Sunday, 20 November 2011

Transpolar Flying with a Toddler, Part One: Argentina-New Zealand

It is not so much my actual stay in New Zealand I would like to set down in print, as there are others who were there, who took photos, who shared memories and made memories with us, and I don't fear that the experience will be lost or lessened by not writing about it here. I would however like to record the experiences we had on the flights between Neuquén, Buenos Aires, Auckland, and Whanganui - not bad mileage for a 16 month old, and something this 32 year old will not repeat in a hurry... In the same way one can feel alone in a crowd, I feel like these things - good and bad - happened only to us. That if I don't write about them they will be forgotten, and that only we have the whole story (and one of us has a vocabulary limited largely to a handful of monosyllabic words, where 'dut' means 'duck, and every other kind of bird', 'truck' and 'that').

An important background note to this story is that the volcano known as Puyehue, in the Chilean Andes and geographically speaking just round the corner from here, has since June regularly and disconcertingly spat out clouds of volcanic ash. When the volcano is taking a break, the wind picks up what is lying around and blows it about wantonly, and either or both of these occurrences are enough to cancel flights, grind airports to a halt and generally encourage people to stay indoors for fear of respiratory problems, irritation to the eyes and general grumpiness at the brownness of the world. The closest ariport to Zapala is in Neuquén capital, 180km from here and one of the most closed airports since the first disruptive eruption. Knowing that it was entirely likely that if I booked a flight it would never leave the ground, I booked a flight a day early, so that in the case of cancellation I had time to take the bus - an 18 hour trip, and therefore preferably avoided just before undertaking a 14 hour flight with a toddler.

In that way the universe has of encouraging beginnings to increase the chances of there being middles and ends, the trip out to New Zealand, and particularly the first flight from Neuquén to Buenos Aires went well. This is to say the plane not only took off, but it left on the minute, was incredibly smooth, well serviced and luxurious for an economy seat, the food was excellent, the in-flight entertainment entertaining, and Arne slept the whole way. A resounding success, and we arrived to Buenos Aires on a Thursday afternoon with more than 24 hours until we had to be at the next airport, to check in for the next flight. We had prebooked a car to the flat the family has in the centre of town (currently home to Jeremias, but vacant as he is away on business), and we were soon installed comfortably with no further urgent action until the next evening, barring a bit of food shopping at a local supermarket and some leg-stretching in the plaza across the road (

The plaza is home to many restaurants, bars, shops and theatres, all connected by brick paths, shrouded in lush green plants, and set on many different levels accessible by ramps, stairs and bridges. This was heaven for a sociable toddler, and we spent several enjoyable interludes walking around, going up and down levels, chatting to strangers (mostly Arne, who has a knack for making friends) and passing the hotter hours in the shade. The next evening we were accompanied by friends Lucas and Pablo first for a pizza dinner at the flat, and secondly to the international airport at Ezeiza. May fortune always favour them, for accompanying a stressed mum to Ezeiza at 11pm at night, and staying until 1am in the morning! Arne was very pleased with his two new uncles, and made them run around the departures terminal following his giggles and shrieks. I was dead tired by midnight, but Arne kept going like a little dynamo, only crashing once we had boarded the plane and the engines started rumbling.

Flight number two also went incredibly smoothly, and exceeded my most daring hopes for a bearable journey - and while I wouldn't go so far as to say it was fun (two people in a small seat, one of them pregnant and the other all squirmy... You do the math), we certainly were very lucky for various reasons. Firstly, we were assigned a seat on the aisle, in the middle, in the first row in economy - plenty of legroom, the whole door area to walk about and stretch legs in, proximity to the wheelchair access toilet which is practically luxuriously big, and to the galley where snacks and drinks are served all night. Score! Secondly, one of the four seats in the row was unoccupied and of the other two one was soon vacated by its occupant (perhaps because in the third was another mother with small child). This left four seats between us mums and our kids, allowing us to stretch them out on the two in the middle at intervals, to let them play on the gap on the floor in between us, and to generally make house a bit for the long haul. We also had a very attentive steward who went out of his way to make sure I had everything I needed - he played with Arne and showed him around the galley (so many handles and buttons and toggles and switches!), and made the interminable 14 hours feel a bit less arduous. From him I learned that the flight takes a transpolar route because with the curvature of the earth that is actually a straighter line from South America to New Zealand - a transpacific route would be longer still, though it appears to be straighter on a flat map. Logical, really, though I had never really thought about it before. I chatted to the Brazilian woman in my row - whose baby was only a month younger, but several sizes smaller than Arne - and found out she was now a dairy farmer from Ranfurly on her way back from a visit to her parents. Arne slept in fits and starts, usually in a sprawl in my lap at mealtimes, but in general behaved very well even while awake, charming fellow passengers on his regular laps about economy class. We arrived tired but whole, and after a short interlude at Auckland Airport (bought a sim card, bought a calling card, called Joel and my parents and checked my ongoing luggage), we were picked up by a good friend David, who manages a motel four kilometres from the airport. We were shuttled to his apartment at the hotel (my fellow mother-in-transit also) and were invited to spend a few hours in peace and quiet, eat some great home cooked food and have a rejuvenating shower before our respective connecting flights. It's those little things that seem so great sometimes. Another on whom I pray fortune always smiles!

The last leg of our intercontinental journey was conducted on a little propeller plane with about 16 seats, pilot and copilot within arm's reach of the front row and the pilot reading the safety announcements before taxiing out. The most eventful part was when the GPS wouldn't work and they had to program in the coordinates by hand, delaying our take-off by 15 minutes. A little money spider climbed the inside of the window on the seat opposite ours, and Arne slept despite the deafening racket of the propellor right outside our window. Whanganui came into view as we descended, and I could see Mum and Dad's cars in the airport carpark as we passed overhead. There is something oddly comforting about an airport that consists of just one room, and crossing the tarmac with a sleepy baby and one bag I felt lighter and more relaxed than I had since I left Neuquén. We made it! No more planes for many a day! Whee!

Monday, 9 May 2011

What were you doing at this time, one year ago?

My sister and my brother-in-law were visiting me in Argentina, and I was expecting a baby. Quite obviously expecting, by this stage. I am sitting here reflecting on this tonight, as tomorrow Arne turns 11 months old. Eleven months is almost a year. A year is no time at all in the life of a 30-something year old, but it is more than a lifetime for Arne. And it has gone so fast! So I have put together a little montage of one photo per month of the last year, lest I forget in the haze of 'momnesia'...

May 2010

June 2010

July 2010

August 2010

September 2010

October 2010

November 2010

December 2010

January 2011

February 2011

March 2011

April 2011

Tuesday, 22 March 2011


My sweet baby is undergoing some kind of werewolf transformation. Or possibly werehippo... Bear with me, and I'll get to the hippo bit in a second.

You know the werewolf transformation in movies - usually accompanied by howls, writhing on the floor, cold sweats and twisted sheets, and usually happens at night. This has been our house for the last two weeks.

You see Arne is teething - and not one at a time, but all four top incisors. The outside pair came first, which is where the hippo bit comes in:

And now the middle two incisors up top are just visible - and judging by the lumps and bumps in his bottom jaw the fun has just begun. Every time he looks like he might be settling into a nice sleeping pattern, something comes up: travel, illness, new motor skills he just has to practice in his sleep (last night he stood up in his sleep! I lay him back down and he carried on sleeping) and now teeth. I was looking at a teething timeline, and this goes on for almost two years!

By the time he has outgrown teething there'll be night terrors, then growing pains, then trouble at school, then trouble with girls, then he'll borrow the car and miss his curfew...

Will we ever get a good night's sleep?!

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

The ubiquitousness of FB...

I guess it is a sign of the times that I often go around thinking in Facebook statuses (stati?). Sometimes one status update just isn't enough, so I thought I'd collect today's bite-sized thoughts, updates and pop-wisdom here:

I cooked lentils today. On purpose.

Teething baby = 3(irritability)+2(grizzliness)+5(sleepless nights)

Harvesting new potatoes from my very own potato patch! They are so tiny and cute!

I made my first honest-to-goodness autumn soup today that didn't have anything ready-made or from a packet! Cream of pumpkin, carrot and (locally grown!) potato soup, with a touch of smoked curry and garlic. Sounds like a bit of overkill perhaps, but I can tell you it was delicious.

I question the wisdom of putting nuclear power plants in a country prone to seismic activity.

I am faced with the possibility that my son might end up 'petiso' - the doctor said at his 9-month check-up that he had put on plenty of weight but not grown at all in length. I said that it was the third month in a row at 74cm, and the doctor replied: he might just have his father's stature. Noooooooo!

Autumn came suddenly - we went from 32C to 15C in one day.  Goodbye summer, hello fashion!

Autumn's abrupt arrival prompted me to transplant the self-propagated avocado plant into a pot and shift him inside - I now have my very first avocado plant ever! And my first pot plant in my new/old house. Please all collectively wish for my transplanting skills to rival those of a cardiologist and for the little trooper to flourish!

Reading an IKEA catalogue when there is no IKEA within 10,000kms is bittersweet torture.

What did I do before Internet? When the Internet is down I am at a loss - I want to look something up and I have no reference section in my bookcase...

It is more expensive to buy a kilo of bread than a bottle of cheap liquor. WTF?

Yay! My favourite Swedish blog is back up and running - for those of you in Sweden who have not yet read 'Katastrofala Omslag', what have you been doing with your downtime at work? Working?

That's all for today.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Onwards and upwards

Things have been a bit hectic of late, and my lukewarm promise to myself and my four fans to start writing again kind of fell by the wayside, as I kind of feared it might... But the upshot of the last couple of weeks' activity can be summed up in these five words: I have my own house! For what feels like forever I have been a charity case in someone else's house, but now I have a place that I share only with my husband and my son, which I have to say feels GREAT.

So now to decorate my house, Argentina style? Well, as far as that goes it may take a while, as one of the side-effects of housing emancipation is less cashflow for stuff that isn't directly related to survival. Watch this space, though. I have at least hung three (count them, three) pictures on the wall - all from New Zealand; I have hung curtains; I have hung a fabric wall hanging; and I have hung out, in my house, with my two best boys.

I have a few projects in mind, one involves moving Arne into his own room. As of today he sleeps his naps in his own room, and nights in our room - and so far, so good. We've managed to convince him that his room is a fun place, with toys and books and a coloured string of dragonfly lights on the wall. I plan to paint something on the doors of his wardrobe - maybe a zebra in the grass, all black lines on white background. Then eventually he will move in there for nights as well, but I think it is more his mother that needs to get her A into G to take that step than Arne himself. A) I will miss him and wonder what little snuffly noises he is making in there by himself, and B) (or should that be G?) I will have to get up and go into another room when he wakes up - and he always wakes up at least a couple of times. If he's not teething he's practising new motor skills in his sleep... Hmmm.

Anyway, that's all for today. It's movie night in my lounge, on my sofa.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Last time I wrote I was a different person, and my world had not yet changed...

I am only nine months older than I was when I last wrote - not even a year, which is no time at all in the course of a life (but aeons ago in blog terms, I know) - and yet everything has changed. Even the things which have not changed and never will, are indescribably different now, because I have a son.

I am still coming to terms with the greater picture, because so far I can only absorb it in small pieces, day by day. I look at my wee boy and think about how he will sleep tonight (and therefore how I will sleep tonight), then I am suddenly hit by the thought that Arne will one day drive a car, meet the person he will fall in love with, travel the world, speak three languages. How weird.

I am going to try to resume this blog in the light of my new existence - which is at once a beautiful and possibly a bit sappy journey through the joys of motherhood and a very down-to-earth daily slideshow of little miracles, struggles with vast amounts of laundry, coping with the realisation that much of your life now revolves around poop (especially the when and how much), insecurities about being a bad parent, reassurance that I am not a bad parent, reassurance that everything is just a phase and will eventually pass - all set to the sometimes tough sometimes passionately latino reality of life in Argentina.

I do however reserve the right to fail miserably at keeping this up-to-date. It is a mother's prerogative to not want to do anything else with her spare time than sleep, trawl Facebook and Trade Me, and drink moderately alcoholic beverages with bubbles in, not necessarily in that order. I am also failing just a little at keeping a diary of Arne's milestones (I hate you handy mums who keep scrapbooks and write journal entries every day. You make us underachievers look bad), keeping up with when and how I should be implementing new phases in his life, and simple things like remembering to brush my teeth.

It's for you mum, it's the universe. It says you should stop procrastinating and do something useful with your spare time.
That reminds me, I have to go do that thing with the thing.