Lofty tots take all the cake

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - James Jef­frey

THEY say that travel ex­pands the mind, which, on the avail­able ev­i­dence, is a de­bat­able point. What isn’t be­yond ques­tion is that travel ex­pands my chil­dren. Up to a point.

This is es­pe­cially true on long-haul flights when my wife and I feed them any morsel of food avail­able in a des­per­ate ploy to avert midair ri­ots, thor­oughly stuff­ing them in the hope they’ll be left with no choice but to pass out in post­pran­dial ex­haus­tion and sleep it off for a few hours.

We’re on fairly safe ground, given that our ever-peck­ish off­spring have much in com­mon with black holes; noth­ing that strays close to those lit­tle gobs ever es­capes.

Our son Leo, who’s still small enough to count as carry-on lug­gage, has barely pro­gressed be­yond his baby gib­ber­ish but clearly un­der­stands the word marsh­mal­low, even when spelled out by his not-so-cun­ning par­ents. Our fiveyear-old daugh­ter Daisy seems to be able to make a muf­fin van­ish sim­ply by star­ing at it from the other side of a room. Both can swal­low cake in a way that would ring bells with any­one who’s seen an ana­conda in ac­tion.

And where bet­ter than on a plane? Af­ter all, where else (other than at yum cha) do you have so many trol­leys laden with so much tucker lum­ber­ing past in a con­fined space and in such a state of vul­ner­a­bil­ity?

If it’s a nice air­line, they might even go to the ef­fort of dol­ing out spe­cial kids’ meals, al­though the down­side here is that they of­ten in­clude all man­ner of treats you end up want­ing to steal for your­self.

So we have Daisy and Leo gob­bling in a state of supreme con­tent­ment through the long hours and the time zones. Other par­ents, we smugly note, haven’t learned our trick, judg­ing by the scream­ing and tantrums (usu­ally the chil­dren) pe­ri­od­i­cally erupt­ing else­where in the plane.

The draw­back is that we in­evitably end up gorg­ing along with the munchkins in a state of com­pan­ion­able glut­tony. By the time we touch the tar­mac, af­ter roughly three weeks in the air, my wife and I feel strangely bloated, as if we have each swal­lowed a pil­low.

Not the kids, though, who are agile and perky. As we lift them, we dis­cover why. This is where the other cos­mic par­al­lel kicks in. Just as black holes swal­low ev­ery­thing but emit a tell­tale jet of X-rays — in­vis­i­ble ex­cept to ra­dio astronomers — somy lit­tle ones hoover up ev­ery­thing while emit­ting an ap­par­ently in­vis­i­ble stream of sul­tanas, crumbs, man­gled crusts and nearly but not quite whole ap­ples. In­vis­i­ble, that is, un­til we do as the ra­dio astronomers do and look in the right places.

In this case, it’s in the cush­ions, in the seat, down the side and elab­o­rately ar­ranged in the seat pocket among the mag­a­zines and sick bags.

My wife and I, on the other hand, have ne­glected to do this, hav­ing care­lessly un­learned this vi­tal skill some­where on the way to ado­les­cence. I rue­fully touch my stom­ach and won­der how long the pil­low sen­sa­tion will last.

Daisy and Leo’s mid­den is fairly mild com­pared with the heaps of de­tri­tus lov­ingly ac­cu­mu­lated and aban­doned by some of the grown-up pas­sen­gers, and will — I tell my­self — prob­a­bly pro­vide em­ploy­ment for a cou­ple of ex­tra clean­ers.

Daisy and Leo gaze in won­der at the sight. Leo coos hap­pily at a forgotten crust and pops it in his mouth.

‘‘ Good­ness, what a mess,’’ Daisy ob­serves. Then, pat­ting her round but as yet un­stuffed belly, asks: ‘‘ What’s for din­ner?’’

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