In July 2014 we took a family trip to France for a month. A few weeks before we left my husband was told he needed to stay on for work in the UK leaving me to fly home to Australia alone, with three young children.
When I found out I would have to fly home from France, alone, with a six and three year old plus my 23 month old I had a little freak out and quickly decided managing my own headspace would be my best coping strategy. I then sat down and got a little more prepared about how I would manage things like meals, trips to the toilet and a 4 hour stop in Dubai.
One of my favourite sayings in life when things are tough is “The only way through it is through it” and this definitely applies to long haul flights with kids, regardless of how many parents are on the job.
So, how was my flight home …?
It was actually OK. It was long, exhausting, challenging and I was very happy when we finally touched down at Sydney airport. But I don’t feel like the kids or I will look back on it negatively, in fact I am pretty darned proud of us all for getting through as well as we did. I think my kids were amazing on the trip home. I wouldn’t rush to do it again but I would also happily tell another mother that the experience is manageable especially if the trade off is an awesome trip.
Here are 5 things I think helped us get home with out too many tears:
Team Meeting – The day we were due to fly I sat down with my six and three year and we had a “team meeting”. I talked to them about flying home without Dad, how important it was to look after each other. We made up some rules together like “If Mum asks you to share a toy with one of your sisters, you just do it without arguing because keeping our sisters happy is really important” or “Be kind to each other – no yelling or fighting” or “We are a team and we have to look after everyone on our team”. Then we made up some funny team names which came in handy during the trip.
The Magic Ribbon – I took a brightly coloured ribbon away with us especially for the trip home. When I brought it out at Lyon airport I told my girls it was a Magic Ribbon and it would stop us getting lost. I told them the rules of the Magic Ribbon were that everyone had to hold onto it together and not let go. I absolutely love the way kids embrace things like that! I felt like I had three little ducks toddling behind me as we navigated our way through the airport. It kept them all happy, together and not being carried by me!
Asking for what I needed – On our first flight (6 hours) from Lyon to Dubai I had the most wonderful flight attendant who was really proactive about helping me. Simple things like offering to open all the bits of my meal because I was holding a sleeping child in one arm.
Unfortunately on my second flight (14 hours) the attendants seems a bit stretched and not tuned into helping a Mum flying solo with three kids. This meant I had to ask for what I needed and be firm about getting it. For example, with four of us squashed into three seats mealtimes were a juggle. With a 23 month old on my lap and a three year old trying to eat her meal next to me I was constantly on the look out for a stray foot that might suddenly knock over a drink or the whole tray table.
On this flight service was slow and I wasn’t prepared to leave our trays sitting around for too long. When I would ask for the trays to be removed by a passing attendant the answer would often be “Someone will be around in a little while to collect meal trays” and my response would be “I am alone with three children, I don’t want to wear their leftovers. I would like you to take these trays away now, please.”
Maintaining my Zen – I always knew that my attitude was about the only thing on the trip home I could actually control and it served me well. I chose to keep a sense of humour no matter what, I chose to breathe deeply instead of raising my voice and I chose to accept that sleep was for the children not for me.
The hardest time to hold this Zen was during the second flight. We had a bad time with turbulence and as a result the seatbelt sign was kept on for more than 2 hours. Have you ever tried explaining to a 23 month old why they have to stay on your lap, in a buckle, and can’t go for a walk? There is no explaining and my poor, overtired daughter just cried and cried and cried. All I could do is speak soothing words to her, try to explain and ignore the the foul looks I was getting from a couple sitting in the centre row near us. I felt like yelling at them – did they think there was anything else I could do for my child in that moment … did they think she was crying just for fun?
As soon as that light went off she was the happiest kid in the world, just like that.
No clock watching – The best advice I was given about childbirth was not to have any clocks in the room. It doesn’t help to know how long you have been in labour for or to wonder when it will all be over. I decided to apply the same to our flight home. I did my best to ignore the “Time to destination” updates. It wasn’t going to help me to know I still had another 10 hours to go. I also didn’t bother thinking about what time it was for my children, should they try and get sleep etc. I just let them flow in the strange rhythm that a long haul flight has about eating and sleeping.
Would I do this again?
Not by choice but at least now I know it is possible.