x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Long haul with a toddler in tow

I journeyed 30 hours with my 13-month-old daughter. For a distance of 20,000km, that's not a lot of hours. But for a one-year-old who has just learnt to walk and doesn't understand distance, or planes, or even rides, it's long.

I took my first plane ride when I was nine years old, and I thought of it that way: a ride, in a plane. I went from San Francisco to New York City, dropped off at one gate by my parents and picked up at another by my uncle. Before that, my longest trip had been a 10-hour car ride with my cousins to their house in Oregon. The kids slept in the back seat, waking only for a meal at McDonald's. It was not only my first road trip, but my first taste of a burger.

This last trip to see my parents I journeyed 30 hours, door-to-door, with my 13-month-old daughter. For a distance of 20,000km, that's not a lot of hours. But for a one-year-old who has just learnt to walk and doesn't understand distance, or planes, or even rides, it's long. And for her mother, it might be even longer. Six hours from Abu Dhabi to Frankfurt, seven hours at Frankfurt airport, 11 hours to San Francisco and a three-hour drive to a town in northern California take a lot of stamina. And that tiny wobbly expert walker won't even remember it.

The airline attendants certainly will. My little girl was dying to practise her walking skills, and the narrow pathways were great for investigating shoes. The galley kitchen was the most intriguing place in the entire plane, especially the handles of the rubbish carts. The bathrooms were cool too, and always warranted a walk to investigate. She was constantly underfoot, and it made the flight attendants nervous. I repeatedly picked her up and brought her back to the seat, chagrined and indignant at the same time. She is irrepressible. She made friends with a three-year-old and they held hands, walking and kissing each other. This seemed exceedingly cute until someone tripped over them.

She thought the bassinet was nice to sit in, temporarily, but not to sleep in. At one point just a couple hours east of San Francisco, she sat on my lap ripping up a magazine, as I dozed off. I woke up with a start. Where was the baby? I looked over and saw to my relief she was sitting on a woman's knee nearby. I had been asleep for 20 minutes and the German couple next to me took her when she got antsy.

I've learnt a few tricks from my travels with a baby. First, I order the vegetarian meal so that it arrives before my neighbours' meals, otherwise the baby will try to grab their plates or complain as I keep her straitjacketed. Second, I always have a new blingy toy. In the end, she'll only want to play with my keys, wallet and cell phone, but it's nice to have a new distraction for five or 10 minutes. Finally, I gravitate towards other kids and their parents. Kids entertain each other, and the parents are understanding of the special variety of trauma that comes with long distance travel and children. But 30 hours with a baby is a pretty intense experience. It's like climbing a mountain. I made it! I can do anything.