My son, Felix, and I arrived in London yesterday, both tired after a long journey and sad farewell to my sister, Suraiya. She’d dropped us at the airport in Houston having left my mum at home to look after the kids.
There didn’t seem to be much security at the airport so Suraiya snuck into the passport-check queue with Felix and me. She wanted to hold him till the last minute. After all, she was saying goodbye to the little boy she’d carried in her belly for nine months and got to know for another three having been surrogate for me. I remember our FaceTime chats, me in London and her in Texas telling me about Felix kicking in her tummy. We predicted he’d be feisty from day one. But then he came and he was a little ball of softness, always content and so happy to be held. And hold him she did, many, many times. She loved him as much as me from the moment she met him. During my stay I’d often wanted to ask if it felt like she’d be saying goodbye to her own child when the time came, but didn’t for fear of upsetting her.
The queue got to the passport checkpoint and the guard told Suraiya she couldn’t be there. We fought back the tears and gave our goodbye hugs. She passed Felix back to me. He’d fallen asleep on her, blissfully unaware of what was happening. I laid him down in the stroller. Suraiya walked back to the permitted area at the start of the queue and stood there watching while Felix and I passed the checkpoint. As we walked along I watched the waving figure of my sister grow smaller and smaller into the distance. We then gave our last wave as I reluctantly pushed the stroller round a corner and my sister disappeared out of view.
Thankfully I didn’t have a chance to really take in the sadness of the situation because baggage check was a handful. I had to dismantle the stroller so everything had to be removed from the basket underneath. I was also asked to remove my laptop from my backpack, empty my pockets, take off my shoes and present the baby milk for inspection, all whilst holding Felix. Thank God he was sleeping! I was throwing the poor thing from one shoulder to the other like a dishcloth as I navigated the conveyor belt and X-ray machine. I was sweating like crazy.
People were really helpful though. I noticed this when boarding the plane too because I had to dismantle the stroller again. One of the cabin crew offered to hold Felix, and a man offered to carry my bags to my seat - “30E please!” I said, dumping my two bags on him before he’d finished his sentence. One thing I’ve learnt from being a parent is if someone offers help, grab them with both hands and say YES.
Felix was strapped to my lap for take-off, lying on my chest with his head nestled in the nook under my arm. This was the part I was really nervous about. I’d heard stories of babies that screamed all the way through flights from their ears popping. So far I’d seen nothing but smiling faces from people for ‘the sensitive man with the cute baby’ and I wasn’t ready to become ‘the twat with the devil’s child’. As the plane started moving I looked down at Felix. His eyes were closed and he was sucking his bindu (Punjabi word for “dummy” if you’re British or “pacifier” if you’re American – incidentally I’ve always thought “pacifier” sounded like a vigilante).
The plane continued to taxi across the airport grounds. It crossed over on to the runway and slowly turned into position. The pilot asked all cabin crew to prepare for take-off. The engines revved up and the plane began to move forward along the runway. I prayed for Felix not to scream the house down! We lurched back as the speed picked up and the whole inside of plane started shaking. It was noisy but Felix’s eyes remained closed. The plane suddenly sloped upwards as it began taking off, the bassy noise becoming a lighter hum as the wheels then left the ground. Out of the window the lights of Houston grew smaller and the night-time skyline tilted as the plane climbed into the sky. I felt my ears pop. If mine were popping surely Felix’s were too! I stared at his face anticipating that mouth bursting wide open with a toothless whale. But his eyes remained closed, maybe a little scrunched up with discomfort. His sucking became a bit faster, but still no sound. Then after a few minutes the tilt of the plane levelled out. My ears felt better, and then… a beep. The seatbelt light went off. We’d left Houston and were en route to London, with Felix sleeping soundly on his dad’s lap. High five to me!
Can you guess when he woke up? Well I’ll tell you – he woke up in London!
Yes, he slept for the WHOLE JOURNEY including the landing!!! Of course I wasn’t as relaxed as him all this time. I’d spent the whole flight pausing my movies to peer into his cot, waiting for him to wake up and make me public enemy number one, but it just never happened. I didn’t know this was possible after having spent a whole lifetime cursing screaming babies on planes (yes I’m one of them I’m, sorry – don’t pretend you’ve never done it!).
I opted to stay seated with Felix until everyone had left the plane. As the doors opened and people started moving out in single file, several of them stopped at our seat and told me how calm Felix was. Two of the cabin crew girls even said he was the quietest baby they’d ever flown with!! I thanked them all and left the flight clutching my imaginary ‘Parent of the Year’ award.
After Border Control I nipped into the loo, changed his nappy and put him in his nicest little Winnie the Pooh outfit. I wanted him looking his best for the person greeting us outside. We entered into the arrivals lounge in this strange new land called the United Kingdom and I saw his eyes moving around the airport with curiosity, before landing on one person. And that was when Felix first met my dad, or as he’ll now be known – granddad.