COCKTAILS AND BUTT-SITTING

I’m writing this post as I sit in an Urgent Care Clinic in Brooklyn, the day before we head home, waiting for a doctor to see the Boy Child.

It’s actually our second visit to an Urgent Care Clinic in as many days, so as well as doing the US tour of rest stop bathrooms, particularly those within ten minutes of our point of departure, we seem to be specialising in US walk-in medical facilities too.

Both kids have needed medical attention this trip. Nothing major, just major enough that we’ve been afraid to stick them on a 24-hour international flight without arming ourselves with all the knowledge and medication.

That said, these visits have been brief detours in the overall frivolity that has been this trip. Really just a blip on the radar of holiday fun.

One of my dearest friends made me laugh the other day when she messaged and said we looked like we were having an epic holiday. “When I travel, I literally sit on my ass all day and drink cocktails,” she wrote.

It got me to thinking – this particular brand of holiday, the long haul travel, the constant sightseeing, the driving of unfamiliar roads and sides of roads, the multiple – shared – hotel rooms, the packing and repacking, the washing, the mere presence of our offspring – none of it makes for a particularly restful holiday.

And it didn’t come easy in the first place either. There’s epic planning, hours of research, the cost, of course, and then the subsequent, perhaps inevitable heartache over the reasonableness of the cost.

I’m absolutely not complaining. I love travelling, as a departure from lying by a pool or on the beach.

We’re lucky enough to have family on the Sunshine Coast where we visit regularly and so we get our fill of idyllic beach time (plus more than a few cocktails) there. I think this is why we haven’t felt the need to do the the beachy/resort thing in a little while now.

But.

As I sit here trying to explain to person after person that I don’t have medical insurance, nor do I have a preferred pharmacy, nor a local residential address and actually, we do birth dates backwards to you guys, I find myself wondering whether we might have erred in pushing ourselves (and the kids) so hard this holiday.

We have a huge few months of life and work ahead of us, what if cocktails and butt-sitting was exactly what we needed?

Nah.

The thought is gone almost as soon as it arrived.

This trip has been incredible and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. And to share it with my family…. There are barely words.

Even if the kids don’t remember it in any real detail, hopefully they’ll remember a few abstract notions.

If not where we went specifically, then maybe what it’s like to emerge from the darkness of a subway station to the streets of the Manhattan for the first time, the overwhelming, slightly terrifying chaos of somewhere new and different.

If not what we saw on Broadway, then maybe the thrill of the lights dimming and the first few notes of an overture.

If not the specifics of Amish life, then maybe the fact that there are whole communities, countries around the world, living a fundamentally different experience to their own.

If not the names of each of the Niagara Falls, then hopefully the incredulity of their mum and dad signing them up for a boat trip where they got totally soaked, fully-clothed, on a mild Canadian autumn day.

If not the regional specialities tried and tasted, then hopefully the surprise and joy in the understanding that mum and dad take a holiday from meal rules too.

Which is fine for a while, but eventually evolves into dinner discussions about which home cooked meal we’d like to eat first when we get home.

Which then evolves into a conversation about The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’s protagonist, Ichabod Crane, and how perhaps if the headless horseman would have piffed mum’s pumpkin risotto at him in that dark, instead of a whole Jack O’ Lantern, then maybe he wouldn’t have been so scared.

Or maybe they’ll just recall how mum and dad were there, for the most part, all day, every day, and every night, and we how we did it all together.

Often annoying the crap out of each other but mainly just enjoying living, learning, loving and being together, without distraction.

If I’m honest, that would be enough.*

*Yes, this is a Hamilton reference. As ever – not sorry.

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THE TRUE HORROR OF HALLOWEEN

I’ve written about Halloween before. If you missed it, it’s here.

But if you’re already so riveted by this incredible piece of literature and can’t be arsed navigating away, I can summarise:

I can take it or leave Halloween. But I just wish that we as Aussies would pick a side.

So we’re doing this? Great. I have a section of scrapbooked Woolies magazine recipes and ideas for five years worth of whole-family-themed costumes ready to go. Bring it.

Or is it ex-nay on the alloween-hay? Great. Hurray for the fight against childhood obesity.

The thing is, the upward pressure is definitely there from those under 5 feet tall.

But when push comes to 31 October shove, lobbing up to your neighbour’s doorstep and demanding confectionary is easier said than done, given our current antipodean indifference.

And until this year, this is what I’ve always tried to explain to our children/use as an out: not everyone in Australia celebrates Halloween.

So when we decided to take a trip to the States this year, the kids cottoned on pretty fast.

Are we going to be in America for Halloween?

Yes.

And everyone in American celebrates Halloween?!

…Yes.

SO CAN WE GET DRESSED UP AND GO TRICK OR TREATING IN AMERICA ON HALLOWEEN?!?!?!?!?

….oh my, what have I done…yes…?

What I didn’t count on, though, was that Halloween in the US as an Aussie interloper is fraught with as much doubt as it is at home.

We planned to be in Sleepy Hollow, NY, for the big night because it was in the path of our general homeward trajectory and also because what’s spookier than a Headless Horseman?

So once we were en route and the kids’ feverish anticipation for trick or treating threatened to boil over, I thought I’d better do some research.

And the results, fittingly, were horrifying.

If Halloween falls on a weekday, some towns actually do their Halloween festivities on the Saturday prior, which we’d missed.

What’s more, apparently there’s a nation-wide push to move Halloween from 31 October to the last Saturday in October. #therealissues

Also, there are timing guidelines from town-to-town so that householders aren’t expected to sit by their doors with a bowl of lollies until all hours of the morning – and – those general timing guidelines are designed to be cross-referenced with the weather forecast of the evening for maximum rain avoiding.

Then, Google led me down a path of demographic trick or treating justification, for example: if we simply wandered out of our hotel and started knocking on doors, it’d be a while before we reached anything other than a petrol station, Dominos or a car yard.

But apparently the town two towns over has a population in which 1 in 4 residents is under the age of fourteen, so surely a hotbed of neighbourhood trick or treating activity?!

Or not? I’m so lost.

And then, the straw that just about broke the haunted camel’s back, the Google search yielded a guide to known sex offender’s homes in your area, to keep your kids safe on Halloween.

Nooooope. I’m out. Too hard basket.

And yet… the kids were so excited. And they’d put up with a whole holiday completely devoid of any theme park action. We’d even stopped at a Walmart to pick out costumes – Cinderella and a Minecraft Creeper.

How could I let them down?

And this is the real horror of Halloween – meeting your kids’ lofty expectations. It was hands down the most stressful part of our trip to date.

In the end, it wasn’t a white knight (or headless horseman) that came galloping to the rescue, it was Hoff.

Apparently (in a fit of genius) he searched “trick or treating near me” and up popped a local mall, whose retailers were getting into the spirit by handing out lollies to all and sundry.

So we headed to the (gigantic) mall, marveled at all the brilliant costumes, and happily enjoyed the trick or treating experience whilst safe, dry and secure in the knowledge that we were perfectly welcome until 8pm, or until the lollies ran out.

And fortunately, night two in Sleepy Hollow was dedicated to the Great Jack O’ Lantern Blaze, should trick or treating turn out to be a major fizzer.

Simply put, it was 7,000 carved pumpkins, on the grounds of a nearby historical manor (the Van Cortlandt Manor), arranged into all manner of whimsy, from a fully functioning skeleton horse carousel, to the pumpkin Statue of Liberty.

It was glorious.

As I stood and watched a maniacal jack (o’lantern) in a box, spring from it’s box (made entirely of carved pumpkins), it reminded me of the true spirit of Halloween – the frivolous spooking of ourselves for no other reason than to raise the heart rate and have a bit of a giggle. With a sprinkling of harvest folklore and imagery thrown in for good measure.

And further, everywhere we’ve been in the last couple of days, there’s been people – shop assistants, hotel staff, medical receptionists (long story) – falling over themselves to ply the kids with lollies and engage in a conversation about their Halloween experiences, which the kids have loved and has been truly touching on the whole, I must say.

So Australia, when you’re ready to take a vote – I’m in. Let’s do this. Vote 1 Halloween. I’m ready.

Niagara Falls: Here’s what you need to know

And by that I mean, if you’re going there with a six- and four-year old. Not about the Falls themselves, so much. I’m still not exactly super-knowledgeable on those. I couldn’t hear a thing on our boat tour over the tonnes of roaring water and flapping ponchos.

(Side note: The Flapping Ponchos would be an excellent name for a Mariachi band, should I ever be in a position to name one.)

A room with a view

If you can get a room with a view, do it.

Because when you’re travelling with kids, there are so many things that you have to do with them in your hotel room every day – bathe them, feed them, answer their multitude of questions, ignore their multitude of questions during hotel room happy hour…

If you can do this in a room with a view, you can not only pass these mundane experiences off as something new and exciting – “hey kids, who wants to have a bath – with a view!?”, but you can maybe even do them in lieu of the plethora of alternative (overpriced) kids’ experiences, to which you will be subjected at Niagara Falls. More on that later.

Suck up the surcharges

Dining options in the Falls are plentiful but expensive. That said, don’t think you can cheat the system like I did.

I’d heard tell of a kitschy Flying Saucer themed restaurant a mere 3km walk from our hotel and a vastly better value breakfast than what seemed to be nearby. Given our kids had managed up to 14km walking a day in NYC, I figured the whole exercise would be a walk in the park, so to speak.

It was not a walk in the park. At all. It was a long walk on empty tummies, which took us past many a pawn, gun and adult shop in the process.

And the kids whined so much that we ended up taking a cab back to our hotel anyway, so kind of a false economy in the end.

Niagara Falls are kind of wet

I’ve seen many a pop culture reference to Niagara Falls and in particular to the Maid of the Mist boat trip and its Canadian counterpart – the Hornblower Journey to the Falls.

Note the dry hair

(Jim and Pam’s nuptials in The Office anyone? Sorry, spoiler alert.)

And on each and every fictional occasion, everyone ended up soaked.

Yet despite this, I was shocked at how soggy we all actually got in the end and I wished we were better prepared. I mean, the ponchos are lovely, but I should’ve put the kids in wetsuits.

And as far as capturing this beautiful, exhilarating moment we shared as a family? Water and iPhones famously don’t mix, so it depends how bad you want it. Time over, I would’ve brought a Go Pro, or at least a clear snap lock bag.

Fortunately we weren’t staying far from the boat drop-off point so it was straight to the hotel for warm showers and a fun game of – hey kids, how many things can we use in the hotel room as a clothesline?

Come for the view, and stay for the….view?

Niagara Falls are beautiful. And sailing directly into that foaming mist, barely able to hear myself think over the thunderous water will forever stick in my mind as a true highlight of our trip.

So if you’ve not had the pleasure, I highly recommend it.

Go there. Go on the boat. Or stand on the land and appreciate the view, soak it all in.

Just…don’t turn around.

As beautiful as the Falls are, the town (on the Canadian side where we stayed at least) is not.

I had read that the place has become a bit ‘Disneyfied’ which I think is generous at best and a bit of an insult to Walt and his kin at worst.

Think of every dodgy tourist trap you’ve ever seen and it’s all there, right behind the falls. It’s like a glittering who’s who of everything you never wanted to do. With a side dish of trying to explain to your kids why you’re not going to spend your time near one of the most beautiful places in the US inside a Ripley’s Believe it or Not.

That said, if you’re feeling really creative, you can pass the boat trip off as a water-themed roller coaster complete with matching costumes like we did. Everyone’s a winner.

PASSING THROUGH

We ended up in Rochester, NY, via Nashville, TN.

Kinda.

On our trip last year, Hoff and I visited Nashville. We arrived in town, dropped our bags and jumped in a cab to go to the meeting point for our ‘Nash Trash’ tour.

“Wow, that tour’s supposed to be fantastic,” our cab driver said. “You need to book tickets months in advance.”

I looked at him blankly. “Is there any other way to plan holiday activities?”

On the tour, only one other couple and us appeared to be under the age of fifty. As such, the four of us were quite the targets for our hosts, Sheri Lynn and Brenda Kay.

Particularly the boys, the horny old cougars.

The other couple was Bryan and Julie, from Rochester, NY, and we chatted during a tour stop. They were (and still are) driving their RV around the US and Canada (www.cruisinwiththecareys.com) and they were kind enough to give us their contact details.

So when we decided to drive from NYC to Niagara Falls this year with the kids, I reached out to see if they had any advice, and they enthusiastically recommended their hometown for a visit.

Rochester is not a place I knew much about – only that the founder of the Latter Day Saints, Joseph Smith, – and indeed the church itself – were born there.

(I’m not a religious scholar, by the way, I’m a musical theatre fan. If you’ve seen The Book of Mormon then you know what I mean. And if you haven’t, I’ll ask you again, what are you doing with your life?)

So, as we needed a stop to keep our driving time to kid-friendly maximums, we thought we’d give it a go.

And we’re so glad we did.

What a picturesque, friendly, unassuming place.

I mean…

We had a beautiful dinner that involved actual real-life vegetables.

We walked tree-lined streets with leaves of shades of orange and red that I didn’t even know existed outside a 72 set of Derwents.

We saw beautifully preserved historical buildings.

We went to the The Strong Museum of Play and visited the Toy Hall of Fame.

We had breakfast at a dedicated cereal and comic book shop, and had an exchange with Malcolm, who worked there, that went like this:

Me: Can I try the Reeses Puffs please?

Malcolm: What do you mean ‘try’? You’ve never had them before?

Me: No, we don’t have most of these cereals back home. Also, I’m 36.

Malcolm: (Incredulous) I mean…  I know you guys were a prison colony once, but I thought those days had passed?

You know those Instragram posts with exposed bricks and aesthetically pleasing coffee cup stains which spout earnest #inspo like, “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey”?

I hate those.

But I hate them even more when they’re right.

Rochester was never meant to be a destination, more so a necessary stopover on our journey to Niagara Falls.

But it was such a beautiful antidote to the mild stress of fighting the tourist masses to catch that elusive glimpse of something a little higher profile, that we left feeling relaxed, rejuvenated and also pretty darn chuffed that we’d given it a go.

KEEPING IT SIMPLE

There’s nothing quite like traveling to force a bit of introspection.

I’m not sure why. I can only guess that by removing the monotonous domestic duties of day-to-day life, one’s mind is left to reflect with the leftover brainpower.

On this trip, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about the kids and our approach to our parenting.

This parenting focus could also be because we spent yesterday in and around Dutch Pennsylvania or Amish Country, where differences in parenting approaches are certainly pretty stark.

I mean, for a minute it seemed a bit like child labour was the theme of the day.

At the Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery we learned that the family patriarch literally designed child-sized machinery so that his brood of children could join him working in his bakery as soon as their gross motor skills would allow.

Then we learned that Amish children only undertake formal schooling until eighth grade, and that there’s a distinct emphasis on discouraging anything that is considered ‘too worldly’.

Meanwhile we’re busting our guts to try to literally expose our four- and six-year-old to…the world.

More than that, we’re paving the way for them. While we’re doing this world-exposing, we’re making sure at all times that they’re comfortable – well fed, well rested, entertained and climate-controlled.

See, yesterday was not simply a day spent in and around Lancaster County. It was a meticulously planned and researched itinerary whereby I put a lot of thought into balancing activities in which I knew Hoff and I would be genuinely interested, but also those that I knew we could sell to the kids as well.

So we started at the Pretzel Bakery as noted. The thinking here was – Hoff and I like pretzels and food history, the kids like playdough. Pretzels have a rich history. Shaping pretzels is kind of like playing with playdough. And there you have it – balance.

Then we headed for an Amish buggy ride and visit to an Amish farm for some homemade cookies and lemonade. Hoff and I like beautiful rural scenery, the kids like animals and sugar-laden baked goods. Balance.

Then we threw caution to the wind and opted for proper a tour of an Amish home and farm. We figured the kids might be a bit ratty and disinterested, but it was only a thirty-minute tour so we screwed our courage to the sticking place and signed up. Hoping against hope that the kids would at least remain quiet-ish and not spill drink on any hand-sewn quilts, or knock over any gas lanterns and burn the place down in the process.

Which they didn’t. They were fine. A little wiggly, but fine. The tour guide took to pointing out to the Boy Child which pieces of furniture he could sit on and which were priceless historical artifacts and best avoided, so everyone was – by and large – pretty happy.

And by way of compromise, we ended our day with a ride on the Strasburg Railroad, the oldest continuing operating railroad in the US, because hey – kids love trains…don’t they?

Not necessarily, as it turns out. Or maybe they had train-fatigue after the 130-odd Subway trips we took in NYC.

Because it was at this unlikely point that the kids became particularly unruly. They didn’t really seem to care the President Abraham Lincoln had ridden this very railroad, and somehow seemed more content by putting their dirty feet on the meticulously maintained 100+ year old upholstered seating, despite the PA announcement imploring passengers to definitely not do that.

So, in an attempt to distract from the seat-wrecking and general close-proximity sibling-warfare, I improvised and proceeded to conduct a quiz, using the content of the Amish house and farm tour, to distract the kids.

This was partially to reinforce my own understanding of the material and partially out of morbid curiosity as to how much information they had actually absorbed – which I suspected was mainly only the fact that they don’t have electricity therefore NO NINTENDO. The end.

But not for the first time that day, I was wrong.

Do the Amish people go to church in a church?

No, they take turns to have everyone in their house.

Are the Amish people allowed to have power points in their homes?

No.

How about batteries?

Yes.

How do they power their lamps then?

Gas.

And on it went. Hoff and I looked at each other, dumbstruck. We could’ve sworn they weren’t listening, only surviving. As it turns out, they’d taken quite a lot in, you just couldn’t tell from their faces. I suspect there’ll be a lot of frustrated/pleasantly surprised educators in their futures.

The whole thing was really hammered home later that night, when we got back to the hotel and Hoff proceeded to ready the kids for a trip to the hotel pool, as promised.

The Boy Child was concerned that he should put some clothes on to go in the lifts to the pool, presumably because he hadn’t clocked any other half-dressed hotel guests on his travels thus far. I told him to put a t-shirt on with his board shorts if he was concerned.

“What about my bare feet though?” he queried.

But before I could answer, he appeared to appease himself.

“Maybe they’ll just think we’re Amish.”

Say what now?

“You know, because they don’t wear shoes in summer…? Because they’re feet are tough from all their hard work…? So they don’t need to….? Don’t you remember what the lady told us mum?”

It’s possible I need to stop over-thinking.

THE 10 WORST THINGS ABOUT TRAVELLING WITH KIDS

If you missed my last post, it was (very originally) titled, “The 10 Best Things about Travelling with Kids”.

Pfft. Move along suck-arse me from yesterday. It’s time to get real. Welcome to the B-side.

1. You need superhuman hearing.

New York City is notoriously loud. There’s traffic, sirens, Subway announcements and not infrequent confrontational outbursts (often with only one visible side to the confrontation, if you catch my drift).

And with two kids aged 6 and 4, Hoff and I are already at a disadvantage given that their mouths are a good two feet below our ears.

Yet despite this ear to mouth deficit, the two of them still insist on choosing the noisiest moments to begin an earnest and apparently critical conversation, exploding with indignant rage and frustration should we struggle to hear. Even if the reason we can’t hear one of them is because it’s the other one responsible for the relentless cacophony.

What’s that? There a full scale emergency and fire, ambulance and police vehicles are roaring by, sirens blaring? Sure, choose now to regale me with a list of your top fifteen favourite Pokemon and justification for each.

Yep. Here we are. Standing on a Subway platform with trains roaring past simultaneously on either side, a garbled announcement banging on about goodness knows what and competing plastic bucket drummers at either end of the platform. But sure. Choose now to ask me who or what God is. And face away from me too when you ask. That’d be great.

2. They argue over the dumbest stuff.

If I never have another conversation about who is going to press the lift buttons it’ll be too soon.

Or who is going to hold whose hand.

Or who gets to put the key in the hotel room door.

Or who gets to sit next to whom.

Or who gets to hold the menu despite neither of them have the literacy skills to make head nor tails of it.

I managed diplomacy for about 2 days. Now I think I’m just going to let them fight to the death.

3. Their inability to take a normal photo.

Despite the fact that they both learned what a circle is at least two years ago, they still can’t quite seem to grasp the concept of both smiling and looking at the little black circle on the back of mummy’s phone.

I mean, it really is the world’s least complicated multitasking request – look at the camera, smile.

The Boy Child likes to dab, floss and generally look over his left shoulder in any and all photos.

The Girl Child likes not only to dial up the cuteness by doing her best Shirley Temple impression, but she likes to insist everyone else in the photo does it too. Which usually results not in the a photo of all of us looking like Shirley Temple, but in a photo of all of us arguing as to why we have no interest in doing that.

4. Tiny little hurricanes.

Not the cocktail – my children. (Though a cocktail might help me cope, to be fair).

These two can transform any given space – a hotel room, a restaurant table, the back of a hire car, a hotel lobby – into a filthy pig sty before you can even say, “so guys what would you like to eat?”

Straw wrappers/napkins/un-laminated menus? Ripped to a million pieces.

Hotel room doorways? That’s where you’ll find a shoe, hairbrush and half an outfit that was discarded the minute they walked through the door.

Airport transfer? Of course you thought it was a good idea to play Uno and scatter the cards all across the backseat including being wedged behind your car seats. How silly of me to assume you’d just…leave the car in the same state that you found it.

5. Tensa barriers.

Most commonly found in airport immigration, attraction queues and any and all stressful security-type situations.

Something about them makes the Boy Child think he’s a ping pong ball and he proceeds to bash them from side to side up and down the queue.

The Girl Child is still small enough to fit under them so she can make a quick getaway knowing that I can’t dash after her without zig-zagging around their formation.

And both of them can’t seem but help fiddling with the joins in them until they inevitably fly off the bollard, flicking up and almost blinding them in the process.

I wish I would’ve thought to condition them both to think that Tensa Barriers are like electric fences from when they were still young enough to believe me. I tried this trip but they weren’t buying it.

Worse than that, now when they run up and down the queue bashing into them, they make zapping sound effects to go with it. #winning

6. Random shoe removal.

The Girl Child takes her shoes off everywhere.

It’s like this deranged game whereby if you dare to remain in the same place for more than four minutes, she’s decided that this is home now and she’s making herself comfortable.

Restaurants, hotel lobbies, boats to the Statue of Liberty, Central Park, you name it. She’s made herself comfortable there.

Better yet, she hasn’t quite developed the motor skills (or motivation) to always put them back them back on again, which involves one of us putting down all of the many things we have in our hands, locating one if not both of said shoes, and my least favourite part – bending over.

7. Are we there yet?

A time-honoured travelling with kids cliché, sure, but super idiotic as well, no?

Surely if the vehicle is still moving then, no, we are not, in fact, there yet.

I’ve taken to just telling them that yes, we are there. Well done.

Why don’t you try exiting this express subway carriage and see what happens?

8. Their tiny bladders.

We started the road trip portion of our journey today. We’re driving from NYC to Niagara Falls and back again, via Lancaster, PA, Scranton, PA, Rochester NY, Niagara Falls, ON, Ithaca, NY, Sleepy Hollow, NY and Red Bank, NJ.

That’s a 9 day trip, 20-odd hours of driving, 5 overnight stops and a whole lot of “why don’t you just look out the window?” to get through.

Today we literally got ten minutes into the first hour of our first day of driving, when the Boy Child announced he had to pee.

Talk about road rage.

9. License Plate Game Uselessness

Now that we’re on the road – the game is back. Hoff and I have done this on our two US road trips so far and never got higher than 46.

But neither of the kids can read fast enough to help us track down all 50 states license plates.

Worse than that, they often demand things like food and water and attention, which costs us critical plate-scanning time.

To be fair, though, the Boy Child did ask what pictures are on some of the plates we need. I told him one has a rainbow, which is the license plate from Hawaii. Should keep him busy for a while.

10. The exhaustion.

The talk. All. day. long.

And this constant need to converse leaves you feeling literally exhausted.

Well, that along with the constant need to risk assess each and every environment we encounter and the multitude of ways in which they might put themselves in harms way therein.

Which is fine, but the exhaustion does tend to stunt the creative juices somewhat.

Like when you’re trying to think of a last item in a list for a blog that you’re writing while you sit in the hotel laundry waiting for the washing and drying to finish… Makes it kind of tricky to think of anything good actually…

(‘Night.)

THE 10 BEST THINGS ABOUT TRAVELLING WITH KIDS

This time last year, Hoff and I were lucky enough to take a trip to the US….child-free.

We had the best time. And critically, we did all the things we knew we couldn’t get away with if our kids were in tow. We ate well, we drank a lot, we listened to music, went to museums, finished conversations. You name it, we did it.

So here we are again and it’s hard not to compare our child-free adventure last year with our child-full adventure this year.

With that in mind, here are the very best things about travelling with kids.

1. There is no grey.

Have you ever travelled with a group of friends and had that thing were you’re all falling over each other to make sure you’re not too bossy or controlling?

As in, “I don’t mind, what do you want to do?”, “no really, I don’t mind, what do you want to do?”, “no I insist, it’s up to you…”

This does not happen when you travel with your children. All decision-making is expedited because if they don’t want it, they are not having it.

And if you don’t heed their warning and go back to the hotel for a rest instead of getting milkshakes, for example, they will make you pay by falling asleep in the middle of a restaurant in Chelsea Market.

2. They have no shame.

We went to the Museum of Natural History and like any good parent I had dutifully showed the kids Night at the Museum in preparation for their visit. The idea was to instill a sense of excitement in the little tackers, so they could experience the thrill of seeing it in real life, which kind of happened.

But also, their biggest takeaway of the film seemed to be that the Easter Island statue referred to itself as ‘Dum Dum’, when it became bewitched after dark (sorry, spoiler alert) and consequently when we made our way to the Hall of Pacific Peoples, the relative museum serenity was interrupted by my two chanting “Dum Dum, Dum Dum, Dum Dum” at the top of their lungs on approach. Even when I tried to tell them that it’s actually called a Moai and has fascinating origins and tried to convert the whole thing into a Holiday Learning Opportunity™, they weren’t having it and carried on with their chanting.

And this is the story of this holiday. Although at times it’s embarrassing, it’s also pretty bloody funny too.

Like when we saw a life-size model of the Statue of Liberty’s face, and the Boy Child stood with his head half in her nostril as though he was…well…you know…a booger…I had to have a little chuckle. I’m only human. Classic.

3. They say hilarious things.

Trips to tiny plane toilets are a bit of a nightmare usually, particularly when both your children are terrified of the flush and insist you come in with them. Worst kind of mile high club ever.

But on one such trip, the Girl Child was chatting away as she was dutifully going about her business, when she said, “I like our toilet at home better, mum. It’s much less wiggly.”

She was referring to the mild turbulence being experienced at the time. (The actual turbulence. Not a euphemism for things that happen in the toilet.)

Again – classic.

4. Quiet nights spent in the hotel room

On our child-free trip last year, I have to admit, there was an element of ‘mums and dads on the loose’ for Hoff and me. We went out most nights, got home too late most nights, and just generally made very little use of the hard-earned money spent on hotel rooms.

Fast-forward to this year and a quiet night after the kids’ 7pm bedtime is mostly the order of the day.

I’ve really been enjoying having more time to write and share our adventures, and Hoff’s really enjoyed having more time to fall asleep in front of the telly and claim to just be resting his eyes.

5. Reduced going out/booze budget.

See above.

6. Blurring fantasy and reality.

To be perfectly honest, when we travel, a big chunk of our itinerary activities are driven by reliving our favourite pop cultural exploits in the location they took place or were set. I’d love to say that we’re driven by educating ourselves, or experiencing culture, or pleasing aesthetics, but full disclosure, we’re quite basic that way.

Case in point, the second stop on next week’s road trip itinerary is Scranton, Pennsylvania. Because of The Office. And if you need any further information than that then I implore you to stop reading right now and go and watch all nine seasons and also what have you been doing with your life?

The best thing about doing this sort of thing with the kids, though, is that their tiny minds haven’t quite grasped the concepts of fact and fiction as yet, so when you take them to see the Ghostbusters Firehouse, for example, their delight is palpable, (as is their terror as they strain their necks checking for an appearance of Slimer).

7. The value of incidental wildlife sightings

Obviously, kids lose their minds over animals.

We’ve seen turtles in the lake Central Park, squirrels at the playground in Washington Square Park, and we’ve even had a few close brushes with that quintessential native inhabitant of the Upper West Side – the toy poodle.

All incidental, all free, and most importantly – all smiles from the rugrats every. darn. time.

8. Guilty pleasures.

Kids provide a great excuse/incessant nagging to indulge in what would normally be holiday guilty pleasures.

Need an afternoon nap? We’d better do that, you know. For the kids.

Want to buy that Statue of Liberty bobblehead? What a great idea.

Can we have donuts for breakfast? Yes. Yes we can.

What’s that kids? You’ve got a craving for hotel room Pringles? Sure, we can get some.

(Mum, we didn’t ask for those chips.)

(No, it’s fine kids. We’re on holidays, you can have them.)

(We’d really prefer a banana at this point mum, can we just get that?)

(There you go kids, Pringles for everyone.)

(….Mum, are these really for you?)

(You’re so welcome, kiddos.)

9. They’re easy pleased.

In case you haven’t got the sense already, Hoff and I tend to take somewhat of a holiday from parenting when we travel too. Nothing too drastic, just a general relaxing of what are usually some pretty hard and fast rules.

So the kids have been enjoying a little more sugar, a little more screentime, and a little less sleep than usual.

Which means that the phrases:

“Hey kids, who wants to go and have Froot Loops for breakfast then go to the Lego store and buy personalised mosaics in the design of your face then have a slice of pizza that’s bigger than your head today?”

and

“Hey kids, who wants to strip down to our undies and watch telly for more than an hour in the hotel room?”

are met with the same level of enthusiasm. Despite the epic chasms in planning, cost and general effort that goes into each.

10. They’re here.

I missed them when we went away last year. As much as we tried to plan a trip that they would’ve hated, there were things that crept in that we knew they would’ve loved. And every time we saw something, the pangs of separation felt a tiny little bit more acute.

Which is, hands down, the best things about our trip this year. We’re all here together.