Travelling with Toddlers—And Why it Doesn’t Always Have to be Hell

Cuddles and other cures to soothe the kids.  
Toddlers Cuddles Bed Time
It all works out in the end. Photo: Pascal Campion/Ikon Images/Getty Images

There is a place beyond Zen that I’ve learnt to find when I travel with my children. We live in England and travel to India at least once a year. We also have itchy feet and sometimes find ourselves traversing great distances to get to places we don’t need to go to. Most of the time, travel without our five-year-old son and three-year-old daughter simply isn’t an option. It took a couple of trips of poor packing (forgot the biscuits, forgot the water bottles!), inept in-flight infant-soothing, and a frazzled touchdown at every destination, before we got it together. We haven’t just learnt survival strategies, we’ve made them ours. Because as every parent knows, no child can be mollified with sops designed for another.

Now when all hell breaks loose, I reach into the core of my being to rummage for all the inner peace I can gather. In my mind’s eye, I am in a shady hammock in a blossoming garden. I’m soothed by the bubbling of running water from the miniature pagoda and the tall cool Mojito beside me. Clutching this gossamer thread, I return to the real world of long-haul journeys and the toddler-tornado that’s turning ours topsy-turvy. When the children spot that glint of inner peace in my eye, the carnage stops. They’re also calmed by the hypnotic near-croon that I’ve mastered, precisely for these situations.

Despite that, there will be instances when I may have temporarily taken my eye off the ball (two extremely bouncy ones, in our case). Neither my Confucian calm nor my child-whispering abilities can save me then.

Not so long ago, for instance, exhausted from child- and bag-lugging at the airport, we firmly (or so we thought) strapped our two young ’uns to their flight seats, then sat back to catch our breath, letting our eyelids droop a little, allowing the tension to seep out of our bodies. But a sudden bleat of pain from the aisle shook me out of my semi-somnolent state. A man, holding his toe, was looking daggers at us. I was bewildered by the ill will till I took in the kids’ empty seats, and realised that they had escaped.

Our baby girl hadn’t gone far and was wreaking havoc in the walkway (tripping up not just Glaring Man but several others). Scooping her up quickly, we spotted our son at the far end negotiating with a stewardess for Oreos. Though they couldn’t have got lost or off the plane, we learnt our lesson. Now, if we ever feel like shutting our eyes for a split second, we take carefully orchestrated turns or make sure there’s a movie on their screens to glue them to the spot.

Hawk-eyed surveillance and attaching the Seasoned Parents’ Bag of Tricks to your side like a fifth limb will circumvent most emergencies. When your ten-month-old is struck down on take-off by the earache from hell, a half-forgotten pack of crumbling biscuits could be the answer to your prayers. Where painkiller, earplugs and other blandishments had failed, chewing on the forgotten snack had once eased the ache, leaving a relaxed tot and his immensely relieved parents.

Yet once in a while, along comes a situation that needs the oldest cure in the book. Deciding to spend the kids’ entire summer vacation in Kolkata this year meant doing the long haul without their father for the first time, as he couldn’t have begged, borrowed or stolen six consecutive weeks if he tried. So when we set off, my usually robust and well-behaved toddlers had not only got themselves sorry cases of the sniffles but also severe manifestations of Missing-Daddy-itis. Since the Bag of Tricks holds no antidotes for ailments of the heart, I had to do what came naturally. I drew them to me to comfort them (but also in the hope that a tight, warm hug might lull them to sleep). Kisses, cuddles and murmured endearments later, they were fast asleep with their tousled heads and mildly hot cheeks against me.

A time will come when cuddles will no longer cure all ills, but for now this does the job. No, it does more. Flying to my childhood home with my beloved babies peacefully snoozing in my arms, puffs of toddler-sweet breath against my neck, and two pairs of little arms tightly wrapped around each of mine, I am inches from heaven.

Appeared in the October 2013 issue as “In the Arms of Heaven”.

  • Shreya Sen-Handley is a columnist and illustrator for the British and Indian media. Her short stories have been published in three continents and her HarperCollins India book, 'Memoirs of My Body' is out now.

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