Your Cabin Crew Will Now Point Out Your Nearest Exits…

airplane in sky

airplane in sky (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

Hello, anyone there…?  I’m back.  Have you missed me? Deafening silence…

You probably haven’t noticed but I’ve been away for the last couple of weeks and haven’t been blogging.  Before you get out the bunting, throw street parties and issue special edition stamps to celebrate my return, I don’t want any fuss, any fanfare – I’m a very modest, unassuming person after all – but it would be nice if someone had missed my blogging/whinging/musings about nothing very much at all.

I don’t think it would be fair of me to bang on endlessly about white sand beaches, azure seas, cocktails and all the other holiday clichés.  There all true.  I don’t want to alienate my readers – particularly British readers who have endured the most vile of winters. So instead I thought I would share with you a couple of observations about the ordeal which is “travelling” – that time of huge stress which prefaces the white sand beaches, azure seas etc. I don’t know, maybe you are a cool, calm and collected sort of traveller…not me, despite my best attempts, travelling is always rather an ordeal, a case of the end result justifying the means.

Packing is a skill I still have not mastered after 40 years. It doesn’t seem to be particularly intellectually taxing or require any particular dexterity or co-ordination – I just can’t do it well.

I usually get off to a pretty good, controlled sort of start but as the deadline for departure approaches my packing becomes frenzied, bordering on manic .  I start packing things I could not possibly have any use for, just in case…for example, on this holiday I took not one but two full first aid kits.  Why?  Good question.  What is the likelihood of me needing the entire contents of two full first aid kits on one 10 day holiday? Remote but as I said, just in case…On this holiday I took enough Calpol to administer to an entire children’s hospital – enough to give each of my 3 children a 4-6 hourly dose for the entire 10 days and still only use 1/4 of my supplies – overcatering, perhaps, but just in case…On this holiday, I took 4 jumpers and 4 cardigans, to a place where the temperature at 3am never dips below about 24 degrees.  Why?  Expecting a freak snow storm in the Indian Ocean?  You never know, just in case…

I can only think that this extreme level of preparedness harks from my Brownie Guide days, motto “Be Prepared”.  If only I had known then how much excess baggage this would mean I would be forced to take every time I go away, then I might have reconsidered my promise “To do my best” etc and turned my back on the Brownies while I still could.  So those of you with daughters, consider carefully the potential long term effects of introducing your offspring to the Guiding Movement.

Airports make me behave in a very out-of-character fashion.  I am not a mad shopper normally – I like shopping as much as the next woman but for some bizarre reason airports turning me into some sort of supermarket sweep shopping freak. I feel like I am in a shopping version of “Countdown” – up against the clock, flight leaves in 45 minutes, got to shop, got to shop, got to shop…I find myself considering purchases that I would never even look at the other side of security – a combination, I guess, of tax-free, holiday fever and that old chestnut, preparedness – what if I can’t buy ‘X’ “over there” – ‘X’ usually being something that I would never ever have use for in this country so I have no idea why I feel it might be of use on a 10 day holiday somewhere else.

Finally, time to get on the plane.  Why, please tell me, do people queue at the gate to get on to the plane?  It makes me want to scream – “Weirdos, your seats are pre-allocated, no need to queue at this point.  We’re all going to get on eventually”. I guess this might be a peculiarly British feature – queueing being part of our national identity?

The days of fervently praying that you don’t get the seat next to the crying child are unfortunately a thing of the past for me.  I always get the seat next to the crying child…my child. The first 10 minutes on a plane (assuming you are turning right like me when you get on) are spent apologising…apologising to the poor person who despite their fervent prayers is sitting next to you and your screaming child, apologising to the person sitting in the aisle seat in advance for the number of times you are going to have to climb over them during the flight, apologising for practically knocking a fellow passenger out when attempting to put your bags in the overhead locker, then apologising again for having to climb over the person sitting in the aisle seat in order to reopen the overhead locker and get out the particular Peppa Pig book that your daughter wants right now and only now.

You take off – not before you’ve watched the safety demonstration avidly – as if you have never seen it before.  For me this is complete superstition – I could pass the British Airways safety demonstration test (if there is such a thing) word perfect – but I have this horrible niggle that if I don’t watch it, then this will be the time that I have to perform a complicated passing of the life jacket strings around my waist, securing them in a knot, fully inflating my life jacket (after I have gone down the emergency chute, having removed my high heels (?)), then using the little tube to top up the air before blowing pathetically on my little whistle  (in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean???).  I’m afraid I am also always that person who surreptitiously kicks under the seat just to check my life jacket is there. Goes back to the Brownies again, “Be Prepared”.

Then off you go.  Within 3 minutes of take-off, at least one of my children has already asked me twice “Are we nearly there yet?”. Thank Goodness for inflight entertainment.  I swear my two boys, once settled in front of the screen, did not blink or utter a word for the next 12 hours. I don’t care whether that is bad mothering – flying doesn’t count, anything goes on a plane, survival is all that matters.

Destination reached – fanatical peering out of the plane windows to assess the weather.  Unbelievable, after 12 hours in the air – it’s raining…yes, we’ve travelled several thousand miles, endured so much…to step out into the identical weather we left in the UK, just warmer. Welcome to Paradise…

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I think, therefore I am…

Mr Blobby (song)

Mr Blobby (song) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Daughter (age 3, 6am): “Mummy, I need some Calpol ‘cos I’ve got a tummy ache.”

Me (age 40, one eye open, hangover pending): “Calpol is not for tummy aches, it’s for temperatures and headaches.”

Daughter: “Well, my tummy has got a headache.”

Me: silent, unable to counter “child logic”.

There is something about a child’s impeccable logic which makes it very difficult to argue against.  Of course, it is actually not logical at all but it is the conviction with which it is delivered and its ability to catch you totally unawares that makes it impossible to dispute.

It is exchanges such as this which make you realise that how children see the world is so different to how we see it.  There is no sense of responsibility, no mistrust, no cynicism, no world-weariness to mould a child’s reactions. They say it how it is, how they see it. Many times when my children say something surprising, it makes me yearn to be a child again.  It has always seemed very unfair to me that as adults we have largely forgotten those early days of childhood.  It is ironic that our best days are confined to the deepest inaccessible recesses of our memory. We get sudden jolts of that wonderful childhood excitement and wonder.  For me, it is the magic of Christmas which catapults me straight back into my childhood. It is almost a physical feeling as you see the world through your children’s eyes.

The simplicity of a child’s thought process is so clear and free from all the forces that affect our adult thought processes. Sometimes, their comments seem to be so left field but in their simplicity they reveal so much about the workings of a child’s mind.

My middle son asked me the other day “How did God make himself?”. I have to admit to being totally unprepared for this philosophical question, coming as it did in that 10 minute window of hell which is the mad scramble to get on the school run.  It struck me as very interesting that my 6 year old son was pondering such deep questions at a time when I was picking up Shreddies from under my daughter’s chair and wondering whether I could get away with that good old favourite “pasta pesto” for the kids’ dinner that evening. I’m afraid I batted his question away with a “great question, I’ll have to give that some thought” – hoping to buy myself some time in which at best he would totally forget ever having asked the question and at worst I would have had time to dig out my bluffer’s guide to philosophy of religion.

Children do have a knack of asking or saying the most unexpected things at the most inopportune moments.  I remember when I was 8 1/2 months pregnant with my daughter and I was heaving myself up the hill home from the shops with my sons (no doubt again pondering whether “pasta pesto” for the third time this week was tantamount to neglect) my elder son suddenly stopped and said, “When the baby is born, will it come out of your mouth?”.  What do you say?  Here I am, just minding my own business, wobbling up the hill like “Mr Blobby” (without the yellow spots) blissfully unaware that my son is contemplating the finer intricacies of the birthing process.  I admired his logic but this was not the time for a full on discussion about giving birth which would inevitably lead on to the “how did the baby get there in the first place” conversation.  I think I responded with a “It’s not quite like that, but not far off” sort of reply.  In normal circumstances this would have been woefully inadequate but fortunately he had been distracted by the fact that his brother had stepped in dog poo which of course he found hysterically amusing and I found painfully unamusing as bending down to remove said dog poo, required a feat of almost impossible balance and acrobatic nature totally unsuited to someone in the late stages of pregnancy.  Although I have to admit to being marginally grateful for whoever’s dog it was that chose to open its bowels on the pavement just there as it saved me from a complicated conversation with my son.

Despite the difficulties which these questions sometimes present, I absolutely love the randomness of their asking. Amongst the relentless routines and order of bringing up small children, there is something hugely refreshing and constantly surprising about the things they say and ask. The way they view the world is so unpredictable and we should celebrate this short period of their lives when they are not constrained by responsibility, awareness or cynicism.  It is through our child’s thinking that we get glimpses of a long-forgotten childhood, of that very special time before awareness creeps in and permeates our thought processes and our responses to the world around us.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Don't worry, be happy

Don’t worry, be happy (Photo credit: duncan)

If someone were to ask me what emotion, apart from love, has been a constant since you had children, I would be able to answer very quickly – worry. Of course, all the other emotions have been there to varying degrees at different times – joy, frustration, irritation, happiness – but one thing is always gnawing away – worry.  I’ll freely admit that I am one of life’s worriers – I can worry about things which wouldn’t even occur to most rational people as things you could even worry about. I am, as they say, a master at sweating the small stuff. That said, I am actually quite good in a crisis.  So by all means ask me about the big stuff but don’t ask me about the day-to-day stuff.  I am your classic over-thinker and this of course goes hand-in-hand with worry.  Although at least I can rationalise that if I am worrying over something so trivial, I really don’t have very much to worry about – if that makes sense.

Why am I wittering on about worry, you may well ask?  Well, I was thinking about the differences between child-rearing in the 60s/70s and now and as much as technology, media and scientific advances have opened up a whole new exciting world, they have also contributed to a general heightened sense of anxiety in society especially for parents.  For example, thanks to the internet, I can carry out almost every single daily activity – shopping, banking, bill-paying etc – without moving my backside from its best friend, the desk chair. However, the flip side of this is the information that is available to us at the click of a mouse. Say my child has a perfectly harmless rash, a hint of a sniffle and is a bit off his food – back in the day, our mothers would have assumed it was some non-specific virus, kept us off school for a day or two, fed us chicken soup and that staple, Calpol, and that would have been that – no worries. Nowadays, we google the symptoms (even though we know this is not a sensible course of action) and before we know it our child is suffering from some extremely rare flesh-eating virus that you can only pick up (except of course in our child’s case) from the depths of the South American jungle.  Cue – worry. Our mothers only had Dr Benjamin Spock for advice, we have every Tom, Dick and Harry claiming to be medical experts, diagnosing us and our children with things our parents never knew existed.

Every day the media is bombarding us with stories about this and that potential danger. We trust no-one.  We take no risks.  We are obsessed with “health and safety”.  Of course, awful things happen but awful things happened back in the day too.  It’s just that we are so well-informed now, over-informed some might say, and I’m not convinced this is a good or helpful thing.  To my mind, it is being so well-informed that has led to low level anxiety permeating society and nowhere is this more apparent than parenting.

Do you think our mothers worried endlessly about giving us fish fingers, spaghetti hoops and Angel Delight and what the long-term impact would be on our health.  No, they didn’t because they were none the wiser.  I’m not saying a diet that solely consists of the above is ideal nor am I saying before you all get concerned that this is what I feed my children (not every day, at least) but now everything we do or say is so wrapped up in worry and guilt about the long-term impact that it is easy to lose sight of what is really important – just trying to be a good parent who amongst all this media bombardment is still able to relax and enjoy being a parent.

Parents worry endlessly about whether their child is “normal”.  What is “normal”?  I don’t really know except I suspect that I am far from it – something which has been confirmed to me on many occasions by various members of the medical establishment. Our schools are constantly measuring and comparing our children to such an extent that it is easy to forget to embrace each child’s individuality and to accept that you really can’t be good at everything all of the time. Take me and sewing for example – useless is the only word to describe it and back in the day, I’m fairly sure that that is exactly how my teacher described it (this, of course, would never happen in today’s hypersensitive, politically correct environment) – so, I am needle-challenged or whatever. Does this bother me? Did this bother my mother?  Did she worry that perhaps this was a reflection of underdeveloped fine motor skills?  No, of course not, she was probably just annoyed that I got thrown out of the lessons for good after breaking the sewing machine three times in one lesson, before I had completed my very 80s Laura Ashley gathered skirt (the material for which she had bought). Take ballet for example, one of my younger sisters was a very talented dancer, I have two left feet.  Did my mother add my sewing ineptitude to my ballet ineptitude and decide I had real problems?  No, of course, not – that’s just me.  Nowadays, you could probably google those two things and come up with some condition – cue, worry. Before anyone accuses me of trivialising real issues, I am not doing this at all.  Of course there are many children with very genuine issues and concerns for their parents.  I am talking about non-issues, non-worries that we are so susceptible to now in our hyper-vigilant environment.  All too often these non-worries  are just muddying the waters of clear, rational thought and making it more and more difficult to ascertain what is a real issue and what is over-thinking, over-informing, over-speculating.

Of course our parents worried about lots of things – worry is part of the human condition – but I do think that there is a low level anxiety in society now that wasn’t there before and I worry (there I go again!) that this can only increase as we become more and more media and technology savvy.  What’s the answer?  I’ve no idea and I don’t have time to worry about it unduly – too many other things to worry about.  I’m just saying…