The night before any potentially nerve-wracking or exciting event (plane flight, job interview, date with George Clooney) is always fraught with sleeplessness peppered with those bouts of jarring, panicked wakefulness of ‘UH! What time is it?!’ before the realisation that you have seven, five, three, two hours left to sleep. So it was for me the night before leaving, and by the time I got on my first flight from Sydney to Brisbane, I was almost thankful to have the formalities over with and everyone contained.
Until I hear the phrase ‘Breakfast is served!’ That’s when the plastic trays come teetering at me from all directions, making me the lucky recipient of four (count ‘em FOUR) trays of food. Then there are the steaming hot beverages, which I accept only for myself (and only after the stewardess has me sign a waiver).
Shortly after the trays are placed down and one bite of the token bread roll is taken, Eva and Ted get busy playing chemistry set. Across the aisle, while I’m busy attending to Liam’s tray, Eva and Ted are combining their milk, orange juice and butter packets, the result of which is a beautifully coloured, curdled, vomity-looking mess. In the split second that I look away to stop the older two from doing ‘cheers’ with their vomit-esque concoctions, Liam uses his David Copperfield magic skills to turn four ounces of orange juice into three gallons, all of which spills – splattering me and his business suit-clad neighbour. Liam just smiles that big toddler smile, as happy and wet as if he’s just survived Niagara Falls in a barrel. I spend the remainder of the flight trying to absorb the orange juice that had pooled in Liam’s non-absorbant, floatation-device seat cushion with a stack of matchbook-size cocktail napkins. The flight attendants all give us a big ‘BUH-bye!’ when we leave.
Only 28 more hours to go!
Hour 3: Brisbane Airport.
I have to switch terminals, which will involve a short train ride. I am armed with a collapsible stroller, two harnesses and two leashes. And no, not those soft and fluffy teddy bear ‘backpacks’ that cleverly attempt to disguise that it’s actually a tether, but harnesses with actual bought-at-a-pet-shop leashes attached. (I wasn’t prepared to take any chances: I specifically asked for ones that could withstand the weight and pull of a Doberman just stung by a mob of bees; but really the only thing that would’ve given me total peace of mind would’ve been the Hannibal Lector, muzzled-straight-jacketed-strapped-to-a-dolly-for-transportation-purposes method.)
Once everyone is secure, I begin my walk through the terminal to find where to get the train. Strolling along, I get a lot of looks: commiseration, pity, some smiles, flashes of anger, bewilderment. I could not have been more conspicuous if I were banging a base drum and wearing a Marge Simpson wig (see above). When I slow down for a second to read a few signs, I see a man coming towards me. My hackles start to go up. Oh no. Please spare me a lecture about the leashes. Maybe he going to ask me if I’ve found Jesus? Is he going to just walk up and take my handbag from my shoulder while my hands are, literally, tied? Closer, closer, and there’s no one else but me…
‘Excuse me, do you know where I go to get the train to the International Terminal?’
My jaw drops as I look at him dumbfounded. My face must’ve read something along the lines of ‘You could find no other person in this terminal of 3000-plus people to ask for directions, you f#@&ing idiot?’
‘Oh, sorry, you’re a bit busy…I didn’t…Nevermind,’ and he runs away.
Part of me is relieved that that was all he wanted and then there is that (small) part of me that wants to take Ted’s leash and strangle him. Or at the very least trip him.
After our very hurried time at Brisbane switching terminals and brief encounter with the world’s dumbest man, we finally get on the Big Plane. Seated next to us is a lovely young twenty-something fresh from her year abroad in Australia. I ask if I can tempt her into a fourteen-hour nannying position just before Ted pipes in (with all his charm), ‘You spell ‘tinky!’ She laughs but declines my offer. (And she didn’t smell of anything but perfume, which to a certain three-year-old nose does constitute ‘tinky’.)
The kids are delighted with the novelties: little book colouring sets, the eye masks and tiny tubes of toothpaste, the mini-TV screens – and we all settle in for the longest of our flights. The flight attendants even give Liam a bassinet (after I lie about his actual weight) which frees up my lap. The kids fall into sedative-induced sleep and although I can’t sleep, I do manage to watch two light-hearted movies (neither of which I can even remember now). All in all, it's pleasant and thankfully uneventful.
By the time I get off the plane in L.A., the kids have all recharged their batteries, but I look like the cartoon characters do after the buzzing fly in the room has kept them awake all night – enlarged bloodshot eyes, hair askew, clothes wrinkled, tongue hanging out. But Papa was there to meet us and my watch was over for another six weeks, till we do it all again.
But much like many of the things in life we sometimes dread, the anticipation is often worse than the reality. (Or, arguably like some things in life – your child’s infancy period, say – you block it out entirely.) But, in the wise words of my husband, ‘It’s only a day out of your life.’ Well said.