Elsa’s time clock gets a little out of sync
This last trip back to China was, according to my calculations, Elsa’s 20th long-distance flight – not bad for someone who has yet to reach the age of three. In fact I’ve become so blasé about travelling with her that I now don’t pack any toys, food or change of clothes – previously considered absolute essentials. Why go to the trouble when I know British Airways will be quick to provide her with yet another vibrating furry airplane, two substantial food trays and unlimited access to their stash of chocolate biscuits? And if an accident should happen, they will even provide a set of large tracksuit bottoms, compliments of business class (or so experience suggests), and the last pair have proven very handy on cold winter nights.
As predicted, my light packing was justified: The flight was uneventful. To add to my mounting “I’m-so-sorted” smugness, we were met off the plane by lovely ayi, who proffered a single red rose to me before – eyes watering – reaching out for her true love, Elsa. Ayi’s nephew then drove us back home, where a full fridge, clean sheets and cooked lunch awaited us. After eating, she whisked Elsa off for the afternoon so I could unpack in peace. That evening as I put Elsa to bed, I allowed myself a metaphorical pat on the back: Life was good.
They say pride goes before a fall. At half past 11, 20 minutes after I had drifted into sleep, Elsa awoke. Not only was she wide awake, but also a marathon TV session was not going to prove the answer. A hasty search revealed that her beloved Peter and the Wolf DVD had fallen victim to my casual packing. The next five hours were interesting, but thankfully she eventually fell asleep in my bed in the early hours of the morning.
I wish I could report that this first night represented the single hiccup in an otherwise orderly repatriation. Unfortunately, this was not the case. You know those games you teach your children that are funny at the time but later return to haunt you? How mum and I had laughed the previous week as we shut our eyes tight and introduced Elsa to the concept of “Nose as Switch” – a gentle press and our eyelids would fly open, much to the merriment of all around. I wasn’t laughing so hard when for the next few days I was roused from sleep by a determined finger jabbing me between the eyes, accompanied by the peremptory command, “Wake up mummy, wake up.”
It hasn’t just been a case of rude awakenings. Elsa has also been proving impossible to settle to sleep. In despair, I have turned again to the words of Gina Ford, the scary British supernanny whose disciplined approach ideas attract raving fans and enraged detractors in equal measure. Gina recommends putting the escaped child back in bed without speaking, or even looking at him, over and over again until he gets the message. I had tried this with some success when Elsa was smaller. But I find it isn’t so easy now: “SAY something, mummy,” she pleads heartbreakingly.
Only now, two weeks in, have I stumbled on a solution. We’ve got out her new sleeping bag (attentive readers will recall the recent camping trip) and the novelty of crawling into its snug green nest is proving a powerful enticement to at least get her into bed. I’m still not allowed to shut her door, however, so I now have the privilege of overhearing her nightly conversations with Teddy – “Go to sleep now Teddy, or I will be VERY cross. Do you understand, Teddy? TEDDY!!!?”
Sarah Cooper started her own career and personal coaching business (www.cowsfrommywindow.com) after coming to Beijing with 3-month-old Elsa, who is now going on 3-years-old.