On the fly with my two sons
THE junior jetsetter seated across the aisle from me on the flight from London to Sydney looks to be about five years old and he is quite the little artist. Since take-off he has been drawing contentedly, coloured pencils laid out neatly, an eraser in attendance. A cabin attendant pauses to admire his pictures. ‘‘Oooh, is that a caterpillar?’’ she asks. As parents everywhere know, it is unwise to presume you know what a child is drawing. Chirpy questions such as ‘‘Is that a picture of Mummy?’’ are very likely to meet with a response of, say, ‘‘No, it is a refrigerator.’’ And so it is on this day in the clouds. ‘‘It is not a cat on a pillow,’’ he tells her in the slightly exhausted tone of a young chap who frequently must deal with silly adults. ‘‘It is a wriggly worm.’’
‘‘Oooh, I don’t like wriggly worms,’’ the cabin attendant cries, with an exaggerated shiver. ‘‘Please don’t be scared,’’ he says. ‘‘It isn’t a real one.’’ I am telling this story because it reminds me so much of travelling with my two sons when they were young and given to a lot of drawing and many moments of exasperation with their mother.
Both boys seemed to become instantly more grownup when we travelled, better organised than me, more educated about where we were headed and what we were seeing, thanks to their love of atlases and the undeniable influence of television.
Donot for a minute think I could get away with telling them we were looking at a mere monkey in the wilds of Asia. That would be a long-tailed macaque, actually. The dolphin frolicking off the beaches of Kauai? It would probably be a Pacific bottlenose or, hang on (one or other of the junior Kurosawas reaches for his Boy Scouts binoculars), it’s too small. ‘‘Cool, Mum, it’s a spinner.’’
In Los Angeles, within minutes of checking in to our hotel, they had worked out all the cable TV stations on an otherwise unfathomable remote control and had confidently purchased cans of Dr Pepper (then unobtainable in Australia and so highly desirable on holiday) from a hallway dispensing machine the size of a truck and were seated comfortably watching college basketball. They had mysteriously acquired rather good American accents, too, like minor Chicago mobsters.
Stories such as this become part of many a family’s folklore, which is why I wish I had written a fuller holiday journal, preserved more of the boys’ drawings, kept the ticket stubs to Disneyland and the logo coasters from those thrillingly dodgy California diners.
I have many photos, of course, but have to rely on an imperfect memory for the smaller details; theirs are still tack-sharp and they have forgotten none of their mother’s travel mishaps, from the morning she set off from Lahaina on the Hawaiian island of Maui in a rental car and proceeded to drive on the wrong side of the road (later parking on the kerb, for extra effect) to the Hong Kong lunch she tried to pay for with her Medicare card.
I must admit that it does appear we were constantly drawing attention to ourselves.