Travelling with kids: antics and early starts

Nick Leech endures the constant drone of a phrase that all parents dread: "Are we there yet?"

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'Are we there yet?' is a question I used to associate with bad sitcoms and apocryphal tales of family holidays gone terribly, horribly wrong. That was until three weeks ago, when my eldest daughter started test-driving the phrase from the back seat of our car. "Where did she get that from?" I ask my wife through gritted teeth as the words merge into a mind-numbing dirge.

My immediate suspicion is a deliberate implant by my best beloved, an oh-so hilarious Parthian shot delivered in advance of my forthcoming "family" holiday - a six-week ordeal in which I will be in sole charge of a three-year-old who seems to be becoming more hysterical by the day and her increasingly seditious 19-month-old sister.

"Caillou says it!" my eldest explains cheerfully as she takes a momentary break from her ululations. I fume, disgusted as much by my daughter's choice of source material as anything else, and my wife stares straight ahead from the driver's seat, failing to stifle a smile that says "Good luck with that".

Two weeks later, the family holiday departure board stands at T-minus four days and counting, and my daughter has warmed up to what is now her favourite phrase. When I explain what our nomadic tour will involve - stints with aunty, a rural retreat at nana's, train trips to grandma's, a week at the beach, a week in a tent - the refrain starts again, this time with the dulcet tones of an air raid siren.

What am I going to do if she starts this on the plane? How do you placate a writhing, screaming, three-year-old while her sister is doing her best to unlock the nearest emergency exit? What do I do if this happens while I am struggling with the double buggy, two car seats and luggage, without which the whole trip will be impossible? Even the thought of the trip is exhausting, and that is before six weeks of enforced early starts delivered courtesy of my younger daughter. At least there will actually be light at 5am in the UK when she delivers her daily reveille: "Daddy, get up. It's morning time!"

It is with those words ringing in my ears that my thoughts turn to the third child in my life and the source of my real travelling woes. Caillou is a curiously bald, four-year-old boy, the eponymous main character of a Canadian children's television series, and my loathing for him is matched only by my daughter's adoration. YouTube is unavailable in cattle class, so the seven Caillou-free hours to London are likely to result in one of her more operatic displays. I'll apologise now if you're unlucky enough to be sitting near us, but please don't blame my daughter. Do what I do instead, blame him.

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