In winter 2015, I was living in Auckland, pregnant with the Girl Child, and spending my days between playgroup, swimming, Little Kickers and generally wrangling the Boy Child who was two at the time.
So when my sister, Tara, came to visit, we decided to get out of Auckland and see a bit of New Zealand.
We headed south for Rotorua, and spent a few days down there riding the Skyline, visiting Te Puia and trying to explain the link between increased Geothermal activity, sulphur and the unique odor of Rotorua to a two-year-old with a keen sense of smell.
I also accidentally drove right through the middle of a traditional Māori village (due to an overzealous GPS) which is hands down the worst thing I’ve ever done while travelling and left me feeling more mortified than the time my entire primary school saw my undies at assembly (long story).
So it was maybe the work of karma for this incident that saw the speedy decline in the Boy Child’s behaviour that trip.
He was not napping. He was not going to bed on time. He suddenly, loudly and violently began to exercise his right to conscientiously object to bathing.
Or maybe it was the fact that he was two. I guess we’ll never know.
On the way home from Rotorua, almost as an afterthought, we stopped by Matamata which is the home of the Hobbiton movie set, and a critical stop for NZ Lord of the Rings kitsch.
And it was during this movie set tour that the Boy Child’s behaviour hit peak ratty-ness. He screamed. He tantrumed. He didn’t want to walk and as it turns out, Hobbiton is not pram-friendly. It was cold. It was muddy. He sat in the cold mud. He wanted to go inside the fake Hobbit house facades.
And about half way through the tour, when we were too far in to turn back, I suddenly though to myself, what am I doing here?
I didn’t even particularly enjoy the Lord of the Rings movies.
At about the same time I took closer notice of our co-travellers in our tour group. So many accents. So many highly specific questions for our tour guide. So many Lord of the Rings t-shirts.
And then it dawned on me, these were not people who had stopped here in passing. These were people who had come a long way to visit here. These were actual fans. These were people who were maybe even ticking off critical items on their life’s bucket lists.
And holy crap, my kid was ruining it all. The horror. For all I knew these people may never get a chance to get this far south of the Equator again, let alone try Hobbiton again on a day without a tiny two-year-old Aussie screeching because I wouldn’t let him pick the fake set flowers.
And this is hands-down the hardest thing about travelling with kids.
It’s not the jetlag. It’s not the constant demands for snacks as though our pantry has somehow grown sentient and accompanied us to the US. It’s the spectre of ruining someone else’s once in a lifetime experience with your kids’ unpredictable behaviour.
On that note, yesterday the kids and I went to see Aladdin on Broadway.
I suggested Hoff have the afternoon off (which was a decision driven by fiscal responsibility as much as it was marital compromise) and I was so excited to book the kids their first musical theatre tickets. And on Broadway, of all places.
I was nervous that they’d be too young, but I took precautions.
I planned a late morning snack during our stop at the beautiful Grand Central Terminal that morning to head off hangry-ness. I booked a matinee as opposed to an evening performance to mitigate tiredness. I booked the front row of a balcony to eliminate incidental seat kicking. I booked seats on the aisle in case I had to drag them out of the theatre by their ears and read them the riot act. I planned to bribe them with interval M&Ms.
But as the day drew closer and particularly when the kids woke up at 5am, the Boy Child with a blocked nose and headache, and it was raining, I started to have post-traumatic flashbacks to Hobbiton.
What if they’re noisy? What if they can’t sit still? What if they put their feet on the railings and drop their shoes over the balcony and brain some poor pensioner in the stalls? What if they don’t appreciate the shining, shimmering, splendidness of it all and completely lose it?!
Simply put – what if they ruin someone’s once in a lifetime Broadway experience?
Even worse – what if that someone whose once in a lifetime is ruined is me?!
As it turns out, they did none of those things. They sat (relatively) still and watched the show. They laughed at the appropriate times. The gasped in awe at the appropriate times. They peed their pants when there were unexpected pyrotechnics (not literally, thankfully, as that was one of the few doomsday scenarios I had not anticipated).
In the end, the Boy Child leaned over about ten minutes into the show and said, “mum, this is the best thing ever.”
And the Girl Child was so sold on the narrative that she queried why we were all clapping the bad guys in the curtain calls.
As for me, I shed a quiet tear during “Friend Like Me”, because I was so darn happy to share this experience with my kids, and to tick something off my own bucket list in the process.
And maybe a teensy bit in relief because this time we didn’t seem to be crashing anyone else’s bucket list ticking in the process.