I’m not talking about Pteromerhanophobia, which is a diagnosed fear of being in an aircraft and is a very real condition. I’m talking about the lesser known fear of being trapped in a confined space with a screaming baby kind of fear, a fear that can consume you for a few days before the actual event and leave you exhausted for sometime after.
I wrote about the trials and tribulations of flying with a toddler for Jozikids last year but flying with a baby is something else entirely. Ben and I flew down to Cape Town on Sunday evening and when we arrived at our destination I felt like I’d run a marathon. I mean, I’ve never actually run a marathon but I imagine the physical and mental exhaustion is on a par (not really, but you get my point – travelling with a baby is VERY tiring).
First of all you have the adventure of actually getting to the airport. A friend dropped us at the Gautrain and was loathe to leave me as he watched me try to navigate the pram one-handed. I had a heavy baby bag over one shoulder and a laptop slung over the other and I was also trying to pull a wheelie suitcase at the same time (with my other hand). Over the years I have got quite good at doing this, the trick is to stop often and use your foot to realign one of the pram wheels.
Luckily some nice man will always take pity on you and offer to help. For some reason, it is never a woman or fellow Mum who offers a hand, it is always a gentleman. I would imagine that mothers would sympathise with my plight but in the three or so years I’ve been doing this, they never have. You’d probably find that this is because most of them are busy trying to survive their own travels with their own children.
So, once some nice man has helped you on to the Gautrain with all your bags, you then sit in the nice peaceful carriage surrounded by stern looking businessmen as your baby exercises his lungs. On this occasion Ben was not at all upset, he had just discovered how to make various noises and was testing them out, at the top of his voice. This starts out being sweet and you get a few smiles but this quickly turns to annoyance as he carries on. And on.
Once you’ve arrived at the airport and checked in, things get a bit easier. You go to the Wimpy, or the airport lounge, and you try and eat something while feeding your baby a bottle and then getting him to have a quick nap so he’s not grumpy on the plane. Nap time is a lot harder when there are announcements on the loudspeaker every two minutes or so.
Then it’s time to board. All the other passengers rush on to the plan like it’s going to leave without them, while those people with kids dawdle. And dawdle. We won’t make you late but we don’t want to be on that plane any longer than we absolutely have to. Once you’ve had your ticket checked, you push the pram right to the entrance of the plane and there you have to take the pram down and pull the two pieces apart, all while holding a baby. Prams are tricky things so no one knows how to do it except you. This means that you often have to hand your baby to the air hostess or a friendly looking passerby.
Then there are two hours that need to pass. These are spent playing peekaboo with the safety card, dusting off biscuits that fall on to the floor, apologising to anyone who’s watch or hair he paws and using the plastic cups they give away as a toy. You can tear up pages of the inflight magazine, go for walks to the toilet and exercise your arm muscles by lifting the baby up so he can see some fresh faces, but nothing will make the time go any faster. It DRAGS. At one point I started calculating what percentage of the flight had passed and how much was still to go, but my powers of Mathematics had deserted me. My power of anything had pretty much deserted me, except my power for survival.
Of course, you may think I’m being a bit dramatic, which I am. I have no idea how people manage international flights with young children – I just can’t do it. The most I can manage is two hours. And although it seems like it’s not worth it while you’re in the trenches, the reward once you’re on holiday does make up for it. Then you’re all happy and smiley, like in this photo.
Life is good. Today we went to the beach, strolled round a farmers’ market and tasted some craft beer. And that’s just Day 1. It was worth those two hours of flying with that tiny human. Just about.
Photo by Paula Conroy