefully for the next five hours while my blood pressure returned to normal. They also obviously designated us as 'high risk for crazy' because they then kept on offering me extra drinks,  snacks, blankets and crayons for the kids and nobody even batted an eyelid when Blue threw his brand new Dora the Explorer toy watch at one of them during landing. 

Oooh, sorry, that was only supposed to be a few sentences but once I started it seems I just couldn't stop. Anyway, I'm glad that's out of my system now. And of course, now that the flight is finally over it is so good to be here. So good. Watching my kids play with their cousins is just the most fantastic feeling. Blue is particularly crazy about his oldest cousin and is having the time of his life with her as his new tickle-partner. He loves to roughhouse, and Pink hates it, so for once he is getting enough rough and tumble and she is getting enough personal space.  They remember their grandparents, which I wasn't really expecting and is both really nice and a little scary. Whose says tinies don't remember stuff, huh? 

Anyway. Scattered. We still are. J and I seem to be taking it in turns to not be able to sleep, which is making it hard for us to do ordinary things like finish sentences, or drive. I've already broken one of my mother's plates; fortunately not an expensive one.  The babies are sleeping strangely well, or perhaps we're just so deeply asleep when we are asleep that we don't hear them when they wake up. 

And then - last night we had our first ever allergic episode. After dinner I looked over at Blue and he had a fat lip. I looked again and saw that it was a really really fat lip and getting fatter, and that his face was covered in hives. Within seconds his eyes started to swell and suddenly I'm thinking about anaphylactic shock and asphyxiation and I start to totally. freak. out.  Fortunately my Dad is a doctor and realised it wasn't serious or life-threatening so we didn't have to take him to the hospital. Unfortunately my Dad is a doctor and realised it wasn't serious or life threatening so didn't quite realise how dramatic it seemed to me. For while I was standing there thinking my son's face is swelling up WHY IS NOBODY PANICKING??? I guess they thought I was doing enough to cover everyone else. It was utterly terrifying and although it didn't take long to find out that his breathing was fine and he wasn't in any real danger, it's one of the scariest parenting experiences I've had so far and triggered ugly-cry #2 for this trip.  And of course, we had no antihistamines with us after what happened last week gave us The Fear. He was so uncomfortable and itchy that we decided to risk the crazy and bought him some more - a different chemical, and fortunately it worked fine and didn't send him off the edge. I'm not sure we would have noticed if it had, though, because later the same evening my tiniest niece took a dive off the sofa and opened up her forehead on my parents' coffee table.  She's just come out of general anaesthetic to be stitched up, and my sister's two eldest are staying with us at my parents' while my sister and brother-in-law stay up at the hospital with her. That certainly put our not-actually-anaphylactic-shock episode in perspective. We're all incredibly glad she's doing well, but it's been an extremely rough 24 hours for her and my sister and her husband. 

There's other stuff going on too, which I'll write more about when I'm in the mood to make jokes about gene-linked cancers.  Nobody is sick, there's just a lot of stuff I need to think about, and it's already been the cause of ugly-cry #3, although I suspect that was partly due to jetlag. Did I say it was really good to be here? It is, but it's been a bit draining too. 

I think I'd better go and make another coffee. Or look at hotels online. 

I need a vacation. 


  1. Welcome home :-) I have been thinking of you, having found your blog when 'Twins on a Plane' was the top post. Sounds...awful. I'm going to now deposit this post on the Facebook wall of a friend who has just recently changed her thoughts on doing a long haul with an 18 month old and a newborn. Won't she be pleased!

    I hope it's all up from here for you.

  2. My place is really quiet and relaxing tonight... you could come and stay here ;)

    I am very glad you made the trip - THANKYOU! And I'm so glad Blue is feeling better, and also your ugly cry #3 should really be #4. I'm sure mine last night really deserved a place at #3!

  3. Claudia, I really feel for you...that long flight just sounded awful (yet I did laugh at some of your descriptions). Not a good blog friend. Corinne

  4. oh my gosh. Trips with kids are trips. Not vacations. And no one with young children would ever dream of owning a coffee table.

    SOOOOO feeling this. This whole mess.

    Also, gives me the hives when I think of returning to Ethiopia with the kids. A and I might go back this year, but I am determined the kids have to be old enough to read to themselves and keep the hell quiet on the flight. 7 years or older, I say.

    oh man. I hate flying with kids.

  5. Oh my goodness I an feeling this post too. Toddlers on planes is terrible...terrible horrible and no good.

    I will aslo admit that the line "high risk for crazy" made me laugh a lot.That may be because I was designated the very same not long ago in Uganda : )

    Hope you get some fun before it is time to return home.

  6. I'm so sorry for the plane horrors, I don't envy. I hope your family members are all going to be okay with attentive care.

    I think you just described our May 2009 flight back from Addis Ababa with our brand new family union. Except add a dash of having been harrassed at the airport before you get on the first plane, and then add a smidgen of being treated incredibly poorly by an Ethiopian flight attendant with an obvious prejudice or axe to grind toward / with your family. (I do not write that lightly for anyone reading this, it was obvious.) Also mix in a few more absolute debacles and yeah... "horrific" plane trip home is like saying Oh crap, I've run out of mayonnaise!

    Hope your stay in Au becomes a wonderful memory.

  7. Oy! My husband always refers to our visits to his parents, across the country, as "vacations". Ummm, no. Trip to every circle of hell Dante could conceive of, yeah. Some circles he never even though of- uh huh.
    Dreadful. Horrible. Heart attack level stress. Ugh.
    Glad everyone is having fun now that you're there though!

  8. Oh, this sounds completely hideous. I hope the rest of the vacation goes better! Glad your niece is ok.

  9. Oh me. I'm really looking forward to our Addis to DC flight now :)
    Bless all of your hearts! I hope the rest of it goes ok!

  10. I am utterly convinced that drugging my children to fly is the next plan of action. I have done too many of these flights - and your description is right on - all that shit has happened to me at one point or another. And I have always had a toddler, it seems, why oh why aren't my kids growing up? As a brood they are stuck in toddler hood. Anyway, one flight early on with just one toddler, the woman behind me, mom of 3 boys, said oh so matter of factly that of course you drug your kids to fly. Pre medicate. We do it for immunizations, why not flying? And I was AGHAST at her and told the story of the terrible woman who drugs her kids and did she think I was doing that with my precious and pure son?

    Now, even when a flight is 'not bad' it's still pretty horrible.

    Good flight attendants are worth their weight in gold.

    Hang in there and try to shake off the flight memories. You won't forget what it was like, but the sting fades with time. A bit.

  11. okay I know it's not funny but it is... I read your bit about the fake night time to a colleague in the office. How could I forgotten about supper at 2pm and then lights out at 5 - 6pm :)

    On the bright side and Lord knows you need a bright side, at least you're flying Singapore Air who have the loveliest stewardesses ever.

    I'm going to pray for you on the way back - when is that again? I'm serious - I will pray. I know how bad it gets.

    PS did you really cry?

  12. We just came back from vacation with our 2 year old and I feel jipped. We didn't have to go on a plane so I feel for you, seriously. Hope the rest of your trip goes well and that the flight back is not as horrible!

  13. Oh Claudia, so sorry it was so terrible! :(
    Hope your home flight is scheduled at actual night time and the kids will be sleeping more!

  14. Oh my! I hope you will be there long enough to recover!

  15. We are flying in a few weeks but only within the country but I am scared out of my mind. I think my 4 year old will be okay but not sure about my almost 2 year old. It could be a train wreck. Glad you made it okay and thanks again for the honest post. Love your blog.

  16. We are flying in a few weeks but only within the country but I am scared out of my mind. I think my 4 year old will be okay but not sure about my almost 2 year old. It could be a train wreck. Glad you made it okay and thanks again for the honest post. Love your blog.

  17. Oh my, oh my. Glad the cell phone trick helped, but sorry it's been such a rough time. Hope the flights home are much, much better, and really hoping you are done ugly crying this trip.

  18. I'm so sorry, but parts of this made me laugh. Your suffering is clearly my entertainment. But I'll get my payback, I'm sure. Glad you arrived safely and hope you do get some time to vacate.

  19. Holy crap. This all sounds so exhausting. *fingers crossed* they're still worn out and sleep for the entire flight home.

  20. I think the ugly cries are all so justified. Hoping the return flights are better. Hang in there, friend. Vacations don't last forever. (-;

  21. OMG, Claudia! And yet you still have your sense of humor! We have had to make four out of town trips over the past six months so I feel your pain. That plane ride of yours sounded so similar to our flight home from ET that reading about it almost gave ME hives! Hoping everyone stays safe and sleeps well from here on out!

  22. Hey Claudia -
    I know I haven't been commenting much lately, but I'm reading and loving every post and this one really struck home with me, having just emerged from 31-32 hours on the airplane with our two newcomers..though ours went (blessedly) much better than your unfortunate first leg went.
    Anyway, thanks for the sense of humour - I needed it this afternoon, on a not-so-good day...and thanks for your comments on my blog - love 'em.



  23. Awww sweetie, I was afraid this would happen. It's just a bad age. Brace yourself for the ride back, although usually you get a break on one leg, it'll be the reverse trip, it'll go easier. Mark my words, it'll be an easier ride.

    And the next time you need to make this trip? I promise you it will be like a miracle has occured and it will be much, much smoother. I promise.

  24. Oh you poor girl. That plane ride does not sound fun, at all at all. But you made it! Yay!


  25. oh yes the instant night factor... I had forgotten about that... we've only done short-haul trips lately and you escape it on those.

    Hope the return flight goes better! And that no one says "getting there is half the fun!" to you, lest carnage ensue. ;)

  26. I just discovered your blog and am loving reading about your life. I just had to comment on this post on travelling with twins. We went to Korea from Canada with our 9 month olds for a total travel time of over 30 hours and it was absolute hell in the air, train and automobile. I wish I'd thought of just weeping on the plane...maybe the flight attendants would've taken pity on us. Anyway, it must've been even harder with toddlers. I feel your pain.


Over to you!