D's got her favourite suitcase ready... but even Paddington can't help us now.
I know, it sounds indulgent. But I'm convinced it will help me be a superior parent. The more often I jet off to exotic (or banal, I'll take anything) locales with Diana, the better-equipped I'll be to deal with the travails of air travel with a screaming monster (or two, on the occasions when my husband flies with us).
I thought I'd mastered air travel with a toddler, having successfully survived a trip to New York with D in October. As it turns out, air travel with a 14-month-old is rather different from flying with a 19 ½-month-old. Most significantly, I can no longer calm and soothe (or, more accurately, drug) D with copious amounts of milk like I used to. So I had to improvise new forms of entertainment - and since our flight was to Marseille, France, I only needed to keep D occupied for a couple of hours.
Daddy had been left at home - he couldn't take the holiday time - but I had airport backup in the form of my 17-year-old brother-in-law, who I planned to use as a mule to carry my insane amounts of luggage (I packed D's travel cot into my suitcase), and was hoping he could serve as a distraction to keep a toddler entertained throughout the flight.
Things started off promising, mainly because I had purchased a cheapo buggy for travelling purposes for £27 from Mothercare which was light, easy-to-fold and super convenient. Other than a slight screaming fit from D when we boarded – which, unfortunately involved holding up every other passenger since someone was sitting in my seat – the flight went pretty seamlessly with Diana playing with one of her new favourite toys for most of the journey: seatbelts (she adores buckling them and then having me undo them for her so she can start all over again).
The flight back was more problematic from the start: there was an air traffic control strike which meant our flight was delayed by two hours, which were spent with D running wildly around the airport, too hyper to fall asleep.
When we finally boarded and were told that we'd be waiting on the plane for at least an hour before we would finally take off, I knew all hope was lost. The emergency Play-Doh I'd brought had been seized by airport security, D had been given a tour of the cockpit and was running on exhaust fumes and the "emergency" bottle of milk I'd organised once we got on the plane (with the hopes of soothing her and helping through takeoff), had been glugged within minutes.
When we eventually took off - which involved D being strapped into my lap with another seat belt, unable to run around or move, which she was desperate to do - she was so exhausted that the tantrum that ensued was so epic it was like an exaggerated, unrealistic caricature of a tantrum that you would only see in a film. The tears, the shrieks, the tears, the punching, the tears, the flailing, the glass-breaking screams, the shaking... I wanted to cry myself because it was so awful, but I was so exhausted from the hours of running around and entertaining D that preceded the flight that I could only sit there, willing the dummy (D doesn't normally have one but desperate times call for desperate measures) in D's mouth to work its magic and start soothing her like it was supposed to.
Lest you think I'm exaggerating, the tantrum was so bad that I had another mother with older children approach me (once we were in the air and D's screams had turned to tired whimpers), who, not unkindly, suggested that I try giving my child a bottle to soothe her during take-off since it would help with the ear pressure.
You know you've had a massive parental fail when other parents are offering helpful tips post-apocalyptic meltdown of your child, but I didn't have the strength to feel upset. At this point D had fallen asleep in my arms, so I was relishing the moments of calm. And in case you still need convincing that D was terribly behaved? When I asked for a glass of a wine, I got given an extra bottle. And those flight attendants have seen lots of screaming babes over the years...
As for my ever-helpful brother-in-law, who also happens to be D's godfather? At the first sign of trouble, he slunk down in his seat and pretended not to know the rattled mother and her trouble-making babe two seats away. He later told me - I was too out of it to notice at the time - that he had been listening to his iPod for the duration of the screaming session but would have helped if I'd only asked. I guess he couldn't lip-read my panicked cries of "Help!"
Can I blame him? Toddlers on planes are tricky, but do-able. But toddlers in the midst of an air traffic control strike? There's no hope for any of us. Someone might as well try to relax. More on Parentdish: Complaints you hear when you fly with a baby (and what you wish you could reply)
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