Imagine my surprise when I met a father of two recently who spends his time in the skies for the grown-up world of work watching children's films to see whether they are suitable viewing for his two sons back home, aged 1 and 3. "I find that even kids' films have difficult subjects in them, and young kids just don't need it," he told me.
"Yes," I agreed. Explaining to a 3-year-old that not all children have mummies and daddies and that some are beset with abusive stepmothers can be hard. Even Cinderella is a bit fraught, not to mention Roald Dahl. But looking back at our conversation, all the while that I was nodding in agreement, what I was actually trying to work out was whether this super dad was, frankly, a little bit nuts. Sleep deprivation twists every parent's perception of normality.
Take me: I spend the few precious hours I have alone when flying from A to B thinking as little about my family as possible, particularly on the outbound journey when I revel in reading a newspaper, watching something grown up from start to finish and eating my inflight meal. I finish it whether it's indifferent or awful simply because I can. Not feeling hungry or thirsty makes such a pleasant change from attempting to balance four sets of meals, drinks and snacks on the only fold-out tray safe from flailing toddler limbs.
I've even asked to change seats on an airplane so I am as far away from other people's children as possible, that way I don't have to sympathise - or empathise - with their pain.
And all this despite the fact that travelling with my two children, now aged 3 and 18 months, is actually becoming easier. My eldest daughter will happily sit for an hour or so watching cartoons on an iPad, which is always fully charged for the occasion. Who cares that it's confusing that Mummy says watching too much TV is bad at home? When airbourne, there is no such thing as too much TV.
My youngest is still in that infuriating stage of wanting to wander the aisles, and throw herself in front of the heavy, unstoppable juggernaut that is the drinks trolley but at least she sleeps well. After three years of family holiday hell, I no longer feel the slightest twinge of embarrassment cum anxiety when baby cries so hard she's almost sick whenever the captain has the audacity to ask everyone to put their seat belts on. Like a stoic, I hold her tight and remember that she's helpfully wearing herself out and will probably go to sleep in about 10 minutes' time.
Call it overconfidence, but when my husband suggested that we ditch the family seats with the baby bassinet in favour of mid-row seats to allow the children to stretch out across the armrests, I thought, why not? The "why" became apparent at about 3am on a night flight back from Singapore, after my daughter wriggled and screeched for the umpteenth time that her ear hurt and she couldn't get comfy. Exhausted, I looked across in despair to see Daddy crammed into the width of two seats, neck at breaking point, legs somehow doubled in two, with a restless child on his chest.
Never again. Even the dark minds at Disney could not have imagined this torture.
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