Real Parents’ Experiences: Selina – Flights With Four Under 8!
I am a mum of 4 small children, all under 8. Life at the best of times is chaos, fun, military and generally one big fuelled adventure. Mealtimes, bedtimes, school drop offs and general household order is pretty much mastered (for now). Homework is another story and well FLYING, it’s just hit and miss. Before my eldest (now 8) was 18 months old she’d travelled to Liberia, Ghana, Maldives, Dubai, England, Scotland, Oman. Perfectly well behaved, glued to a TV and ate anything you put in front of her. Back then, I remember laughing at people who would tell me “you’re brave flying on your own with a baby” and now, when they hear I’m travelling with 4 kids, I get more “that’s just plain stupid”!
I remember back then even laughing at the pure ridiculousness of travelling with a single child (even though this one was an angel) …. Multiply these incidents by about 4000 and you may begin to understand the meaning of the word frustration. “Wake the sleeping baby mam, you can’t let her stay in the buggy through security” …. Huh? Are you for real? She’s been awake all night on a night flight and you want me to wake her to check and see if I have hidden some toothpaste in her nappy. I would love to know how many female terrorists have smuggled ANYTHING through security in their sleeping baby’s pram or nappy and if we (tired mothers) are really who you should be grilling. Oh and wait a minute, whilst you confiscate my toothpaste and I go and buy another one 100 yards ahead in Boots. (Obviously the Boots employees can’t be terrorists!) I hear a stern voice demanding, “Remove the children’s coats, boots, scarfs, belts and earrings please” (whilst we clearly check if they have any hidden explosives hidden in their belt buckle) and then make them walk through the security machine, one by one, as the toddlers, who are not wrong, freak out that a random strange man is “taking them away” from their mum for a moment to walk through a machine. Perfectly normal request security think… “Your kids are clearly feral that they don’t do as they are told.” is the thought bubble I can imagine protruding over their heads.
And then the frisking….. Whilst we spend so much time educating our children on not allowing strangers to touch us, or do anything to us that we feel uncomfortable with yet we have to explain to prepubescent girls that it’s ok for this man to run his hand up and down their thighs and pat their bums and backs ….”why”, they ask? Errrrr, “to see if you have any guns on you maybe?”
I’ve learnt, the key to minimal meltdowns is to explain EVERYTHING before it happens and generally its got smoother over the years. When I hear of an airport security member saying “oh you’ve got your hands full, let me help you with xxx” , I literally want to hug them. Yes this is tough, and yes it’s been a long day and just that acknowledgement is enough to make me smile and think they are kids and they really have actually been great!
Flying with one baby
These first couple of years flying with a solo child was literally no different to flying with a husband. You feed them occasionally, wipe their dribble from the other passengers arm when they start falling over their armrest and tell them to go to the toilet or move around every hour or 2. Fast forward a few more years and it’s like a scene out of some 14 kids and counting documentary! What do we look like? No wonder we get stares!
Flying with four children
The logistics that go into flying with a family of 6 are beyond anything I could try and write down on paper. The hard part is that I have an absolute burning passion for travel and an overwhelming sense of need to show my kids the world and travel to the most remote places. Usually staying in the weirdest accommodation and usually travelling on the cheapest, budget airlines that leave at 2am and arrive at a similar horrific hour and then finish with a 4 hour 3rd world bus transit to somewhere completely random! So what have I learnt over the years ?
Planning and organisation have to come first. Every year the kids get their little aeroplane bags ready and from about 12/18 months old, they would all pack these themselves with goodies for the journey. By goodies, I mean goodies that are friendly to my obsessive obsession to anything without sugar and therefore include the rice cakes, crisps, smoothie pouches, raisins….
Basically my trick has always been anything that has loads of “bits” in terms of contents and takes them ages to eat (by ages I mean a few minutes but times this by multiple snack ideas and you may have bought yourself a good half hour of peace). Plasters (as in band aids) have been a major saviour over the years. I cannot count how many boxes of Dora the Explorer, Ben 10, Disney plasters I have bought as they are cheap, take ages for their little hands to get the backing off them and can be stuck on mummy’s arm or the seat back for maximum fun (another half an hour of peace gained)
Following on the from the plasters, “Doctors” has got to be my favourite aeroplane game. We pack little pouches of plasters, bandages, raisins that act as tablets, a squirty pipet or syringe thing which we load up with juice or water on board, tiny bottles of moisturiser, wipes…and they all get their own supplies. This has kept my kids occupied for a good hour on board and even though mummy (and the chair) is covered in plasters and cream, it’s so worth the momentary sense calmness that comes with it.
Other tips include taking the youngest blanket / sleep toy, a few Barbies or small babies (for the girls) … We play a lot of “wrap the baby up and put them to sleep again” games. Colouring pencils and pens (they usually get to buy new ones for their aeroplane bag). More recently shopkins and trash packs have been a hit with the 2 and 5 year old. We line them on the tray table and kill a good 30 minutes with imaginary play. Obviously the iPad which is an aeroplane saviour and generally doesn’t get used in our house as I despise it, but this is the time there is unlimited I pad use and works perfectly for the older ones.
I’ve always kept mine on their same routine (even in the air) and immediately change them to the destination time clock so in over 8 years of having kids, I don’t think I’ve ever had jet lagged kids.
They eat at snack time, have lunch at lunch time etc and I always pack a big box (to feed 4 kids) of pesto pasta and maybe some cooked, cold sausages. My kids eat most things but aeroplane food is touch and go and also with a history of delays and dodgy airlines, I always come prepared. It means that they are not hungry and not eating junk all day and therefore are generally better behaved and contented. I feed them like budgies (I don’t normally feed my 2 year old and all the kids have been so independent from an early age) but when it comes to dishing out pesto pasta from one box and with usually 1 fork (as they are hungry before meals are served) I line them up like budgies and do a spoon each (nice and slowly and gradually eating into hour no4 on board)
Noughts and Crosses (X and O’s), hang man, I spy, mental maths… I become this creative earth mother on board an aeroplane for some reason. I think I seriously have issues as its all about seeing how well behaved my kids can be whilst not raising my voice above a calm tone (when inside I am a screaming “get me off this plane, to my destination and a grape juice in my hand quickly before I self combust”) It does just go to show how our mood and tone as a parent greatly influences our children’s behaviour as although it’s long and I’m tired when I arrive, the kids are usually fab. I most certainly do “the look” frequently on board and a few “I’m warning you” but this seems to be enough to curb their feral-ness until we at least reach our destination (which is when the barking dog mummy begins and the military routine commences once again)
Physical helpful things for me have been the god send sling. Forget all these super doper comfy advertised chunky things. I used a sack sling for all of my kids that hung over one shoulder like a little pouch. It fits in a handbag and is the size and weight of a t -shirt and as babies they slept in it like little slugs and as toddlers it just took the weight off carrying them when they were not old enough to walk the 200 miles through security. I also invested in the foldaway Quinny Zap for number 4 (second- hand and very cheap as we only use it for airports) as it folds down to a hand luggage size and goes in a bag that conceals it looking like a buggy. Put it in your back looking like a hold-all and I’ve never been stopped. Means no waiting at the exit for a buggy and no having to walk to the carousel to collect for those who are kind enough to not even give it back to you until you’re past security. They give you a tag for your “stroller” at check in but whilst waiting at the gate, I fold, bag up and rip off the tag and so far (in 8 years and probably close on 100 flights, I’ve never been stopped).
Airport lounges have been a bit of a godsend over years and worth the investment. A lot of credit cards give you access with the card and it means no waiting around at the gate and coffee shop surfing with little ones, as they are confined to a safe space with free food and drink, right up until take off. My kids can eat, so I feel I get my money's worth. My main piece of advice would be to psych yourself up, remain calm and treat the flight as the first day of your holiday.