Monday, August 04, 2014

Travelling alone with kids (2014)

Every two years, we take a trip to India to help our kids renew their bonds with grandparents and relatives. It's a time of rest and recreation. Pratibha goes ahead of me. After a period of quiet relaxation at home, I catch a peaceful and uneventful flight to India where well adjusted kids greet me at the airport. A few weeks of relentless eating later, a heavier and reluctant me would head back to San Diego with Pratibha and the kids in tow looking forward to the next trip to India. I never understood why Pratibha palpitates so much when it's time to travel. I chalked it down to inexperience and the lack of the calm collected presence of mind that I am known to possess.

Recently Pratibha was offered a job in a company very close to our house. It'd been 5 years since she worked and it was a great opportunity to jump back into the workplace. We took it. The only downside was that she couldn't take vacation this year. We talked about what to do about our India trip.

Sonu: "Nikku, you think we should cancel the trip?"
Me (Thinking of all the good food back home) : "Cancel .. no way, I can handle traveling with kids"
Sonu (With a look of surprise) : "You can?"
Me : "Of course .. I've handled them for so many years!"
Sonu (even more surprised) " You did?"
Memory is a cruel trickster. When I needed it most, it mercilessly let me down and I forgot all the times I had panicked and gone running to Pratibha during our numerous road trips.
Me (supremely confident) : " You know what, I'm taking the kids, and I'll take my niece along with me for good measure.

So it was arranged. I'll take the kids .. and my 14 year old niece .. to India for a month while Pratibha settles into her workplace. Word spread like fire. Folks from all over southern California came to see me and wish me luck. I enjoyed the attention thickly refusing to wonder why they looked so sympathetic.

The big day arrived. Pratibha had a happy grin pasted on her face that I couldn't, for the life of me, wipe off. The only time it faded slightly was to put on a face of sarcastic incredulity when I packed Megha's change of clothes. "Only 3?" she asked. I ignored her. One for Singapore, and 2 for emergencies .. I'm a pro ..  I travel light. My usually happy and cheerful kids, who always prefer hanging out with me as opposed to their mom, suddenly abandoned my charming company and clung to their mom like leeches. Ignoring that last minute warning,  I headed out into the wide world with a 4 year old, an 8 year old and a 14 year old for a 42 hr trip, halfway around the globe, to India.

The first flight was to Japan. "The joys of traveling with kids" I thought to myself as my kids and I were led into the airplane ahead of everyone else.
In the past I had looked on with envy as folks in the bassinet row stretched out their legs while I sat cramped several rows behind them. "The joys of traveling with kids" I thought to myself and I stretched myself out to avail of the extra legroom in the bassinet seats I had carefully requested ahead of the flight.

Fiddling with Megha's remote and asking the air hostess for candies to deal with ear aches during takeoffs were minor details. I knew we were going to have a blast. " these moms ... they make mountains out of molehills ... all it takes is an even temperament and some planning" I thought to myself as I dozed off.

Midway through the flight the air hostess woke me up for food. Sona, being vegetarian, got her food ahead of Megha. A fight erupted right away. Sona smacked Megha's hand as she reached for Sona's dessert. Megha pushed Sona's tray with all her might. CRASH .... I now knew why Pratibha never requests bassinet seats. Regular seats have a seat in front of the tray table for support and it's pretty hard for a child to push the tray off it when the mom's got the aisle seat. These ones, require a fair bit of finesse to keep balanced on that miserable excuse of a saucer they call the tray table. I apologized profusely to the horrified air hostess who came running with napkins and set about cleaning Megha's clothes. The first 'emergency' change of clothes was done in the first couple of hours. I started to get a little worried but I didn't show it. After a terrible 45 mins scolding and cajoling, the kids settled down again. I was tired, I'd lost my appetite. I decided to skip the meal and go back to sleep.

I was woken up by an incessant crying. Megha had a tummy ache. I asked her if she needed to use the restroom. She declined. Being the loving and considerate father, I unbuckled her seatbelt and picked her up. She nestled against my chest and settled down. I looked around at the other moms in triumph .. that's when she threw up all over me. The moms looked at me with pity. The poor air hostess came running with more napkins. The second change of clothes were done with. I wanted to cry. I had never missed Pratibha more in my entire life.

Since I had soiled clothes with me in my backpack, I took the remaining changes of clothes and distributed them between Sona and Megha's  backpacks. I then showed Megha the paper bag provided in airplanes to throw up in. " Megha .. if you have this kind of tummy ache again .. please throw up in the bag .. ok?" she nodded to acknowledge she understood. We settled down again. I dared not sleep. A gazillion years later, we landed in Tokyo. We were 10 hours into a 42 hour trip. I asked my niece to keep an eye on the kids as I went to get a bottle of water and a tablet for Megha's motion sickness. When I came back, Megha was throwing up into her backpack. " What are you doing?" I yelled in panic. " Throwing up into the bag .. dint you ask me to do that?" She replied.

The less said about the rest of the trip, the better. Suffice to say, I lost a significant sum in Singapore getting our clothes washed and dried, and I gained a healthy respect for women who travel alone with kids.