08 Sep How Not to Travel With a Four-Year-Old
I used to love travelling. I’d feel lighter and better the moment the train pulled out of the station or the plane lifted off the tarmac, and I’d look forward to it with almost as much enthusiasm as the holiday. I guess it was time off in my own head, while the scenery changed and I had an excuse to drink forty-six cups of tea and eat so many pastries I would be ashamed to write it here. I used to write on trains (imagine – actual WORK).
Then the Beast arrived in the world.
To be fair to him, he isn’t even a very beastly beast. He’s more a nerdy beast, or possibly just an average small boy who’s picked up the habit of verbalising everything from his mother. But fairness is totally not the point of this post. The point is that my little oasis of travel-euphoria is now a frazzled, constant-noise-surrounded gauntlet of irritation and the urge to have a paddy/cry/steal all the pastries and barricade myself into the first class compartment using suitcases.
So travel is now always exhausting. It also involves too much luggage. It also also involves the word “Mummy” being said at least once a minute for the duration.
But this particular lot of travelling was impressively aggravating by anyone’s standards. Setting off on a complex jaunt around the UK and Ireland – made harder by having got a tiny cut on my foot really infected so I was walking like a half-decomposed Walking Dead extra – things went badly.
It started with the ham sandwich. Such a small thing; but of such small beginnings are the moments of greatest strife created. (I’m thinking the Garden of Eden, the Siege of Troy, and maybe One Direction.)
I bought R a ham sandwich before we travelled. I thought he was going to eat the fecking thing right then and there. Instead, he chose to have a mouthful and then put it back in its small plastic box “for later.” Now this would have been fine had there been a single spare inch of room in our over-packed luggage for a ham sandwich in its small plastic box. Obviously, however, as anyone who has ever travelled with me will know, there was no room. You couldn’t have squeezed a pepperami into our suitcases.
So with a rucksack on my back, a handbag over my shoulder, two coats and R’s discarded cardigan over my arm and wheeling a suitcase whilst limping, I then had to carry a partially-eaten ham sandwich that R said he would definitely, definitely want later.
Now there is a rule to luggage that it gets more unwieldy the more times you put it down and pick it up again. By the time we were getting off the airport train, I was already struggling, and so I did the standard thing and said, “Gosh, do you think you’re strong enough to carry some of this stuff?” and was rewarded by R climbing over the suitcases and picking up the ham sandwich before getting off the train.
At that point, it was still funny. Ham sandwiches can be, for a while.
But that feck-bollocky sandwich never left us. It came with us through security (R got it its own box for the scanner, just in case). It came with us through duty-free where I had to talk R out of buying everything he saw as “a present.” I tried to leave it at the check-out but the “helpful” assistant ran after us with it, so it was still with us as we tried to find tiny shampoos and “a comic with a stethoscope” in Smiths. It came with us to the loos, where the only thing to do with it was balance it on a suitcase I’d had to wedge behind the door of the cubicle to fit luggage plus two people in, and which R became quite distressed about as it was “too close to the loo.”
By the time we had forty minutes to go, I’d spotted the champagne bar and was equally keen on sitting down and drinking to forget the ham sandwich. I might add that R had failed to eat any of it after four askings, despite apparently having enough room if I bought him the world’s largest toblerone or a bag of toffees. I figured we could both sit on the swivelly-chairs at the fizz bar and I’d do the drinking (self-sacrificing mother that I am). But R had different ideas. After a I perched on one of the high chairs, he sat mournfully on the ground beneath it next to our luggage. But R can do better than that. He waited until the waiter had poured me a glass of the cheap stuff and offered a plate of olives, and then with full Oliver Twist anguish held up the half-eaten ham sandwich and said, “Please may I eat some now, Mummy? I’m really hungry.”
I could see the people in the next seats staring at me, so I tried to come off not as a drink-obsessed, neglectful, selfish ass of a parent as I smiled at him and said, “Of course you can! Would you like an olive as well…?” (In retrospect, that second one probably didn’t help the yummy-mummy idiot image.) He shook his head, so I considered myself safe to focus on the champagne for a second. That was, until I heard a tiny, sad little voice from beneath me say, “I can’t open it, Mummy.”
I would have turned around to sort the sandwich out pretty quickly even if I hadn’t felt the steady gaze of those people next to me. I mean, I’m not mean, and R does heart-broken child in a lip-trembling way that would make Simon Cowell weep. As it was, I spun round and stepped down in one lightning-fast manoeuvre… and stepped on the fecking ham sandwich.
I didn’t just catch it with my foot. I stood right, plumb in the middle of it with a decisive squelch.
I knew even as I felt it happen that there was no way it wouldn’t look deliberate. A hush fell over at least the nearest five feet of people, and honestly, if I’d cackled, “That’s what you get for interrupting my drinking, you child-scum you,” I don’t think they could have looked more like they wanted to call social services. R, naturally, pulled an absolute blinder at this point. He could have welled up; he could have had a tantrum and returned me to the unhallowed ranks of parent-with-difficult child. But no, R instead opened his eyes wide like saucers, flinched backwards, and said, “Sorry, Mummy.”
The situation was essentially unsalvageable, but I tried valiantly by asking R if we should go and get those toys we’d looked at for him, now we’d had a rest. I was still throwing the champagne down as we legged it, and I pretended I couldn’t hear someone calling after me, until it turned out it was the waiter, who was chasing after me to get the glass back.
“I’m so sorry. Wasn’t thinking,” or something equally squirmy left my mouth. He gave me a cold nod as I returned the empty glass – and then pulled out his trump card from behind his back.
“And I think this is yours,” he said, presenting R with a crushed ham sandwich in its little box.
“Thank you,” R said, taking it sadly as if it were his favourite pet and not a cheap ham roll.
“Aww, should I get you another one?” I asked him, feeling pretty bad about the whole thing as the waiter returned to his bar.
“No, I’m going to put it in the bin,” R said, with a sigh. “I didn’t like it.”
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