Today I’m travelling on my own. I am without my husband. I am without my Small. This is a liberating experience. I’ve achieved an enormous amount and done it fuelled by a couple of glasses of prosecco as I travel on an overcrowded Virgin train to Windermere. Across the aisle is a dad with a boy of about a year and while I’m high-fiving my child-free self every time I look at them, I’m also desperate to shout, ‘Is there anything I can do to help?’ Pre-Small I hated travelling next to people with kids. I was selfish and obnoxious and if I met my old self now, I’d deliver a quick sucker punch to my smug face and give myself a long hard talking to. I'd use words like 'tolerance' and 'patience' and 'kindness'. My old self would, probably, continue to drink her wine, listen to her music, read her kindle and roll her self-satisfied eyes but I would walk away satisfied that one day, not long from now, she will see the error of her ways.
And trust me, she does. I no longer sigh and tut when a Small human (that isn’t mine) starts to kick up a fuss. In stead, I want to take the offending Small, bounce it, hug it, give the parent just five minutes to have a wee, stretch their arms, have a drink and gather their senses. At home a parent has some ‘vague out’ time: CBeebies allows some respite, naps are the bomb and a quick trip to the sanctuary of the bathroom is always good for emergencies but on a train or a plane there is no such luxury.
Because, non-parents, let me tell you this: there is not one parent in charge of a Small in an enclosed space with hundreds of anonymous people that is OK with the fact that their Small is crying or screaming or screeching. There is not one parent who isn’t dying and crying inside as they try everything in their bag of tricks to silence their wailing Small. Snacks, books, the window, a walk up and down the aisle, a song, silly faces, youtube, photos. Each and every one of these may work for five or maybe ten minutes, but then it’s on to the next thing. It’s an exhausting exercise in stamina and patience that even Ghandi and Mother Teresa would struggle with.
So, next time you see a parent engaged in a battle of wills with a Small that is determined to shit all over everyone’s travelling experience know this: your journey is never going to be as painful as that parent’s journey and sometimes, a kind and friendly smile from a stranger that says, “Don’t worry. It’s all good. I’m sorry your journey is shit…don’t worry about us. We can put our headphones on, we can get off at the next stop,’ is just what you need to make it all a little bit easier.
Of course, offering to hold the child for five minutes is also welcome.