Joanna stood at the airport departure gate. Her nappy bag was stuffed to the hilt and weighed down uncomfortably on her right shoulder as she balanced her daughter Keira on her hip.
“Boys hold hands and stay close to me when we walk across the tarmac to the plane, ok?”
It was a rhetorical question, but she waited for them to nod their heads to show they had heard and understood.
She could already hear the strain in her voice, anxiety bubbling in the pit of her stomach. It was only a two hour flight from Melbourne to Brisbane, but it was the first time she had attempted it alone with all three of her small children.
She had long since learned that even when you think you have prepared for every kind of possible eventuality, children had a knack of throwing something wholly unanticipated into the mix. Even the most organised of mothers was no match for two toddlers and a preschooler. And unfortunately for her, Joanna didn’t even remotely resemble an organised mum. Quite the opposite in fact.
But with a nappy bag and two backpacks crammed with snacks, books, spare clothes, and toys she was confident that she was as prepared as she could possibly be. The rest was up to fate…oh and her children of course!
Herding the children forward to the front of the queue she handed the flight attendant their tickets. Her hands were clammy.
“Bye honey,” Craig said leaning to kiss her hard on the lips. “Call me when you get there.”
He kissed the children each in turn, instructing the boys to listen and be good for mummy.
Joanna envied his calm.
But, then, she thought with mild irritation, she’d be calm too if she was heading home to an empty home for an afternoon nap, before hosting a bloody poker evening with twenty friends too! Who exactly was supposed to be having a holiday?
“Love you.” Joanna kissed Craig again hurriedly, shifted Keira’s weight on her hip a little and disappeared through the door with the boys in tow.
“Oh yeah, I packed a couple of bags of chips for the kids in their backpacks hun.” Joanna heard Craig’s voice call after them as they rounded the corner and stepped out onto the tarmac.
“Yay Chippies!” chorused the boys.
Really? She’d heard of the anti-christ, but sometimes she wondered whether her husband was the anti-parent. Did he really imagine that she would be feeding the children chips at seven o’clock in the morning instead of the carefully nutritionally balanced snacks she had prepared the evening before? Did he have any idea of the kind of mess three small children could make with even one small bag of chips, let alone three!
If Joanna knew nothing else about what the next couple of hours might hold, she knew one thing – there was absolutely no chance of her kids eating those damn chips!
Seeing her struggling with the weight of the nappy bag and her wriggling daughter a kind lady stopped to offer her help.
Although Joanna, under normal circumstances would have found it difficult to ask for help, she was only too happy to pass the bag over so she could shift Keira to her other hip. Her arm felt heavy and she had begun to lose the feeling in the tips of her fingers from holding onto her daughter for so long. She relaxed a little as she and the woman made small talk. Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad after all. Maybe her mum was right. People would offer her help on the flight if she needed it.
Willem and Ryan trotted close behind their mother, mouths agape at the awesome sight of the airplane they were about to board. They were going to see their beloved grandparents. They were going on an adventure.
Five year old Willem and three year old Ryan hung onto the rail, taking careful steps up the wet slippery steps, their full backpacks hanging low on their little backs. By the time the four of them had made it up the steps they were the last to board. It did not escape Joanna’s notice that the male flight attendant, despite noticing them struggling at a snail’s pace up the steps, had quickly turned his head and busied himself with some imaginary task. What’s more, he was careful not to glance in their direction again until they had reached the top.
I suppose you get what you pay for, reasoned Joanna, silently vowing to avoid the budget airline next time she felt brave (or drunk) enough to book a similar journey with the children.
“Oh, hello there!” the attendant feigned surprise as he took their tickets from her.
“Row Eighteen, seats A to C,” he smiled as though he’d just sat on the rough end of a pineapple.
Joanna smiled back through gritted teeth whilst muttering an inaudible “Prick” under her breath and ushered the children down the aisle towards their seats.
“Come on boys. Keep moving. That’s it. Ryan stop poking your brother in the back. Willem keep going mate. Go, go, go. Good work. That’s it. I’ll tell you when we get there.”
As they approached their row, the boys struggled to take their enormous backpacks off their backs so they could squeeze into their seats. Joanna struggled to manoeuvre herself and Keira down the aisle without hitting people with her bag or her daughter’s legs, as a young smiling blonde with uneven fake tan on, approached them.
Great. She could really do with a hand to get the bags off the boys, get them into their seats and to stow her own bag in the overhead locker.
“Excuse me,” smiled the young attendant looking slightly inconvenienced by the blockage Joanne and her children were causing in the aisle.
Joanna shot her a look of utter disbelief. Where exactly did she expect her to move to?
“Come on boys, just get into your seats,” Joanna barked a little more harshly than she had intended.
The boys hauled their bags up onto the seats and did their best to squeeze into the space, whilst Joanna tried to disentangle herself from her load.
“Excuse me ma’am, can I just squeeze passed?”
Placing Keira onto the empty seat, Joanna squashed herself against the chair to let the girl pass. Joanna could feel her stress levels rising as she struggled to fit the bag into the already crowded locker above her head.
“Maybe she could do with a hand,” shot the woman in the window seat behind Willem at the flight attendant.
“Shhhhhhh.” Her husband bowed his head embarrassed.
“Well, it’s what she gets bloody paid for,” replied the woman giving Joanna a sympathetic smile.
Joanna smiled back meekly, thankful for the show of support in her favour and collapsed into her seat.
Miss Piggy, for her part, sauntered down the aisle on her high heels with an attitude that indicated that she couldn’t care less, only to reappear a few moments later with an infant buckle. Joanna’s eyebrow raised involuntarily. Really? That is what she had been in such a hurry for?
“You know what to do with one of these?” the flight attendant asked, her smile failing to mask her condescension.
The light had just turned off above their heads to indicate that it was now safe to move around the cabin when the nagging started.
“Can I have some chippies, please Mummy?” began Ryan.
“Yeah. Chippies!” Willem chimed in.
“No,” Joanna replied. “But you can have a ham sandwich or a carrot stick?”
“I don’t like samidge,” whined Ryan. “I want chippies.”
“Well, we don’t have any.”
“But Daddy isn’t here,” Joanna reminded them firmly. “And I said no chips.”
After a few more minutes both boys finally realised that they were fighting a losing battle and settled for a slice of apple, a cheese stick and a triangular sandwich.
“Sorry, it’s out of order.” Joanna overheard the male attendant telling another passenger from behind the trolley. “No. That’s right. No coffee. Sorry.”
Could it get any worse? Joanna wondered. She had already been awake for three and a half hours and still no caffeine had passed her lips. She couldn’t remember a day in her adult life that had started without the aid of a hot strong coffee, especially since becoming a mother. There was no handbook on parenting of course, but if there was, Joanna was sure that the first line would read: Mother – Please insert 4 x caffeine (caffeine not included).
Joanna made a second mental note never to fly with this airline again…ever! Budget? Bloody useless more like it!
“Muuuuuum,” Willem whined quickly jumping from his seat clutching his crotch. “I need to go to wee.”
Joanna sighed. This is what she had been dreading most of all.
“Do you think you can go on your own, or do you want us to come with you?”
“I can go on my own.”
“Ok. But don’t lock the door ok? Promise me you won’t lock the door.”
It was around ten minutes later, when Joanna suddenly realised that Willem still hadn’t come back.
Shit! She thought shooting a look towards the toilet at the back of the plane. Carefully she strapped Keira into the chair and went to investigate. As she neared the back of the plane she could hear her son’s muted cries of panic.
Joanna glanced up and noticed that the engaged sign shone green. He hadn’t locked it.
In a moment of pure anger she stormed up to the back of the plane to where two of the flight attendants stood deep in their own petty conversation against the door of the toilet cubicle. They were apparently so immersed in their own little worlds of fake tan, nail polish and their latest sexual conquests that they had failed to hear the sobbing cries from the other side of the door.
“Do you mind?” Joanna spat at Miss Piggy.
She was met with nonchalant stares.
Pushing past the ignorant little bitch, Joanna pulled the door open to free her son.
Willem stood there pale, tears streaming down his cheeks. Seeing his mother he rushed forwards and held onto her tightly, sobs rocking his little body.
Willem felt his mother’s hands cup his ears. Her voice was muffled. He couldn’t quite make out what she was saying. But he recognised the tone. It was the voice she used when he and Ryan had had a party in their room at four am, and accidentally spilled two litres of milk on the carpet. It was the tone she used when she was cross with Dad. It was the voice she used with the look that could turn your blood to stone.
When she removed her hands from his ears, he looked up at her with big questioning blue eyes.
She smiled down at him, a warm loving smile that told him everything was alright. She kissed him on the head and quietly gestured to him to move back to his seat. Glancing back he noticed that the two pretty ladies outside the toilets hung their heads down. Maybe Mummy had sent them to the naughty corner.
“Well said love,” said a friendly looking gentleman as they walked passed.
“Bravo,” nodded another lady on the opposite side.
“What happened Mummy?” asked Ryan a frown etched into his porcelain brow.
“Nothing darling,” Joanna smirked as a vengeful thought crossed her mind.
“Who wants chippies?”