Nick Leech attempts to literally juggle the demands of parenthood in the cramped confines of an plane toilet.
Travelling with kids: mile-high hysteria and toilet trouble
High over Kurdistan, an unnerving sound came from inside a toilet on the Etihad Airways flight from Abu Dhabi to London Heathrow. Part sob, part sigh, the laugh was weak, breathless, and more than a little hysterical. Sadly, it was also mine.
Up until that point, I'd been engaged in a desperate barrage of parries, thrusts and blocking moves involving my arms, legs, forehead, chin and hands, in what felt like a speeded-up combat routine from an action movie. My outburst began, however, when I realised that my opponents had me beaten. Finally, the game was up.
Not only was I outnumbered, but I was also outgunned, and when my surrender finally arrived, it did so with an all-too audible sense of relief. Unbeknown to me, it also registered with my fellow passengers who were queuing patiently outside.
Ten minutes earlier, the Leech family trip to the toilet - comprising Daddy (41), eldest daughter (3) and youngest daughter (20 months) - had actually started reasonably well, despite the fact that the floor of the cubicle was awash with an unidentified, but most likely unmentionable, liquid. Not only had I succeeded in attending to my eldest daughter's most pressing needs while standing on one leg, I had done so while pinning her younger sister to the far wall of the toilet with the other, karate-style, thus keeping both girls clean and clear of the fetid pool beneath.
Predictably, my youngest reacted to her confinement with a bout of furious writhing worthy of Laocoon; however, my strategy seemed to work, as, over my shoulder, the small, unobserved knot of rage eventually subsided, and I was able, finally, to give my eldest the undivided attention she required.
What a gullible fool a harassed and tired father can be: as I turned to collect my youngest from her enforced eyrie, I witnessed a scene that I should have suspected all along. Her calmness did not represent a cessation of hostilities, but was a symptom of a higher level of mischievousness altogether. Rather than an overflowing sink, a running tap, or sheaf of paper towels, the new source of her distraction and delight was a pump-action bottle of antibacterial hand wash, the contents of which she was squeezing into her mouth as eagerly and gleefully as if it were sugar syrup.
It was at this point that I let out my whimper, not out of amusement, or even amazement, but out of the kind of psychological short-circuit that Joseph Conrad described as "the horror!" Hysteria had set in, control had passed, inevitably, to my daughters, and I returned to my seat a chastened and ever-so-slightly broken man.
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