At midnight we land. I wake Alula. She’s now so big that I can only carry her for about 0.4 seconds before I have to set her down again so there’s no way I’m carrying her off this plane. Plus I have shopping bags laden down with Percy Pigs and a My Little Pony. Bless her though, she staggers sleepily to her feet and puts on her flip flops and only starts to scream when we’re half way down the aisle.
‘I want water! I’m hungry! I’m hungry!’
I offer her a percy pig. She declines. ‘I’m hungry. I want a mermaid.’
‘You want a what?’ I ask.
‘A MERMAID!’ she screams. ‘A mer-MAID…’
‘You’re going to need to explain this one to me,’ I say, glancing anxiously at all the tourists hemming us in.
‘Remember, last time. We got a mermaid!’
I rack my brains trying to recall what Alula might be referring to. When dear God did we eat a mermaid?
‘Was it a shop? Toys R Us?’
‘This was in a restaurant?’
‘They gave us food and a mermaid,’ she insists.
It twigs. She’s talking about McDonalds. She has only visited McDonalds once in five years of living. Once too many times I know. But there were extenuating circumstances that time (remember the time I got stuck with her in Singapore? McD’s was the only place at cangi airport that had free wifi. I bought her a happy meal which came with … you guessed it ….a plastic mermaid toy.) She still remembers this fact. Yet she does not remember the following: the fact I got up with her four times a night for the first eight months of her life and at least twice just last night, that she once washed elephants in a river in India, the name of her old childminder who babysat her for three years, that she took ballet classes for an entire year wearing ballet shoes that I spent several hours sewing elastic into, that I took her every week to monkey music when she was a year old, that she spent 12 months travelling around the WORLD and went to school on the beach in Goa (Goa FFS) . Doesn’t remember a single damn thing we’ve done for her…
But she remembers a happy meal eaten in a dingy airport basement a year ago.
Remind me again why we don’t give birth to our children and just place them in cardboard boxes in empty rooms for the first ten years of their life, programming robots to deliver water and meals to them regularly?
But to return to the moment. Somehow Alula knows through some weird osmosis of knowledge, that Mcdonalds happens to be the only place open at Bali airport at midnight.
We storm through immigration (she’s still screaming about mermaids). And I hurry her to McDonalds. I tell myself that it’s extenuating circumstances while wondering why after 5.5 years I still am not one of those mums who remembers to pack bottles of water and snack packs and wet wipes.
‘Do you have anything vegetarian?’ I ask the servers as I eye up the menu. It would appear from the photos that’s a no and the servers stare at me like I’ve asked them to chop off their own heads and drop them in the deep fat fryer.
‘I’ll have a cheeseburger happy meal then,’ I mumble, covering Alula’s ears.
‘A cheeseburger?!’ Alula screams, ‘Does that have meat in it?’ (remember people that Alula is now a committed vegetarian and has been for 6 months.).
I hesitate, pulling a Larry David face. Here I have a dilemma. I could say yes but I know how that will play out. She will scream very very loudly about being hungry, possibly she will lie on the floor and have a full on meltdown tantrum right here. I calculate also that: There are no food outlets anywhere that are open. I have an hour to go before we get home and the odds are she will scream the entire way. I just bought new headphones but they’re not noise cancelling.
So I do the only thing possible. I lie. If you’re a judgemental person I suggest you click away now. If you stay and then post a comment denouncing me for being an evil mother then please go take your head and boil it in a deep fat fryer right this instant – this blog is a no judgement zone and I care not a jot for your readership).
‘No darling, there’s no meat in it,’ I say. And technically, I think to myself, I’m pretty sure there isn’t any actual meat in a cheeseburger. So I’m not really lying.
I hand the burger to Alula and she tucks straight in. I do admittedly feel queasy watching her. But also a tiny bit jealous. MMMMMMMM McDonald’s burgers – I know they’re like the equivalent of eating testicles marinaded in Uranium but they taste so damn fine.
Alula stops mid-step. She puts her hand into her mouth and withdraws some burger patty – masticated and warm. She hands it to me. ‘MUMMY, taste this! I think it’s MEAT!’
‘Really?’ I say, my voice rich with bewilderment. I just want to get to the car. It’s so late.
‘Yes! This is meat!’ she cries.
‘Well, possibly,’ I say, ‘maybe it might have some meat in it.’ (again not lying exactly).
Alula blinks at me, then she does this thing where she hunches over the pavement as people push past with their suitcases and regurgitates the whole three mouthfuls like a mother bird feeding its young. A lump of burger plops onto the ground. (She does all this whilst also letting out a loud wailing siren noise.)
I’m sure if a hoover had been present she would have tried to vacuum out her mouth.
She is so hysterical that she won’t walk. Seriously, you’d think I’d just told her she had eaten an actual mermaid. Oh GOD, I think to myself. I just want to get home. So, ‘When I said it might have meat, I meant vegetable meat,’ I tell her.
Komang, our driver stares at me. Alula blinks at me but stops wailing.
‘Vegetable meat?’ she asks.
‘Yes,’ I say, taking her hand and walking, ‘Like tofu and broccoli.’
‘Oh,’ she says.
She finishes the whole thing before we make it to the car.
I still feel really bad about this.