Scene 1: The Car
Motoring through the south of France, Zoe napping in the back and Maxwell’s brow furrowed in deep concentration as his latest lego masterpiece slowly takes shape. With the windows down and warm air ruffling through our hair it is a rare moment of peace, quiet and contemplation as fields of lavender flit past in a blur. Cheryl and I steal a quick glance and share a smile at this perfect moment that seems to vindicate all the hard work involved in travelling with our little ones.
Then Maxwell becomes frustrated and the uncooperative red piece of lego (in the rear-view mirror it looks like the decapitated body of a construction worker with one arm ripped off) rockets through the air, smacking its (unintended?) target, Zoe’s nose, with its most pointy edge.
Zoe awakes: Zoe cries. Maxwell is warned to behave: Maxwell cries. Zoe is given a favourite toy and calms down a little. Maxwell wants the toy, grabs it and then melts down in a screaming fit when it is taken off him and given back to Zoe. Zoe realizes she has been in the car for over 2 hours and demands to come out of her car seat (we are on the motorway with 20 miles to the next services). When denied she launches a tantrum of ear-shredding proportions, especially in such a confined space. Maxwell cannot stand the volume of screaming in such a confined space and starts screaming too. Not exactly following ‘best practice parenting’, before long mum and dad add to the overall cacophony “STOP SHOUTING!!!”.
This delightful scene occurred repeatedly when we were on long drive days. The magic time limit seemed to be 2.5 hours, after which the kids began a rapid conversion from delightful toddler to screaming banshee. With tonnes of attention (and bribing snacks / sweets) we could just about stretch the time the kids would accept being strapped into a car seat to 4 hours but at the cost of exhausting ourselves.
Scene 2: The Train
Japanese trains are particularly cool because you can sit in the front carriage and look through a glass window to watch the driver pull his knobs and turn his dials to drive the train – great for inquisitive youngsters.
However, the magic lasts for but a few minutes until their tiny attention spans turn to the rest of the carriage. The cool, polite silence of the carriage with the people and occasional children sitting with restraint and impeccable manners.
Books, toys, treats and threats can also buy you a little time but, again, a journey of over 2 hours made the train carriage seem like a prison, with us the inmates being punished with the shame of damning eyes as our uncontrollable toddlers charged up and down, climbed the seats, fought and wailed when reprimanded.
Occasionally, a kindly grandma would hand out boiled sweets to the kids. Fools Gold! 2 minutes of peace would swiftly be followed by 10 turbo charged minutes of window bashing, people climbing and alley running. As surely as night follows day, the traumatic emotional horrors of the sugar crash would follow…
Scene 3: The Long Haul Plane
It’s 10:00am on a flight from Denver to Tokyo, due to take 13 hours. We’re buckled in and on the tarmac and the traumas of our brush with the Immigration Services feel like they are now well behind us. We are well prepared, we have apples, bananas, sweet snacks, books and lego for the children to play with (with iPhone cartoons as a fallback for Maxwell).
Divide and conquer is the name of the game. Zoe sits on Magnus’ lap by the window, Cheryl is in the middle seat and Maxwell on the aisle. At first a banana each keeps the peace, then some story books (Dr. Seuss ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ and Peppa Pig ‘Recycling’!) and a chat about our plans for our visit to this exciting new place called ‘Japan’. We then pull out an exciting new lego toy and help Maxwell put it together – it’s a space rocket and he is very excited.
Zoe gets a bit restless and very wriggly, so she gets unbuckled for a while and we play with her baby doll on the floor under the seat. We are starting to run out of ideas, so the apple and then some sweet treats come into play. We try ‘I spy with my little eye’ but no one seems to believe that game is worth their time.
Then Zoe and Maxwell get into a fight over some lego and there is some ultra-high frequency screaming that puts the entire cabin on edge, so Maxwell is given the iPhone (which, thank heavens, induces him into a trance-like state) but Zoe isn’t at an age where cartoons are much fun so gets more and more restless.
The captain comes over the loudspeaker: ‘Ladies and Gentlemen: apologies for the delay, we are now next in line to take off and will be on our way to Tokyo shortly’. We look at a watch: it is 10:35am. We exchange a look of exhausted desperation and prepare to dig in for the long haul…
The Bottom Line:
Kids have short attention spans and hate being cooped up in a small space (especially if they need to be strapped in – yuck!).
On car journeys, try to align the drive with their nap times to make some tracks while they are sleeping. And keep the drives short – you are supposed to be enjoying yourself and the energy / earplugs required to manage really long driving days are just not worth it.
On trains, spend up for express services and get your thick skin ready for when your beloved ones will not be able to avoid unacceptable behavior.
For long haul day flights, realize that a unit of child distracting time (reading a book, telling a story, pointing fun things out of the window) is about 5 minutes. For a 13 hour flight that means you will need to be fun, creative and entertaining 156 times in a row! Do NOT look at your watch to see how long there is to go – your morale will not stand up to the crushing disappointment!!!