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Long-haul hell

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I had a bag of snacks, another of toys, and a few spare sets of clothes - but nothing could prepare me for the guilt I felt on my baby's first long-haul flight.

I didn't feel particularly bad for the people around me - it was a daytime flight and I was trying as hard as I could to make the screaming stop - but I did feel bad for Milin. My poor one-year-old could not understand why his ears hurt, why he had to sit still and strapped in, and why I then tried to make him sleep in a tiny bassinet suspended above my seat.

Our little family's big adventure, or our move from Wellington to London, has begun. We started with an early morning flight to Sydney which lulled us into a false sense of security. Milin didn't complain once about being taken from his cot at 4am. Wellington International Airport was an adventure, and the three hour flight a Tasman a dream. He slept half the way, and enjoyed being on the plane and exploring the gadgets around him for the other half.

Things continued to look up at Sydney airport. For some reason, I had thought we would face a seven hour wait between flights. In fact, when we arrived, it was only a four and a half hour stint at the airport. Armed with some good advice from a previous commenter on this blog, I immediately went and asked to borrow an airport stroller. Our lovely but oversized Mountain Buggy had been checked through, but the airport loan of a little folding buggy made the wait easy.

There wasn't a children's play room at the international terminal, but instead a little play wall which occupied Milin for a small amount of time - mainly because he found a buddy there to play with. However, the parent's rooms were great, with microwaves, big sinks, sofas, and partitions for privacy and quiet. Having somewhere to make up and wash out the three bottles I'd taken for the journey, as well as somewhere spacious and clean to change Milin did make a difference.

Between a bit of exploring, a meal, a sleep in the buggy and some more exploring, the wait passed quickly for all of us. But I didn't know how bad the next nine hours would be.

We were lucky enough to get a row of four seats to ourselves on the flight to Bangkok, but it didn't really make much difference. Milin was so overtired from being up since 4am that nothing was going to make the journey pleasant.

He wasn't allowed to sit on the floor and play, and sitting on our laps or strapped into an empty seat drove him mad. And when he was so tired and needed to sleep, he was too distracted by all the activity. Used to a dark room and being put to bed by me in the same way each night, he just couldn't handle it.

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He screamed. A lot. The poor passengers around us put up with his intermittent cries for easily an hour. Finally, exhausted, he slept a while in Tony's arms. I stretched out and slept too, tired from the guilt. My poor baby had just wanted to sleep and we had made it so hard for him.

We transferred him for a while into the bassinet which he only just fitted into. He later woke suddenly, screaming, and proceeded to be sick all over me, my clothes, the seats, and three airline blankets. I had packed plenty of changes of clothes for Milin, but nothing extra for myself.

He did sleep a little more, this time on my lap, and all up he maybe slept for three hours out of nine. Later, there was much more crying. He rubbed his ear, he used his eyes to plead that it could all be over, but most of all, he was just so tired. On the upside, he slept in until 6.30am on our first night in Bangkok - but he still hated every second of being on that plane.

While he slept, he looked so peaceful, Tony said to me. There were many, many other moments when we shared looks of despair. Looks of 'how can we get him to stop crying?' Looks of 'I'm out of ideas, what have you got?' Amazingly, I don't remember us getting short with each other - perhaps we'd both secretly known it would be this way, and we both kept telling ourselves it wouldn't last forever.

When we got on the plane, Milin had been showered with compliments for his cheeky smile, his big eyes, and for generally pulling out the cute card. When we left, no-one made eye contact with us.

As we walked through the airport, the wonderfully friendly Thai people made a fuss of this beautiful child of ours. They held him, took photos with him, cooed over him - and he simply stared wide-eyed at this alternate reality he had found himself in.

I know he won't remember it, and it hasn't done him any real harm, but I can't help but feel bad for how upset that journey made my happy-go-lucky 12-month-old. Worst of all, is that at the end of the week, we will up and leave Thailand and embark on a 13-hour flight to London. I'm hoping it will go slightly better as we are booked on an overnight flight, but really I'm trying not to worry.

That first flight taught me that what will happen will be mostly out of my control. I'll still take plenty of snacks and toys - I think they helped, and I'll remember a spare top for myself. But other than that, I can't help feeling there is little I can do other than remind myself regularly that it will all be over soon. What have your experiences been?  I'd love to know if anyone has ever had a good long-haul flight with a one-year-old, but right now, it doesn't seem possible!

- Essential Mums

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