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 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.

BUCKET LIST CRASHING

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.

Karma.

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.  

TRY HARD

Wasn’t that just the insult of the mid-1990s?

Look at her in her ripped jeans and her Doc Martens. I bet she doesn’t even listen to Nirvana. What a try hard.

(They were right. I didn’t listen to Nirvana. But I still wear Doc Martens to this day. Because screw you 90s grunge kids; warm, comfortable footwear is for everyone.)

But who knew that as a mum, being a Try Hard would actually be a badge of honour?

What, me? A try hard? Your damn right I am. Or I do.

(Like right now I’m trying hard to understand the grammar.)

I write this from a silent Upper West Side hotel room as I wait for my kids to wake up after our arrival here last night.

New York City might be the city that never sleeps, but my kids sure do. Especially after we subjected them to a 28-hour door-to-door, long haul, cross hemisphere, international travel experience.

(Which is how I sold it to them in the first place, incidentally. The trick is in the marketing.)

And boy did I try hard in my preparations for this flight.

I did a trial suitcase pack three weeks prior to the flight to ensure I could cover all manner of social/meteorological situations in which we might find ourselves.

I bought those packing cells which I was worried might be a bit of a scam to convince highly strung family travel coordinators to part with their cash, but actually they’ve turned out to be my favourite things in life after my wedding ring and children.

I pre-selected our seating positions and meal choices.

I packed snacks, medications, fresh clothes and sleeping aids (comforters and eye-masks obviously, not medicinal – settle down Internet.)

Critically, I worked long and hard on packing things to entertain the kids during the flight.

In the days before we left, I was chatting to the Girl Child’s kindy teacher about our trip. She regaled me with stories of the effort she went to for carry on entertainment during a trip she took when her kids were similar ages to ours.

I inwardly beamed with pride when she starting listing an almost carbon copy of the contents of my kids’ backpacks – colouring books, educational worksheets, the makings of a comprehensive travel journal, meticulously crafted but critically lightweight travel games.

I mean, this woman is an actual qualified early childhood educator so maybe I’m was doing something right?

Then she dissolved into laughter and further recalled how once her kids were on the plane and had their seatback screen/personal entertainment devices in hand, they were totally happy and content to get on with the process of flying long-haul, and the only thing her hours of hard work really achieved was to create extra weight in their bags, which ended up being left – largely untouched – at their holiday destination as a result.

And now, having come through the other side of child-friendly, long-haul travel ourselves, I can concur that yep, I probably didn’t need to try so hard with all that stuff either.

The only thing I really should have done was learn how to play Minecraft, which we diligently installed on the Boy Child’s iPad before we left.

(Seriously though, send help. Like are you meant to eat the sheep or domesticate them? I’m so confused.)

That said, the lengths that I went to in preparing for our flight was nothing compared to the planning that has gone into our itinerary from here on in. There may or may not have been multiple spreadsheet tabs and graphic-based brainstorming maps. There were definitely multiple travel guides involved. Both online and hard copy.

My point is, I’ll never stop trying hard in my dogged pursuit of the creation of magical childhood travel memories for my children through our travel. It is my favourite incarnation of myself as a try hard so far.

(Take that, Stussy hat and overall wearing 1992 me).