Hello from France, where I am delighted to report that I’ve arrived for a three-week holiday after the most hellish journey. Before I start waxing lyrical about the loveliness of being here and the fun to be had I think it’s only fair that I have a Real Talk post about the journey itself, in the interests of accuracy and also to help me work through my feelings about it and, ideally, avoid have PSTD-style flashbacks in the dead of the night.
I always knew that travelling with two preschoolers for around 30 hours would present some challenges, and I am so thankful that I organised reinforcements for the journey: my mother, known to the kids as Gogga. That poor woman is a saint, not only lugging heavy bags and enduring squalling children, but also resisting the urge to punch me and push me down an airport escalator when the cumulative effects of countless hours of stress and exhaustion turned me into a frenzied beast of a woman, snarling and snapping at the slightest perceived provocation. I suspect that she’ll sneakily change her flights for the journey home, and I couldn’t really blame her.
The trip started out well, with the kids very happy and excited at Auckland Airport. Hattie contemplated travelling incognito to avoid being mobbed by international blog readers in search of autographs – always stressful when you can’t actually write – but eventually she decided to take her chances.
Mum and I were loaded down with snacks, toys, treats, and any manner of diversions designed to distract and mollify the kids when the gritty reality of long haul travel hit. We traipsed around with our backpacks on, like superannuated Gap Year travellers, and the kids trotted along with us, wearing their own little backpacks like big kindy kids.
Our first flight left New Zealand early in the afternoon, aboard a dated Cathay Pacific plane with charmless flight attendants, weird non-reclining seats, and fairly unappetising food. None of these things mattered to Hattie and Joe, however: they were delighted with the non-stop film options.
Four or five hours into the journey, Hattie had watched Zootopia twice, they’d both refused to eat anything but the snacks out of my backpacks, and they were exhausted. Of course, having a nap dimmed in appeal as an option when compared with the chance to express feelings of tiredness through the universal language of overwrought three year olds everywhere: tantrums. As I was running on empty, after an exhausting semester and a few exam-fuelled weeks of very little sleep, my patience and tolerance were declining rapidly. Mum took Shrieking Joe to the rear of the plane in an attempt to calm him down. Hattie was OK for a few minutes, absorbed as she was in the opening scenes of her third viewing of Zootopia, but she then looked up, saw that Joe and Gogga were elsewhere, and lost her shit entirely, screaming her displeasure and insisting that we find the two of them. So down the plane we staggered, where I lost my temper with both of them and assured them that the toys and treats intended for them would be given away to other kids if they didn’t settle down. Yes, that’s me: not at all petty and immature when the chips are down.
We were joined by a lovely English woman called Vanessa, who was travelling child-free (having sensibly left her own young children at home) and offered to help us out. Of course, being faced with kindness from a stranger assuring me that I was doing a great job in dealing with them reduced me to a bit of a sobbing mess for a minute or two, exhausted and overwrought as I was. The kids flatly refused to deal with Vanessa, seeing as how they were beside themselves and she was a total stranger, but I was so grateful to her for her extremely kind and thoughtful behaviour, and the big hug she gave me before we all returned to our seats. If any Auckland-based readers know English Vanessa, a mother of three from – I think – Birkenhead, please thank her from me.
Anyway, Joe finally fell asleep about four hours before the end of that flight. Hattie initially refused to yield, preferring to watch Zootopia for a fourth time, looking for all the world like a zombie survivor of an apocalyptic battle with her pale face, staring, bloodshot eyes, and twitchy demeanour. She finally slept with two hours to go, but only after Gogga lost patience with her as well and gave her the hard word. As this was the first time in her short life that Gogga had been cross with her, it was highly effective. I didn’t sleep at all on that flight, since I was too wired to not react any time Hattie moved. And so our first flight ended, with both children utterly unimpressed at being woken up when we landed in Hong Kong.
We were scheduled to have two hours between flights, but our first flight took off late and we ended up with a swift transfer. Traipsing along with two exhausted children, we arrived at our gate and found that our flight to Paris was already boarding. All of our plans to let the kids stretch their legs and have a bit of a break were scuppered, but to their credit they dealt with getting on another plane very well.
This flight was on Air France, which I heartily recommend for their charming and professional attendants, nice food, good entertainment options, and relatively comfortable seats. We’d ordered children’s meals for the whole journey, although we always knew that Hattie wouldn’t touch anything, and even Joe was reluctant. I ended up eating his dinner on that flight, and it was a delicious pasta bolognese.
Having learned from the first flight that Hattie would choose binge-viewing over sleep, to everybody’s detriment, we enforced a ‘watch one thing and then it’s time to snuggle down’ rule on this leg of the journey. That worked well, and both kids slept for five or six hours. I finally managed to have a couple of hours of sleep too. The rest of the flight passed reasonably uneventfully, with only a couple of meltdowns per child, although one screaming episode of Hattie’s had me tearfully imploring Mum to tell me what to do with the little hellion, so I wasn’t forced to put into effect my plan – hatched on the first flight – of finding a parachute and leaving the buggers to it.
We landed in Paris a mere 26 hours after our departure. My in-laws live in south-west France and the nearest big airport is a two hour drive away, so rather than faff around with transferring to a domestic flight and having the associated waiting times, followed by the long drive at the other end, we’d decided to mix things up a bit and catch the TGV, one of France’s very fast and efficient trains.
In retrospect this was a terrible idea. We had to trek for at least 20 minutes to get from baggage collection to the train station in the terminal, which was zero fun with two luggage trolleys, three big bags, two backpacks, two handbags, and two utterly exhausted three year olds wearing their own bags. When we reached the station we tried to change onto an earlier train, as we’d got through Customs far more rapidly than we’d anticipated and were now facing a three and a half hour wait. Sadly, there were no seats available, so we spent some excellent quality time in the station. The children did their best to help to pass the time by requesting visits to the stinking public toilets on a frequent basis – thankfully it had a parents’ room with a little kids’ loo that was marginally less stinky than the main bathroom. We visited so often that the attendant began to waive the 70 cent entrance fee.
Actually boarding the train was a mission in itself, as seemingly half the airport was also trying to get on through our designated doors. We were also sitting upstairs on the train, so we had to lug the huge bags, small bags, small people, etc up there. Once on the train the kids watched DVDs and eventually slept. Some lollies also bought a wee bit of temporary compliance, although they each had a couple of exhaustion-fuelled meltdowns.
I dozed fitfully, utterly paranoid about falling asleep properly and missing our stop. Unloading ourselves from the train was possibly the low point in the entire saga, and I disgraced myself by having a train door screaming fit at Mum regarding a misunderstanding about who would mind the children and who would deal with the luggage. I was accompanied by my own personal Greek chorus of hysterically screaming children, hugely unimpressed at being woken up to disembark.
But we finally made it to my in-laws’ cars and back to their house, and the kids lasted until 5.30pm and had a few excellent meltdowns – really, I admired their commitment and stamina – and I followed them to bed at 7.30pm. I was up twice to resettle Joe before midnight, and by 1am he and Hattie had decided that they’d had enough sleep, so the spent the rest of the night in my bed, watching Arthur on my iPad and complaining about everything. It was a really lovely bonding moment for the three of us.
It’s now early afternoon. I caught up on some sleep after both grandmothers got up, and the kids are currently two hours into a nap. Hopefully they’ll be able to have a good sleep tonight. Best news of all for me: Tristan is currently en route from Switzerland and will be on night resettling duty again soon!
Once the kids and I have recovered from the journey I’m sure that we’ll all have a lovely holiday here. Look at this place! How could we not have a great time?
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