Flying with kids: a note to the man in seat 11B

plane travel

When you become a parent, you soon discover a lot of things that will make you feel really rubbish at your job. Sometimes it is your own children who wield this power but more often than not it’s other adults. I am writing this post whilst being made to feel like the most awful parent of the most terrible children in the world. As it is so raw, you must forgive any lack of compassion on my part. I’m not in the mood for putting myself in someone else’s shoes (or flight socks in this case). Being quite cross does that to you.

I am on a plane. A shortish flight of 5 hours. It is 7pm and the kids have been up for nearly 12 hours. The period before take-off is one of the trickiest parts of a flight for anyone shepherding small people. It’s that tortuous time when you’ve yet to fire up the iPads and have just realised that by packing the wrong flavor of crisps all hell will be set loose. What you don’t need at a moment like this is for the man in the row in front of you to ask to move seats. Before you’ve even left the ground.

So here are a few words to you, man in seat 11B. The words that thankfully won’t leave my mouth now that I’m placing them safely on paper.*

You don’t have children, do you? I don’t say that in a looking-down-at-you kind of way. I’m just stating the bleeding obvious. If you did then you would understand that overtiredness plus being strapped into a seat don’t make for a quiet child. You’d understand that telling me to take my child “for a walk” is going to wind me up. If you were a parent, I also doubt you’d have such a ludicrous hairstyle – adults learn that with the responsibility of children they have to grow up a bit. However much we might try to resist morphing into a grown-up, there are some ‘styles’ that just don’t cut it on the school run. Sorry to get personal with you but I take your reaction to my child very personally. Touché.

My 3-year-old may have shouted when I dared to produce those wrong crisps. He may have kicked the back of your chair. You may have overheard me tell him that he shouldn’t do that, but considering where your head seems to be firmly stuck I’m surprised you can hear a thing. Let me tell you, my friend – if you didn’t have your seat reclining then the little legs behind wouldn’t have been able to reach you so easily.

I thought perhaps you’d asked to move because your seat was broken. (I kindly gave you the benefit of the doubt and was prepared to tolerate having your ridiculous hair-do and incessant nose-clearing in my lap for the whole journey.) This turned out not to be the case as your seat was fine when the cabin crew asked you to put it upright. That you put it straight back down again as the woman walked away is testimony to your arrogance. I wonder whether you would have done the same if it had been an adult rather than a child behind you. Not that I’m questioning your manhood. Perhaps you think you need your seat reclining because you are so generously endowed in that respect. But I’ll hold back from any further comment on what/where/who is the enormous c*ck.

So whilst you appear not to like my children, there are – I know you’ll find it hard to believe – quite a lot of things that I don’t like about you. I’m tempted to make the remaining four hours of your journey hellish. Fortunately for you the kids are now firmly plugged into their entertainment and no amount of bribery could entice them away to scream in your ear or perform the 1812 Overture with their feet on your seat (which is still reclining). I do hope though that one day you will be on a plane with your children and someone will ask to move away from you. You might feel rather small and remember that once upon a time you were a bit of an ar*e. For the moment I think I’ll just read a dinosaur book quite loudly – I really hope I don’t wake you.

* Postscript: After much huffing and head-turning on the part of the man in seat 11B (or Mr Nobby Nobhead as I now call him), my son accidentally jogged his chair and sparked a full-on row. I don’t say boo to a goose so it takes some provocation for me to shout at or argue with a stranger. Suffice to say, my suspicions were confirmed – the man in seat 11B is indeed an idiot. 

 

Baking with children: the grim reality

Fairy cakes

Tonight, a nation of wannabe bakers will hang up their pinnies, dust the flour from their hands and settle down with a madeleine to watch the final of the Great British Bake Off. With all the tweeness of an afternoon at Midsomer Cricket Club, the finalists will whisk, beat and cream their little hearts out in the hope of exchanging a sticky handshake with Paul Hollywood. Not a drop of sweat will upset the delicate balance of the ingredients. No outbursts of profanity will drift into the vanilla-scented air. But let’s add something extra. Let’s throw in a small child to assist each of the finalists. Now there’s a recipe for disaster.

I regularly don my rose-tinted spectacles and bake cakes with my two children. Generally we bake fairy cakes – no, we always bake fairy cakes – those fail-safe bundles of sponge that – like cockroaches – can survive pretty much anything. Oh how we skip around the kitchen with our teatowels (the only vintage print I have) and look forward to some quality time together as we mix and laugh and … Hold on. Here is the scene 5 minutes after we’ve started:

Breakfast bar

You will note the absence of children. The thrill of baking has left them in the time it takes for caramel to burn irremovably onto your best Le Creuset pan. Maybe this is a moment for the Head Baker to cherish, after all there is peace and quiet and no one is treading on my toes. But then as quickly as they left, they’re back and I await the inevitable. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 …

“Mummy, I’m hungry!”

“Have a banana.”

“I want to try what’s in there.”

“It’s not ready yet.”

“I want it!”

I toss them each a spoon of tooth-rotting, artery-blocking, salmonella-inducing cake mixture. I have sacrificed a dollop but the demons have not been appeased. They keep on coming back. Not once, not twice but over and over and over. My head spins with the glint of spoons and my Kirstie Allsopp façade starts to slip like an undercooked custard tart off its plate:

“I warn you – if you don’t stop asking to taste it I’m going to put it all in the bin!”*

(* There’s a sweary bit too that stays in my head.) Not a proud moment but, good lord, I see now where the bearded bloke in the Great British Bake Off was coming from when he tossed his baked Alaska in the pedal bin. Like the moment in Midsomer when a villager bursts into the cricket pavilion announcing there’s been a murder and John Nettles spills his tea, the joy of baking can come crashing to the ground in a tangle of Cath Kidston bunting.

When Mary Berry steps forward tonight to judge the finalists, I ask that she does not judge them on the end product. She must judge them on the journey, for, like me, they may have endured the 12 Labours of Hercules in order to produce their soggy bottomed Victoria sponge. And as the camera pans out from the GBBO tent, we know that baking isn’t really about china cake stands and Mary Berry’s twinset and pearls – it is all about licking the spoon.

Making cakes

Objects of desire

Fragile box

I have been slightly disturbed by a recent thread on a mums’ online group. The discussion was about the attractiveness of a local delivery man – his doorstep appeal. Sizzling, apparently. The type of fella you’d want to be answering the door to in your nightdress. Maybe letting your dressing gown slip open as you drowsily open the door at 7am. Desperate housewives having a bit of a giggle. All good, clean fun, right?

But turn the tables and is it so funny? Imagine a thread on a dads’ forum talking about a delivery woman: “Should’ve answered the door in my pants!” “Wouldn’t mind posting something in her box!” Suddenly it sounds less harmless and much seedier. Why is it okay for women to do to men what they don’t like done unto themselves? Is one of the benefits of being the ‘weaker’ sex that we can harangue men in a non-threatening and therefore acceptable way? Look at the ad with the Diet Coke man cutting the grass – tossing him the shaken can to open is equivalent to making a woman climb a ladder to look up her skirt. I’d like to see whether an advert like that would avoid complaints.

I’m not aiming criticism at the people who commented on the thread – I certainly want to be able to go into town without wearing a flak jacket – but it made me think about the double standards that operate in a society that is (hopefully) striving for equality. Perhaps turning the tables on men is a form of empowerment – an attempt to redress the balance of power by taking men on at their own game. After all, gender equality is about creating a level playing field. Do we therefore say, yes, it’s fine for women to talk about men based on their appearance and sex appeal alone. If we do, then at the same time we should be reaching for the topshelf in the newsagents and ripping the protective wrapping off the men’s magazines – right? It’s only fair after all. Either we agree that it’s acceptable to treat women and men like this, or we agree that no one should be reduced to the status of a mere sexual object.

That’s an awful lot of questions. I don’t have the answers and, yes, maybe I should take a hike and go and burn my bra someplace else. I am sure the delivery man – high up on his pedestal – is in no danger of being chased down and ravished by a pack of mums so to that extent it is harmless. But I wonder how he would feel if he read what was being said about him. Perhaps he’d be delighted and his testosterone levels would surge. But perhaps – and there’s a good chance – he would feel uncomfortable and more than a little embarrassed by the attention he’s received.

Am I a failed feminist?

Girl picking flower

I think I’m a feminist. That’s not me pushing back my chair to stand up and make a guilty admission. What I mean is that I think I’m a feminist but probably don’t meet all the requirements, if such rigid requirements indeed exist. I’m interested in the issues and barriers affecting women and will gladly step up on a soapbox or two. Is it terrible then that this afternoon I helped my 5-year-old daughter get ‘dolled up’ for an evening out at the theatre?

This afternoon was special. It was the last afternoon we had alone together before the start of the new school term. With a trip to the theatre with her dad planned for the evening, I decided to treat her to an afternoon of pampering. Or, as it turned out, I gave her a bath and painted her fingernails whilst she watched back-to-back episodes of iCarly. We chose a dress (pink) and a cardigan (sparkly) for her to wear out, selected some of her less tacky jewellery and packed a little handbag (the one that was “more like a grown-up’s”) with a purse, tissues and plasters (of course). Finally, I helped her apply a little bit of eyeshadow and some lip gloss. Diamonds are a girl’s best friend, or, in this case, freebie make-up sets from a well-known brand of kids’ shoes are.

Did I do wrong? No. Am I betraying my feminist tendencies? Possibly. I think it’s highly unlikely that our afternoon will send her in the direction of wanting to be a glamour model rather than a rocket scientist. Equally, I doubt that she will be left thinking looks are more important than anything else. What we did this afternoon was for her. She’s not interested in what other people think when they look at her. (And I hope that will long continue.) She’s interested in how things make her feel inside. Doing what she sees Mummy doing made her feel more grown-up and thus independent, things most children hanker after whether or not we agree with or support it. It wasn’t about feeling more like a ‘woman’ (with the negative connotation that women are defined by make-up and fashion), it was simply about being on level pegging with an adult. If taking a razor to an imaginary beard could have had the same effect, she probably would have done it.

I’m very much against thrusting toys at girls that could narrow their aspirations. We fought the tide of pink in our household and were eventually overwhelmed. But rather than call wildly for help from a sea of sparkly plastic, I’ve hoisted myself on a boogie board and ridden the wave. Pink paraphernalia, make-up and glitter aren’t going to put my daughter in a pigeon hole from where she can’t see the stars. There are things in our world far more powerful and pervasive that will try to inflict such damage. What matters is her having confidence – the ability to define who she is by herself, rather than be defined. If the biggest enemies to achieving this were the colour pink and a bit of nail polish then the need for feminism would have ceased to exist a long time ago.

Wanted: a guilt-free school summer holiday

School holidays

As we find ourselves heading into the fleshy part of the school summer holidays, that dreaded feeling has already set in. No, it’s not cabin fever nor is it a yearning for the days when a summer holiday was exactly that – a holiday and a child-free one to boot. What is it then? It’s the feeling of guilt that you should be out of the house doing something with your kids.

Despite having just returned from Disneyland Paris, our first plan-free day has put me in a tailspin. We’ve worn ourselves out chasing Mickey and what we really need is a day at home with our feet up and perhaps – dare I say it? – the telly on. But unforgiving Facebook and punishing Twitter have warned me that other people are out showing their kids a good time. Eek. I’ve just sat my two down on the sofa under a duvet with their breakfast and Disney Jr. I’ve put a load of washing on and run a deep clean on the dishwasher. But, do you know what? We’re all content and satisfied (apart from the 3-year-old complaining about two Doc McStuffins in a row).

My kids aren’t the going out types. When I ask them what they want to do, more often than not they’ll squeal “stay at home”. Imagine that accompanied by a whoop of joy and a fist pump and you’ll have a picture of how excited they get at the prospect of actually playing with their toys. They’re quite happy (I think) not to be dragged hither and thither. Throw open the doors on a hot, sunny day and you’ll most likely find them indoors stretched out on the floor with their heads in colouring books. I’ve read a lot of brilliant articles about the importance of letting your children be bored so why do I feel like I’m doing them long-term harm? And why does it make me feel so darned lazy?

I know that people aren’t out with their kids every day. I’m by no means critical of parents who have their holiday activities planned down to the last second – I’m jealous of them. I’m as keen as anyone to get out and about, especially as it can make for a more stress-free day. Crumbs on someone else’s floor; the great outdoors to absorb the high decibel output of a 3-year-old that otherwise shakes the windows at home; and perhaps, if you’re lucky, the kids will fall asleep in the car on the way home (without having been sick over the car seat first).

Balance is what I’m after. But on days at home I just can’t escape the feeling of guilt. It’s not as if I’m using the time to put my feet up. If it’s anything like a normal day, I’ll be fixing legs back on dinosaurs, sweeping up glitter, refereeing an argument or being forewarned there’s a poo on the way every five minutes. Guaranteed at the end of the day I’ll be ready to run out of the door roaring and baring my chest.

On the flipside of all the guilt, a day at home has its advantages. Dishwashers get cleaned, kids discover old favourites in the depths of the toybox and I get to drink vulgar amounts of tea without worrying about having to use the Potette on a public highway. Maybe there is some rest for the wicked parents after all.