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Travel with Kids: The Bad and the Worse

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Please…Help…Me!

Like many expat mums the world over, every year I take the children on a pilgrimage to the motherland, to reintroduce them to their grandparents, grassy fields and Wellington boots.

Most expat kids are frequent flyers, but I think it’s the hollow-eyed, jet-lagged mums – many of whom have to travel long distances with their overactive offspring solo – who deserve recognition for ensuring that everyone arrives intact.

Now that my two are older, flying with them is so much easier, but I haven’t forgotten what trial by two-year-old is like at 37,000 feet. Without much further ado, here’s my take on the eight steps mothers desperately seeking serenity on board must navigate:

0-8 months
Provided your baby doesn’t cry like a banshee due to earache or colic, you’re relieved to discover that small infants are essentially hand luggage, and can be stored in a wall-mounted bassinet – meaning, in between feeds, you’re left with plenty of hands-free time for other, adult-related pursuits. Enjoy it. Indulge in a glass or two (while you can). This phase is over quicker than you can say pass the earplugs.

9 months-2 years
Now mobile, your infant is classed as a lap child, a burdensome phase that sees the two of you co-joined like Siamese twins and squashed into one seat. Once sleep finally arrives (for your 30lb lead-weight bundle of joy, at least), you find yourself sitting statue-esqe – and needing the loo – as you attempt to inhale a meal and not flinch an inch in case the slightest movement rouses your child.

2-2½ years
Your toddler has progressed to a seat, but the games, toys and books you’ve spent days collecting are dispensed with in minutes. Fun is sought in mischievous ways: Meal tray up/tray down. Light on/light off. Window shutter open/shutter closed. Call the flight attendant. Call the flight attendant again. When all the un-dinging you have to do gets too much, you traipse up and down the aisle – jolting several unsuspecting passengers awake as you go – or visit the bathroom together, where double-jointedness is always a plus when assisting your offspring.

2½-3 years
You’ve reached that murky zone where diversionary tactics are all that stand between you and a mile-high meltdown. Tantrums occur due to the most innocuous of reasons: not being allowed to bring the stroller up the aisle; the seat belt sign coming on. No other passenger makes eye contact – not even the smug mother of two crayon-loving girls opposite.

3-3½ years
By now, you’re travelling with two small children – a whole new world of in-flight angst – which means that if you’re on your own, losing your oldest at the airport or on board must be avoided (if you have more than two, good luck with that). After collecting all the luggage at the other end, you feel like hugging the kind lady who, on seeing that you don’t have a seventh arm to push the stroller, offers to help.

3½-4 years
Someone’s told you stickers are great for keeping children entertained on board, so you’re armed with sticker books. But while in the toilet, your kids stick them all over the TV. Bad idea: the heat from the screen can turn the adhesive into superglue. Imagining the entire aircraft being decommissioned while engineers scrape Lightening McQueen and his friends off 35F’s TV, you start peeling and don’t stop until there isn’t a single trace of sticker left. A happy coincidence is it uses up a good 20 minutes of flight time.

4-5 years
An iPad loaded with games is your saviour and, whilst still arriving disheveled and decorated with orange juice stains, you realise you had more time to relax on board, and even watched half a movie. A basic aviation knowledge – so as to answer questions like How does the wind move? – is extremely useful during this stage.

5 years+
You’ve made it. Long flights with small children no longer fill you with terror. While queuing at security, you see a mum with a seven-month-old infant struggling with all her baby paraphernalia, juggling her little one, taking her belt and shoes off, then, at the other side of the x-ray machine, pulling it all together again like a 100-piece jigsaw puzzle, and you feel like punching the air with joy that you’ve left the aforementioned stages well and truly behind. Well done, you’ve arrived!

Sponsored by: My own personal experiences. Every.single.example.

This is an excerpt from my book Circles in the Sand: Stories about Life in the Big D. Please click on the Books tab above, or on the cover top right, to find out how to get hold of it.

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Expat Brats: The Signs To Look Out For

My friend A was recently worrying whether her children were becoming expat brats. On a trip back to the UK, her sons were horrified when she got out to fill the car with petrol and insisted they wait for ‘the man’. Another friend – N – told me that when her daughter flew economy for the first time she had a tantrum because she’d never had to turn right before. N’s little girl didn’t even know there was a cabin behind business class.

It’s something we think about a lot here in the Middle East. The easy comforts of life in Dubai (housemaids, villas, swimming pools, four-wheel drives) mean children are at high risk of expat brat syndrome. If parents don’t nip it in the bud quick enough, the results can be quite dire.

Screen Shot 2017-06-07 at 16.58.29Aside from breeding little monsters who refuse to tidy their rooms (the maid will do it), wash the car (the man at the mall will do it) or put groceries in a bag (yes, we don’t have to do that, either!), fast forward ten years or so and you end up with teenagers who are totally unprepared for real life.

The culture here means children lead sheltered lives. In the UAE, there’s little crime, begging is banned and unemployment is virtually non-existent. We don’t feel threatened walking down a street at night; teenagers aren’t even allowed to take part-time or holiday jobs; and they don’t know what a job centre is. Forget ‘signing on’, they’re more likely to sign in at the beach club.

Imagine, then, when said offspring flee the nest for university back in their home countries. Instead of maid service, tennis lessons and pool parties, they’re faced with grotty digs, rain, domestic chores, hard drugs and even harder students.

Here’s some more clues to look out for so you can take steps to alleviate expat brat syndrome long before the kids head off to college. Good luck!

–They flew before they could walk

–It’s not a nice day unless it’s tropical outside

–They base their opinion of an entire country on how fancy the hotel was

-They have to take at least one plane to get ‘home’ and bump into friends at international airports

-They’re members of at least two beach clubs

-They take off their shoes as soon as they get home

-Their best friends are from four different continents

-An invite arrives for a classmate’s party at the Atlantis hotel on the Palm, followed by a private desert safari

-They watch the Travel Channel or National Geographic specials and recognise the places

-They know what TCK* means and consider themselves to be one

-Their school closes (or threatens to close) for rain, prophets’ birthdays, national mourning and SARS

-Someone mentions the name of a team and they get the sport wrong

-They get Christmas and birthday money in three different currencies

-They blank when asked where they’re from

-A visa is a document stamped in their passport, not a credit card

-They don’t think British beaches are really beaches at all

*TCK=Third culture kid, the name given to a child who spends a significant part of his or her developmental years in a culture(s) different from his or her own.

First published: 11 May 2011