Monday, 11 February 2008

Air travel and me: puking, mewling, travelling tots

I read Crabmommy’s tragicomic account of travelling by air with her babe and had to have a good ole larf, even if these things are only ever funny long (looong) after they’ve happened. Or if they don’t happen to you.

Some time in the early ’90s, when my kids were terribly-two-years and hysterically-six-months old respectively, their father and I took them to Joburg for some or other reason – probably to show them off to extended family and friends, because this is what new parents do, and never does it cross their minds that extended family and friends may have better things to do with their time than observe mewling, puking, all-night-waking, sometimes-shrieking, often-whining, heirloom-breaking, undersized human beings.

We had, as I recall, driven there overnight in someone’s bakkie (it had required delivering to someone else, I think, I forget the details), so I’d put the kids to bed in the back and we’d had a fairly trouble-free journey to Jozi. But then we had to fly home.

As it happened, there was an ODI cricket final on TV the day we left. It was a nailbiting finish, with rain interrupting play and South Africa suddenly having to score 700 runs in four overs or similar. My brother, who’s a sports journalist and fanatic (he considers formal wear an Arsenal ‘away’ shirt; for casual occasions he wears their home strip), and who was also our lift to the airport, refused until the last over to be shifted from his La-Z-Boy for love, money or threats of unimaginable physical violence.

So naturally, once the last damned ball had been bowled with about half an hour to spare before our flight took off, we had to drive to the airport at toe-curling speed, which made me nervous and made the children cry and made my then-husband look accusingly at me and mouth, ‘If we die in a 10-car pile-up, it’s your fault.’

Check-in was ghastly – the ground staff were understandably tetchy because we were so late, and couldn’t find us seats together. To avoid an embarrassing domestic affray right there in the domestic terminal (my then-husband was beginning to mutter, never a good sign), I agreed to take our six-month-old daughter, who didn’t have her own seat (our two-year-old did) and would have to be on my lap for the two-hour flight back to Cape Town.

Let me just say here, to put this into perspective: my daughter was born arcing (thanks, Crabmommy) and screaming, her face puce and swollen with indignation, and she didn’t quieten down by so much as a nanodecibel until she was over a year old. Even now, at nearly 17, she occasionally lapses back into her birth state, shrieking blue bloody murder, kicking cupboards and hurling her body onto her bed and sometimes, if she’s in a carpeted room, onto the floor.

Additionally, one of the few ways I could circumvent her terrifying tantrums was to make sure I kept her ‘in routine’: nice, calming, warm bath at 5-ish; nice, calming, warm dinner at 6-ish; nice, calming, warm bed at 7-ish. The flight, alas, left at 5-ish, so I knew I was in for an unhappy time.

Not as unhappy, however, as my fellow passengers’.

You know how we are always the people who, when flying, check in early, find our seats, stow our bags in the overhead compartments, fasten our seatbelts, and settle down in a civilised manner? And how, when the passenger who’s been holding up the entire proceedings finally deigns to get on the plane and comes down the aisle, it’s always someone who’s (a) massively overweight, (b) sweating heavily, (c) approaching on a cloud of garlic breath or body odour, or (d) holding a screaming child? And we just know they're going to sit down next to us?

Well, this time, I was (d). And the people I was billeted next to were two young men, neatly buckled in and already obediently reading their in-flight magazines.

Young Man A looked up at me as I loomed over him, my daughter shrieking and pulling my hair while I cast around desperately for someone to help me stow my bag (the air staff were, apparently, too busy with cross-checking – and I’ve always wondered what that is, actually – to help) and said, ‘You have got to be joking.’

Young Man B was too distressed to comment. He put his head in his hands and groaned.

‘I’m sorry, boys,’ I said, wincing as my daughter wrenched hard enough on my hair to pull a hank out by the roots, ‘and there’s worse to come. I think it’s only fair to tell you that this is as good as it’s going to get.’

Well, it was way past horrendous. My daughter, whose endurance was (and still is) superhuman, hollered and writhed all the way back to Cape Town. The young men (who, to be fair to them, did initially try to help, but quickly backed off when they discovered that if they got too close to the baby, she bit) decided, in a spirit of ‘if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em’, to simply order round after round of strong drink, so by the time the plane touched down I had been roundly terrorised, verbally, physically and emotionally, by a 6-month-old and two lads.

My daughter, by then finally exhausted by both the increasingly risible attentions of the drunkards and the physical exertion of depilating me hair by hair, fell sound asleep. The lads clambered over me and her, reclaimed their bags from the overhead compartments with much amusing banging and crashing, and filed off. I sat there, limp as an electrocuted octopus.

My husband, who’d been seated at the bulkhead (and I haven’t to this day worked out how he got those seats and I got the one over the wing and next to the toilet), came lolloping up the aisle towards me, our son gambolling good-naturedly in his wake.

‘Hey, that wasn’t so bad, was it?’ he said.

There were children present, so I mouthed to him, ‘… —

Not entirely by coincidence, the divorce followed shortly afterwards.

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1 comment:

meggie said...

Oh the horror! I have memories of flights similar to that. Unfortunately, or fortunately, I have flown in similar circumstances... the child wasnt mine. But, I sure did sympathise with the mother, whose useless husband pretended he was deaf & mute- & crippled too. I wanted to deliver him a swift hard kick between his big toes!