Sunday, 22 May 2016

Living with a frequent flyer

Drake spends much of his time flying back and forth to various European destinations.  Last year, it was Munich and Zurich; this year mostly Munich (though the trips have been a less frequent).  He tends to fly with a range of airlines, and is part of a loyalty scheme for all of them.  This means he has bucket loads of air miles, which came in very handy when we flew to Finland.  It also means he has "status" with some airlines - British Airways being the most coveted.  However, due to flying Lufthansa a lot this year, he was at risk of losing his Silver status with BA and all the lounge access, priority boarding and other perks that come with it. I know, I know, serious first world problem*. Nevertheless, this weekend, he did a slightly bonkers overnighter to Dusseldorf (one of the few European destinations with an airport-based Sheraton hotel, with whom he also has status) to earn himself enough points to retain his pretty Silver membership card.  So that's home, airport, plane, airport, hotel, gym, dinner, sleep, breakfast, airport, breakfast, plane, breakfast, home, breakfast.  All in under 16 hours.

I understood why he did it.  When you fly for work every week, it's decidedly less unpleasant if you get to eat little bowls of free nuts in the lounge, and don't have to wait for 25 minutes at check in or in the queue to board.  And he got an uninterrupted night's sleep and four breakfasts out of it.  But I still rolled my eyes and had a little bit of a "Do you HAVE to???" moment.  He missed the end of my Mum's family gathering to go to the airport for a start (it's possible he may have seen that as an additional benefit), he missed spending precious weekend time with me and Duckling, and he flew, on an aeroplane, just a couple of days after yet another one had ditched itself into the sea, killing all the passengers.

I have no fear of flying myself. I have a good grasp of probability and I deal with risk on a daily basis in my job.  I know that Drake is far more likely to be killed in a car accident on the way to or from the airport than he is in a plane crash. Yet still, I have to actively avoid thinking about what could happen each time he gets on a plane, or I break out in a cold sweat. It's not just the thought that he could die, it's HOW he would die. Asphyxiated, drowned, burned or frozen to death, or shattered by the impact of hitting the ground / sea. In all of these scenarios there is TIME. Time to realise what is happening,  time to think, if only for a few moments, "That's it, I'm dead. I'm never going to see my family again and they're never going to see me." Time to be utterly and completely terrified. Although knowing the ever-practical Drake, his last thoughts are likely to be "hmm, I hope Duck knows where to find my life insurance papers. Oh wait, she does all the filing. That's OK then."

There would be no-one to help, no emergency services to call, no chance of survival and in all likelihood, no hope of his body being returned. Seeing the photos of the debris from flight MS804 makes my blood run cold. To know that there are family members out there, looking at those pictures too, maybe identifying their loved one's personal effects, knowing their owner is never coming home... One couple were returning to see their three young children in Egypt after a month apart. The woman had just undergone lifesaving cancer surgery in France and looked set to make a full recovery.  It's too ironically tragic to contemplate.

So yes, I was not best pleased by Drake's decision to voluntarily fly to Germany this weekend.  I didn't tell him the full reason why - he would've just laughed at my apparent irrationality - but I did intimate I'd rather he didn't do it again anytime soon. Then I wished him a safe flight (again, he doesn't know but I superstitiously HAVE to wish him a safe flight, even if it's by text because I'm still asleep when he leaves) and watched him drive away. He made it back safe and sound of course. I just wish the passengers of MS804 had too.

* Technically it should be "developed / high income country problem", as the expressions "first world", "second world" and "third world" are anachronistic since the fall of the Soviet Union. I suspect my quibbling over the term may be a bit of a #firstworldproblem in itself though.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Have you had a good holiday? (Finland: Part 3)

"Have you had a good holiday?" Drake asked, gazing out across our sprawling garden at the forested shorelines and tranquil bays of the Gulf of Finland (thank you Airbnb).

"Not bad at all," I replied, as I simultaneously picked up a discarded pasta twirl from the floor, and righted Duckling, who was back bending his way out his high chair for the third time in as many minutes.

I wasn't lying. It hasn't been a bad holiday, by any stretch of the imagination. Both of the houses we've stayed in, in Helsinki, and here, out in the sticks, have been utterly incredible. Both are owned by architects and are lived for most of the year, so they're fully kitted out with all the mod cons you need for day to day living (though the current one is still lacking a potato peeler godammit). The Finns we've talked to have been reserved yet friendly, and sweetly surprised that we've chosen their beautiful country for a holiday. Duckling has been behaving brilliantly, the food and drink have been plentiful and delicious and the friends we're with have cooked, cleaned and been very understanding of us having a kid in tow (once I'd got over my slight first day offence at being told that they couldn't hack the slow pace of wandering a city with a child, and would be spending the afternoon on their own. Blunt, but at least honest).

But I am TIRED. It is a cliché, but holidaying with small children is basically the same old shit in a different place. Nappies, mealtimes, bath times, bedtimes, constant negotiation of transitions and removal of dangerous objects, endless playing with cars and Duplo, tidying up the destruction... It all still has to happen. Except it has to happen in less familiar surroundings, with more hazards, where all you desperately want to do is sit in a lounger, have a nice chat with your friends and soak up the silence and the view. Not chase after your two year old who is trying to throw himself down the steps to the beach again. Or help himself to yet another fistful of complimentary chocolates. Or beat up the bathroom door with an ornate horsehead walking stick. Or poke breadsticks into the Bang and Olufsen speakers when you've categorically said, seventeen times, that this is NOT acceptable behaviour.

The hardest bit is the inability to say any of this, because you're on holiday in a beautiful place with lovely people and to say you're not relishing every single moment sounds so damn sour and ungrateful. There have of course been some totally great bits, both with Duckling ("ooh, wow! Noisy!" He exclaimed as I showed him how to pop seaweed) and our friends (who knew 34 and 11 months was not too old to learn the full dance sequence to "All the Single Ladies"?). I just feel the beauty and the luxury of this place is wasted on me - old, tired, frumpy, grumpy and perpetually distracted as I am.   It has not been relaxing in the sense I once knew, and it bothers me that I am still dismayed by this, two years into motherhood. If I'm not used to it by now, am I ever going to be?

Probably not, is the answer, but at least it will make our first holiday sans enfants that bit more enjoyable when it does eventually come around. Except I'm sure I'll probably miss my darling(s) massively, and mope the whole trip. I am a really difficult lady to please.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

My name's Duck and I'm not an alcoholic (Finland: Part 2)

OK,  so I have an admission that I am fairly sure is going to alienate a large portion of my readership: I don’t really drink much alcohol.

In the UK, not boozing daily is seen as a bit, well, odd. It is a great shared cliché confession amongst most mothers that the the prospect of a large glass of wine is the only thing that keeps them going from Operation Get Up to Operation Bedtime. And I get that, I totally do. Friday night is beer night in our house, and it's great. But every night? It's just not my thing.

So this week, a holiday spent with - how shall I put this politely - some seasoned drinkers, has been a bit of a challenge. I do enjoy a glass of wine, and I can actually hold my drink reasonably well.  If I really wanted to I could keep up; at least for the first couple of hours.  But there are just so many reasons not to these days.

I have not drunk regularly since university so my consumption abilities are definitely a little less honed than they once were. This means I am guaranteed to feel rubbish the next day - hung over, a bit paranoid about having said something stupid and generally miserable - and it's a misery that can last a good 48 hours sometimes. No fun when on holiday and dealing with tantrums.

Then there's the knowledge that I am responsible for another small human. What would I do if he suddenly fell ill or got injured? What would I do if I injured him because I was a bit sloshed, as in this scenario from last night: Me: "what happened to his head?" Drake: "I was spinning him around and, err, I got dizzy!" Me: "nothing to do with the three G&Ts you've had then?" Drake: "of course not!"  I don't want to sound sanctimonious - it was only a very small bump and I had had a beer and a "Vodka berry nice" too (our own Finnish invention - Koskenkorva vodka, frozen lingonberries & Schweppes Russchian), but it serves to illustrate why I don't feel comfortable taking charge of a child while tipsy.

I also still breastfeed Duckling when he comes into bed with us at night. I need to be alert enough to hear him when he wakes up, and not so drunk that I end up smothering him / booting him out the bed. Plus I need to avoid inadvertently inebriating him via alcoholic breast milk (though evidence suggests you have to be fairly paralytic for that to be a  possibility). And I haven't even mentioned the abuse of my liver, the weight gain, and the additional grey pallor that a hangover brings to my already haggard visage...

Alcoholism and binge drinking are genuine problems in the UK, but are often overlooked in people of my age and social class because they happen behind closed doors, rather than on the vomit spattered streets of your local town centre.  I know plenty of people who will happily polish off a bottle of wine between two (or sometimes one) most nights, and think nothing of it, even though the NHS recommends drinking no more than 14 units per week (around six regular size glasses of wine - or one per night with a 'rest' day).  They do it because they like wine, obviously, but also because it's completely normalised in British culture - particularly middle class culture - to do so. This in turn fuels mockery and teasing of those who choose to abstain or drink a bit more modestly, which I find really tedious. On the first night of our holiday, I just had a couple of beers and A Big Thing was made of this. I know our friends just wanted me to relax and let my hair down (and stop making them feel like lushes no doubt) but I still felt uncomfortable.  So on night two, I abandoned my reserve and got through three glasses of Prosecco, two beers and two hefty gin and tonics, which for me is a lot. And it was entertaining (I was introduced to Cards Against Humanity for the first time and spent the evening with tears of laughter rolling down my face), but I certainly felt it in the morning. It's depressing that I am so susceptible to peer pressure at the age of 34, but I can't help it - I don't want to be the only sober one in the room. They'll have me sniffing glue and shoplifting next...

I'm not some kind of a temperance zealot.  I am on holiday, so I am happy (and want) to drink a bit more than I usually do. I just don't want to feel like I am obliged to drink more than I'm comfortable with every night. I am thus going for an obviously-drinking-just-quite-slowly approach for the rest of the week and will be reverting to my more sober ways once back home, sticking to tea like the good girl prissy knickers I am. Herbal I'm afraid, as unlike alcohol, I genuinely can't tolerate caffeine. My next attempt to alienate my readership - "My name's Duck and I'm not a tea drinker" - is in the pipeline.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Sometimes things do go right (Finland: Part 1)

Pleasant surprises with children tend to be fairly few and far between, but every so often they materialise like an oasis in a desert, and you think "Hey, you know what? I've got this parenting thing nailed! This is actually fun!"

Today, we took a three hour flight to Helsinki, with our 26 monther and two friends who don't have children (and don't want them). Not they most obvious scenario for fun, but it was. Because it actually went WELL. I know, I know, I was shocked too.

Don't get me wrong, it wasn't 100% perfect. There was some "me run away!" action in the Duty Free, followed by the activation of an entire row of singing, dancing, instrument playing M&M figurines. And there was some short-lived insistence on pulling his Trunki himself, requiring a crowd of elderly Japanese ladies to play French skipping with the tow strap (thank God they were all on the ball and relatively spritely or it could have been broken hip central). But for the most part he was well behaved, very happy and very, very excited.

And this is the part that really made it fun - this was the first time we've been away somewhere with Duckling when he's been properly verbal, able to express how he's feeling and ask about what he's seeing. "Exciting Mummy!  Me go on aeroplane with Mummy and Daddy and Nick and Ella! To Sinland*!" he kept saying, usually followed by "we go on aeroplane NOW?".

On the flight he sat primly in his own seat with his little hands tightly gripping the arm rests (which we were NOT allowed to share) and feet jiggling about, repeating "We go now! We go up in aeroplane! We go fast! Neoooow!" And as requested, he stayed in his own seat until the seat belt sign had been switched off and he could clamber onto my lap to look at the tiny roads and trees and houses below. Then, most amazingly of all, he actually went to sleep on my lap and stayed that way for over an hour while I read a book. An actual book.  I had a dead arm for most of it.  But still, a book!

Landing went as well as take off with much "ooh-ing" over the bumpy touch down (we were earnestly instructed to hold onto his legs just in case he bounced out of his seat) and car hire, the drive to the (amazing) apartment and dinner at a random Korean noodle place all went smoothly too. Even bedtime was straight forward. It was weird.

In some respects, it's kind of a bit depressing that "not a total disaster" has become the new bar for "quite enjoyable." But I suppose that's just the nature of life with kids. You have to recalibrate your expectations if you're going to survive it in tact, and find your fun where you can. Fingers crossed the journey home defies expectations too. Though I fear they have now been set impossibly high...

*Sinland is Finland for reference,  though with the quantity of Finnish vodka we're planning to consume, Sinland may be quite apt.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Guilentment and other new words to describe the parental experience

Sometimes there just aren't the right words to describe the ambivalent rollercoaster that is parenthood. I have therefore decided to start a campaign to get a new word into into the Oxford English Dictionary: guilentment. What does this stupid made up urbane new word mean you might ask?

Guilentment (noun)

The experience of guilt and resentment at the same time, especially where the resentment is caused by the guilt. Most commonly experienced by women, esp. mothers.

Related: Guiltentful (adj); Guilent (verb)

Usage Example: "I had a proper moment of guilentment today. I told my husband I was going for a run and he needed to mind our son. He told me he had to do his tax return. I told him it wasn't due for three months and I'd only be half an hour so tough shizzle. He said "shizzle?! What are you, some gangsta rapper?" I said "Shizzle has passed into the popular vernacular I'll have you know. It's probably in the OED these days! Get with the times Grandad!" He said, "Whatever. Go for your run. Just try not to be too long." So I did. And I ran for as long as I could. While feeling quite a large degree of guilentment. [Note to self: work on brevity and relevance of examples]

While I'm at it, I'm fairly sure a few of these should go in too...

Excitehension (noun)

The feeling of simultaneous apprehension and excitement.

Related: Excitehensive (adj)

Usage Example: We're going on holiday to Finland, a beautiful country full of lovely people! We're taking a tantrumy two year old and going with people who don't have kids! Cue massive excitehension! [Bit better?]

Amusitation (noun)


The sensation of irritation and amusement at the same time. Usually triggered by the actions of small children.

Related: Amusitate (verb)

Usage Example: Oh look, my child has made a massive pile of all my clean laundry and is pretending to swim about in it with his shoes still on. He really knows how to amusitate! [Regularly, in so many ways...]

Embarrasside (noun)

The parallel feelings of embarrassment and pride. Most commonly felt while watching offspring do ingeniously naughty things in public, but may also be experienced when given an unexpected and gushing compliment.

Related: Embarrassoud (adjective); Embarrassoudly (adverb).

Usage Example: Jane was exceedingly embarrassoud when her son discovered a speculum in the cupboard at the doctor's and started digging in a plant pot with it. [True story. Sadly not mine. I expect some amusitation may have occurred here too. Is embarrasideamusitation a word too far?]

Sleepergetic (adjective)

Being both sleepy and energetic. This state is most commonly seen in over tired infants but may also be observed in massively sleep deprived parents on manic autopilot.

Related: Sleepergetically (adverb)

Usage Example: "Oh FFS, I told you we should have put him down for a nap at 1 o'clock! Now look, he's absolutely sleepergetic!" [Do the OED allow swearbreviations? Is swearbreviation in the OED??]

Any other suggestions for my campaign?...