Thursday, 12 March 2015

The Kindness of Strangers

I just got back from a trip to Liverpool with Dom.  I was apprehensive about flying with an energetic two-year-old, especially as it's the first time I've:  a) flown alone with him and b) flown with him since I stopped breastfeeding.  The ability to provide food, comfort, entertainment and a knock-out sleep potion all in one simple movement is not to be sniffed at, and the thought of boarding a plane without my not-so-secret weapon was intimidating, to say the least.  

Also intimidating was the thought of who would be the unlucky third people in our rows.  We've all heard stories of passengers who tut, roll their eyes, or (if they're not British and passive-aggressive), go so far as to complain to staff or the harassed parent of a screaming baby.  I've read blog posts and articles from people who feel that kids should be banned from planes; people who think that the best way to deal with an obviously stressed parent as s/he wrestles a furious toddler is to ask if they could "shut that baby up" (because we're CHOOSING to suffer and enjoy making everyone around us suffer too); people who've forgotten that at some point in their lives they were probably less than perfect too and that nobody particularly welcomed their presence on a flight, on a bus or in a restaurant.  I was hoping and praying that if one of my fellow passengers were so inclined, they'd be seated far from me.  I was expecting the worst while hoping for the best.

The gods of travel, however, appeared to be smiling on me.  Dom was fairly well behaved for most of the outward trip and a demon in human form on the return journey, but with the help of several wonderful people, we both survived.  These angels in human form deserve more than the effusive thanks I showered them with, and as most of my words were probably lost as I bolted after a child who can move faster than the speed of light (or maybe it just seemed that way thanks to the many heavy, bulky, awkward bags that slowed my pursuit), it's only fair to make their kind-hearted deeds known.

First up are the two young Catalan guys who helped me out at the bottom of the aircraft stairs as I simultaneously collapsed the buggy, juggled three bags and tried not to let Dom run into the path of an oncoming plane.  One held Greased Lightning's hand firmly as I made a packhorse of myself with the aforementioned bags, while the other, noticing that I had more luggage than hands, took the bulkiest, heaviest bag up the stairs for me and dropped it off right at my seat before settling himself and his friend in, meaning that I could safely get Dom up the stairs and into his seat with the minimum of fuss.

The journey itself was fairly uneventful, for which I'm sure the man in the aisle seat next to us was extremely grateful.  Only in the last 15 minutes, as we began to make our descent and I began to feel that it was safe to breathe again, did Dom realise that he'd been trapped in a tin can for two and a half hours and begin to express his displeasure.  In his defence, I think he'd have lasted the entire flight had he been allowed to keep the window shades down as we came in to land, but aircraft rules forbid this and meltdown was imminent.  (Just out of curiosity, why can't the window shades be down?  Are we as passengers expected to be on the lookout for air traffic control towers or surprise mountains and act accordingly, warning the hatchet-faced Ryanair staff of our demise seconds before it occurs?  And why only on take-off and landing is our role so important?  If we run into an enemy fighter jet bent on taking us down mid-flight, wouldn't they want some warning, or doesn't it matter above 35,000 feet?)  Anyway, for whatever reason Meladdo had to put his window shades up and all hell was about to break loose, when the older lady behind us distracted him by chatting about what they could see out of the windows while I was pinned to my seat by the weight of the toys and snacks he'd rejected throughout the flight.  She saved the entire plane from 15 minutes of ear-shattering shrieks and I am incredibly grateful, as would be the rest of the passengers had they been aware of the alternative that they narrowly avoided having to endure.

I won't go into details about the holiday itself except to say that I went to a Levellers concert on the Friday night and left Dom with my mum.  He paid me back for abandoning him to more chocolate and Peppa Pig than he'd be allowed from me in a year at home by whining incessantly, sleeping badly, getting up at the crack of dawn and refusing to let go of my leg for all of Saturday and Sunday.  By the time Monday rolled around, I was frazzled and more than ready to hand him over to his father.  But first, the flight home had to be endured.  

It would be remiss of me to not give a special mention to the Ryanir check-in lady who pretended not to notice that my suitcase was a little overweight, thus avoiding tantrums (mine, not Dom's) at the check-in desk.  Of course, the fact that said suitcase had weighed 14.9 kilos at my mum's house and 15.5 at the airport, while Dom's little Trunki had weighed 4.9 kilos on the same scales at my mum's and 3.7 at the airport, leads me to believe that they make it up as they go along and maybe I just wasn't the intended victim that day, but I'll give her the benefit of the doubt.  For those who aren't familiar with the joy that is travelling with Ryanair, I won't bother explaining it.  These ladies do so in a much more hilarious way than I ever could.  

In Liverpool, you leave the airport building to reach your plane by way of 7,562 stairs, meaning I had to drop the pram at the boarding gate and wing it (har har) across the tarmac.  A third guardian angel relieved me of my bags and inched painfully forwards with me at Dom-pace down the stairs, across to the plane and to our seats, where he beat a relieved retreat to a seat far enough away from us that I'm sure it was a cosmic reward for being nice enough to offer assistance.

The third person in our row was a man travelling on business who had quickly given Dom the window seat, probably due less to altruism and more to a desire to survive the journey with eardrums and sanity intact.  Whatever his motives, it afforded us a whole 10 minutes of tense peace before Dom got antsy.  

Having learned the hard way that Dom is a creature of habit in need of much stimulation and should never be allowed to become hangry or bored on an aircraft, I travelled in both directions laden down with food and entertainment.  Story books, colouring books, blank paper, crayons, Teddy, enough Peppa Pig on the tablet to see us to Australia, dinosaurs, berries, pasta, cherry tomatoes and biscuits were deemed sufficient fuel to last a 2.5 hour flight.  How wrong I was.  Dom wolfed his way through the pasta before we took off, ate half of the berries and tipped the rest on the floor, and violently and vocally eschewed everything else in favour of hitting, biting, butting and pinching me.  I feel that I should say in his defence, I've since found out that he's got a virus so probably wasn't feeling great, and had been up since 6 that morning (his own choice).  Of course, toddler logic advises against sleeping when you're ill and knackered, so beating the living crap out of me was his only way to express his frustration.  Let's just say he's lucky we weren't travelling by sea.

Mr Businessman, who'd been engrossed in a film on his tablet, noticed that Dom was pausing between bouts of cage-fighting practice to stare at the screen.  He turned off his film and switched to an app for kids that kept Dom happy for a few minutes.  However, in our brief chat before he'd put in his earphones and tuned out the world (lucky sod), he'd told me that he had a three year old and a nine month old, so I was loath to interrupt his blissfully offspring-free flight too much and returned to wrestling with Dom, whose interest in tablets did not extend to the one I'd bought specially for the trip and loaded with kid-friendly distractions.

Several hundred years later, we landed.  Mr Businessman offered to help me off the plane, but I told him to go on ahead as I was going to wait until the rush had subsided before disembarking.  As I dragged my battered body and my fiendish child off the plane and through the SkyBridge towards the airport, I saw Mr Businessman heading back towards the aircraft.  He'd been a good five minutes in front of me so I assumed he'd forgotten something, but this knight in shining Armani had suffered pangs of conscience and traipsed back through the airport to come to my aid.  He saw us through almost to baggage collection and left us with words of encouragement and a warm, fuzzy feeling in my heart at his kindness.

Our ordeal journey almost at an end, we had only to wait for the cases and the pram at belt 23.  The cases came off pretty quickly, but the pram was nowhere to be seen and images of me having to cart Dom home under my arm flashed through my weary, almost broken mind.  Now working on my last nerve, I was just about to burst into tears when I saw a family I'd briefly spoken to in the departure lounge.  They were travelling with a baby a little younger than Dom and were also pram-less.  It seemed unlikely that the airline would lose two prams, so their presence gave me hope.  Shortly after, we found out that the airline or baggage handlers or somebody who will, I hope, suffer greatly for the decision had put all baby equipment on carousel number 29, for reasons unknown.  The joy of discovering we had transport outweighed the rage at this unnecessary act of evil that played on the weaknesses of those most stressed and vulnerable of passengers - those travelling with Satanic imps small children - and I began to gather my paraphernalia to head off in search off my errant wheels.

But the universe had one more random act of kindness to offer my tired and shredded self.  The other family who'd been waiting for their pram told me to run down and grab mine, leaving my luggage with them.  By this point I didn't care if they filled my bags with drugs and black-market organs as long as I didn't have to take them with me, so I thanked them profusely and, dragging Dom on his Trunki (highly recommended buy), I headed to pick up my pram.

So there you have it.  I have no tips on travelling with toddlers because nothing I tried worked in the face of Toddler Tantrums, which intensify the higher in the sky you are.  All I can say is, hope and pray that your fellow passengers are decent human beings and I wish you well.

And to everyone mentioned in this long-ass post, I hope your journeys are speedy, your delays are non-existent and your transfers are tranquil.  You were all wonderful. I could have done it without you, but I'm glad I didn't have to.  Thank you.