As an American living in Ireland, I probably make transatlantic flights more often than most. About a week or two before my departures, the nightmares begin: that I will be sat next to a couple with a hyperactive one-year-old child who will slap my books, computers, magazines, etcetera; vomit on me; shriek; require emergency nappy changes after leaking excrement on my armrest; and so on.
By the time anyone reads this article, I will have made my first transatlantic journey with my one-year-old son. I expect that all of the above will take place. It cost me about €100 for his ticket, but that money does not buy him a seat.
‘What am I paying for?’ I asked the man on the telephone.
‘It’s the infant fare,’ he said.
‘Fine, what am I paying for?’
I have subsequently been informed that he will be given some baby food, which I seriously doubt costs anywhere near €100, or even €2. And anyway, he can’t eat it. The last time my son ate food out of jar, he became so splotchy and pimply that he resembled a newt. He also gets a baggage allowance.
I have always looked forward to long holidays for months. I have sent emails to colleagues reminding them that in approximately six weeks, I’d be sitting in sunshine, drinking margaritas at 10am. This time, I’ve spent the last few months pretending this holiday did not exist.
I’ve got 48 hours to departure, and I am actually looking forward to returning to work. I have come close to considering throwing myself into traffic, or committing a minor crime and getting caught, in order to have an excuse to cancel.
I harbour a rather profound dislike of children, and they sense it when I am around them. Recently, I was attacked by a kind of Lilliputian army at my son’s first birthday party.
My father once told me, when we were sitting in a bar years ago, discussing the prospect that I might one day have children: ‘Don’t have kids; trust me.’
I am, sadly, his only child.
A lot of people laugh when I tell them I have a hyperactive son, or say they know exactly what I mean. Sympathy is the least sincere form of human interaction. It does not really exist anyway, and to hear it expressed in the most preposterous of circumstances – unless you have a severely hyperactive child, you cannot understand what it’s like – is to step a bit closer to pure human solitude.
To prepare for this journey, I’ve been searching around websites for tips, and asking my mother. My mother used to think I was hyperactive, but after spending one day – one day – with my son, she was crying in bed from exhaustion. She also had jetlag.
One website told me to, in times of profound stress, go to the bathroom, put on lipstick and tell myself I’m doing a great job.