I knew travelling 27 hours for our Easter holiday would be challenging. To be honest, we probably wouldn’t have done it if we hadn’t made the mistake of mentioning Disney to the children before researching the journey. There are some things you cannot do to a child. Bandying the word ‘Disney’ around, then telling them to forget it is one of them.
We live in the Middle East. Getting to California involved rousing our children at 1am to fly to Abu Dhabi to get a 17 hour flight to LA, with all the usual pre and post flight headaches of airport buses and hire cars.
I’d put my back out 3 weeks earlier so I became that passenger who circles the plane continuously, colliding with the drinks trolley, doing pelvic tilts and lunges by the loos.
The only benefit to my injury was that it meant I was given a seat with extra leg room away from the rest of the family. My new neighbours weren’t pleased to be losing the spare seat they’d clearly hoped to spread out on. I had to lunge and stretch twice as hard to demonstrate that I needed my new seat more than them.
I had racked up 10,000 steps by the time we arrived in LA but the one thing I hadn’t achieved was sleep. Not even 10 minutes. My neighbour had slept the entire way cradling a toddler.
I was a little bit in awe of him. Without wanting to sound like a psychopath, I studied his sleeping face. Who travels with a child and gets the child to sleep? Who gets a wink of sleep themselves when they travel with children? I was kitted out with my comfy change of clothes, eye patch and ear plugs, 10 rows away from my family, unable to nod off for a moment, and they effortlessly drifted off like babes in the wood, the man creating a makeshift bed by resting his feet in the netted magazine rack.
When we were told to fasten our seat belts for the descent, they lazily yawned and stretched themselves awake. I, on the other hand, thought I had spiders climbing up my chest. The hallucinatory stage of sleep deprivation was kicking in.
By the time we checked into our hotel, I could hardly see straight. A night’s sleep marginally improved things but the next day we were all awake at 5am. After breakfast, we went to the hotel’s Disney counter to buy our park tickets.
‘We’d like tickets to Disneyland, please,’ I explained.
‘How many?’ said the Disney man.
‘Five, I think,’ I said, looking around at my family. I did a quick head count to check I was right. The man looked at me quizzically.
‘Mam, I’m gonna need you to write out the names of your family members.’
He pushed a piece of paper and a pen across the desk. I tried to remember my name. I drew a blank. I tried to remember my husband’s name. Nope. I couldn’t dredge that up either. I looked at our children. We seemed to have three. I couldn’t recall any of their names. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t admit to not knowing what any of these people were called.
Someone tugged at my sleeve. ‘I’m your son, my name’s Sergio,’ hissed our eldest boy. (That’s not really his name- I’ve decided, for the purposes of my blog, to call them by the names they wish we’d given them).
That was one of them sorted out, at least. My Disney friend was looking at me suspiciously by then. I didn’t care. ‘That’s Ariane and that’s Spider Man,’ explained Sergio. We were on a roll. Suddenly my own name occurred to me, quickly followed by my husband’s. I flourished the list at the Disney man as though I was turning in a final exam paper to claim a double first. The man wasn’t impressed.
And so off we went to meet Mickey (only we didn’t actually meet him because Spider Man decided he needed a wee after 10 minutes of queuing and the try-and-aim-it-in-the-Evian-bottle hadn’t delighted the customers near us in the previous queue).
I’d like to report that our day at Disney was 100% magical. It was apart from the epic toddler tantrums as we entered and left the park. I’d like to report that they were events created by our children but both tantrums were thrown by me.
I went to bed that night questioning my parenting skills. It had been a bit of a low point on that score. And it’s not for want of trying! I try really hard. My mum reassures me that I only need to be ‘good enough’ but there are days when I don’t think I even cross that threshold. And so I tossed and turned that night, disturbed by my failures.
The next day I was reminded of the verse in the Bible that says God will never forget our name, a basic part of parenting that had eluded me. Whilst I may forget my children’s names on a very bad day, God never will. Where do some of us write something when it’s extremely important? On our hands. It seems God invented that. He has all of our names written on the palms of his hands:
“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you.
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
I know that I let our children down every day. I’m not patient enough, I’m too strict, I’m not strict enough, I shout at them not to shout. There are probably ways I’m not even aware of where I’m failing. Am I good enough? I hope so…
The Bible tells me we’re not alone in this parenting business and neither are our children: we all have another parent. Out of all our confused parenting, I think the one thing my husband and I have got right is introducing our children to their heavenly Father- to the one who won’t let them down.
When I hear our children whispering a prayer to themselves (often that the X-box will start working again, sometimes profound prayers that stop me in my tracks), or our toddler saying grace (he usually prays for ice cream), my heart swells because it means they have understand that we aren’t all they’ve got.
A few years ago, our daughter decided she wanted to be baptised. She’d actually been baptised as a baby so this was a surprise to me and my husband. On the day of her baptism, she told the church what had led to her decision.
It was one of the happiest days of my life. I hope it wasn’t an egotistical thing- a smugness that she was choosing to follow what we believe. I think it was a joy based partly on the fact she believes she has someone else watching over her. It’s comforting that wherever she goes, with or without us, she knows she’s not alone.
And it’s good to know that when I’m behaving like an overwrought child, God is there, helping me too, whether I realise it or not. We are not expected to care for our children by ourselves.
My sister prays over her sleeping children every night when she goes into check on them. She prays God will undo or repair anything she got wrong that day. It’s an act of acknowledging that, ultimately, her children are God’s children and they all need his help.
The passenger who held the toddler on his tummy for the 17 hour flight provided a picture of how God interacts with his children. The little girl had her own seat but she never sat in it. She also had her mother next to her. The man didn’t need to take responsibility for the child. He was the grandfather.
Maybe he wanted to help his daughter, letting her get some rest, maybe he just enjoyed spending time with his granddaughter, or maybe both. Whatever the motive, he helped them both.
Whenever the child woke for milk, he passed her to her mother for a bottle and a cuddle. Then he’d take the girl back and let her snuggle on his pillow of a belly. His peaceful face suggested he loved having his granddaughter nestled there. He was parenting his daughter and co-parenting his granddaughter.
For me, that’s a snapshot of God. He wants to help and snuggle all of his children, young and old, delighting over those he has named on his palms, each and every one of us.