Planes, trains and tantrums – journeys with the children
The summer holidays are fast approaching and if you are anything like me, you have already had the question “so, where are you going on holiday?” asked of you approximately two hundred times everywhere from the school run to the supermarket check out. You might be going abroad either short haul, long haul or somewhere in between; maybe you have decided to stay in the UK and have a break here, or maybe, like me, you are not planning on going anywhere at all (writing doesn’t pay well, kids).
Wherever you are going and whatever you are doing, be it a 22 hour flight to Sydney or a couple of daytrips to the beach, if you have children in tow, you already know it won’t be easy.
You may have been blessed with the perfect children who will sit still, be polite even when exhausted, hot and hungry or you may have been be blessed with the patience of a saint. Or, you are one of us mortal beings; the frazzled parents just trying to get through the journey so we can have a G&T at the hotel before we embark on dragging bored children around museums and starting the great holiday sunscreen battle.
Either way, here are some things that will happen with children on each mode of transport.
Long car journeys with children are rarely fun. I have never known parent to relish the idea of listening to the Cbeebies CD on a loop while playing eye spy for six hours, as the children take turns to whine about being hungry/thirsty/tired/bored/hot/cold or needing to stop for a wee.
No matter how many times you tell your children to go to the toilet before you set off, one of them is guaranteed to need a wee half an hour into the journey. Before you know it, you are stopping at every layby and Little Chef you pass so that someone can use the loo. Travelling with a potty training child brings it’s own special kind of evil. Ever tried to coax a child into using a potty on the side of the road? They become suddenly shy that every car passing by is looking at them, even after you have contorted yourself and your various items of clothing into a makeshift privacy tent. If your toddler demands to use the potty while it’s raining outside, you will be familiar with trying to get them to balance on the potty in the car boot while the other children loudly object to the smell of poo.
Car sickness is also a specialty of young children on long car journeys. After stopping so many times for the loo, you decide that it’s best to try and contain the vomit in any receptacle you can find from carrier bags to your handbag.
Nothing says you have had a long car journey with children like turning up to your hotel with a handbag full of sick, a toddler covered in poo and wee on your coat from shielding toileting children from onlookers in laybys.
I once travelled from London to Newcastle on a train with three children in tow. Two hours in, I was contemplating jumping from the speeding train and taking my chances; it was preferable to two more hours of tantrums and chasing screaming children down the aisles while being glared and tutted at by strangers.
Despite taking the entire contents of my local Hobbycraft with me to entertain them, the children tired of stickers and colouring books after ten minuets and the rest of the journey proceeded to become something out of the pages of The Lord of the Flies.
Food was demanded; obviously not the packed lunches I had bought, but food from the ever so exciting and hideously over priced buffet car. At the cost of three thousand pounds per person, my one tip about train travel is never let the children know the buffet car exists. While it’s tempting to waste twenty minuets walking to the buffet car and back, your bank account will never forgive you and nor will the passengers who get hot chocolate spilled on them as your over excited children run back to their seats.
Part of taking young children on a plane journey of any length is spending three months before hand visiting every parenting forum Google turns up, looking for tips and advice on how to make your little darlings shut up, sit down and not cause chaos.
Here is the best bit of advice you will ever hear: your children are designed to be inquisitive, easily bored and annoying as hell so learn to live with it.
Oh, and the second bit of advice: no one likes other people’s offspring, especially in the cramped conditions of a plane, 30,000ft in the air with no escape from them. You will get tutted at and given the evil eye the moment your baby cries or your toddler wriggles in his seat, and you will probably receive comments about your terrible parenting if your child even breathes in the wrong direction. Stop the Googling and start growing that thick skin now.
Inflight entertainment is your friend, so use it wisely. So what if your children watch five hours of Spongebob in a row, as long as they are quiet and happy, your stress levels are kept to a minimum. As with train travel, you can buy a whole suitcase of craft items to try and keep your child amused, but be prepared to spend the entire flight covered head to toe in stickers and fending off tantrums when they can’t find the red crayon.
Some people swear by choosing night flights for longer journeys so their child will sleep and if you are lucky and have a very tired child, this plan sometimes works out. Sometimes it had the opposite effect and sends children spiraling into an abyss of overtired tantruming.
You know when you give birth and you don’t sleep in the hospital, as it’s so noisy and slightly stressful? Plane journeys are basically a reenactment of that but the child can now run away from you and throw things at other people.
Whatever mode of transport you use to get to your destination, good luck and remember there will always be other frazzled parents doing the exact same thing as you.