HALLO-WEIGHIN’ IN

When I was almost two years old, we spent a Halloween in Canada with friends. We went trick or treating and apparently at one of the very first houses, a man opened the door with a gorilla mask on and I spent the remainder of the exercise in a fit of inconsolable, terrified tears.

I’ve had a fraught relationship with Halloween ever since.

This year, my son is five and in his newfound independence, he planned a trick or treating expedition with his kindy mates. He was most put out to find that such expeditions require parental sanctions and promises of supervision and unfortunately, he had neither.

Predictably, a blazing row ensued.

As I generally do when detailing complicated situations to my children, I resorted to explaining the whole Australian Halloween predicament in my own, rambling manner, with rampant disregard for the use of terms and concepts that they may or may not understand.

“Because, mate, Halloween is technically a North-American celebration and it’s not something we’ve traditionally celebrated in Australia. Although it does seem to be catching on and nobody is really sure whether this is a result of cynical retailers cashing in on every opportunity to make a buck or a slow recognition that the whole thing is a bit of fun and doesn’t really do any harm. Except to your teeth, bank balance and insulin levels. Regardless, as a society we are all sitting on the proverbial fake cobweb-covered fence and there hasn’t really been a ruling on whether we’re doing this thing or not and in the meantime, the simple truth is, I don’t feel comfortable marching you through the neighbourhood, dressed like a crazy person, demanding candy from people who may or may not be happy to give it to you. And anyway we call them lollies. Okay?”

On the one hand, I understand it’s fun and kids seem to get a real kick out of the dressing up as well as the lollies. Plus I am very pro-sequins and tulle.

On the other hand, I do recognise that we need to be mindful of the infiltration of American culture into our own, which is already so widespread and perhaps a direct contributor to our habit of cultural cringe.

And do we really need another junk-food-based celebration? I’ve often wondered whether our US friends’ quick succession of Halloween/Thanksgiving/Christmas provides some clue as to the incidence of obesity in the US.

(If we did do Thanksgiving here, I’d be thankful for the fact that we only have one holiday-related junk food blow-out in the second half of the year, because even that takes me until March to undo the damage.)

Regardless, my main issue with the whole thing is that I’m well aware there are some people firmly in the anti-Halloween camp and I have no interest in interrupting their peaceful twilight on October 31 by knocking on their door demanding treats for my unruly, sugar-hyped kids. In my experience people are generally a little anti-door-knockers on the whole, let alone ones who revel in costumed anonymity and demand stuff from your pantry.

And we all know that these anti-Halloweeners absolutely exist (hah, weeners), because they write predictable columns in the paper each year – one of the more mundane fixtures of the seasonal news cycle, in my humble opinion.

Nevertheless, come 31 October, my pathological people-pleasing tendencies tend to win out, and I err on the side of caution by leaving the whole trick or treating business alone. Much to the chagrin of my children.

I’m not proud of my fence-sitting, safety-first approach. I opened up Instagram last night and was instantly plunged into a slack-parenting-shame-spiral. Post after post of enthusiastic parents not only taking their costumed offspring trick or treating, but getting into the swing of dressing up themselves! I had this overwhelming desire to ask earnest questions like, did everyone in your neighbourhood get together and decide this was okay? Do you have a secret sign so you know which houses to hit for the free gear? Are Halloween costumes and decorations a line-item in your annual household budget? What the hell people? Did I miss the referendum when we decided we are doing this now? I remember the one about becoming a republic…

In any case, unless I get some concrete answers or actual legislation on the topic, I am doomed to err on the side of caution for the rest of my days. It’s not all bad though. Our son has inherited his mother’s ability to negotiate so he suggested that next we go to America to celebrate Halloween. I’m actually more comfortable with that approach, although it’s probably a false economy in the grand scheme of things. Also, is anyone reading this in the US and can we please come and do trick or treating in your neighbourhood next year? I don’t feel comfortable banging on hotel room doors, demanding candy from fellow holidaymakers…

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I LEFT MY HEART IN NASHVILLE (AND MY KIDS IN QUEENSLAND)

As you may have gathered from my last post, we really enjoyed Nashville. But we had a bourbon tour a-waiting for us in Louisville, Kentucky, so at 7am on Saturday morning, we jumped in the car and headed towards Louisville to meet our tour with a half hour to spare.

Or so we thought.

When we plugged the address into our trusty iPhone maps we were horrified to find it put our arrival time at half an hour after we needed to be there. There was a one-hour time difference between Nashville and Louisville. This was disastrous. Louisville was our last stop and the sole purpose of our one-day stay there was to hit the Bourbon Trail.

Now, before you go judging our travel naivety, please let me just show you a map of the drive from Nashville to Louisville and then you decide whether you would have thought to check for time differences. Go on. Be honest.

Nashville to Louisville copy

Anyway, we spent the two and a half hour trip on the phone with the tour company trying to work out how we might be able to meet up with the group, without leaving our car stranded at some boutique, craft distillery in the middle of Nowhereville, Kentucky.

In the end, it was determined that we could make it to the first stop in time to meet up with the group, so Hoff made the chivalrous gesture of dropping me there, and forgoing the rest of the tour so he could take the car back to Louisville and pick me up later. Whattaguy.

The ensuing bourbon experience was lovely, albeit a little lonely. And needless to say, the whole race to get there, and Hoff missing out, put a bit of a dampener on our day, especially after we had such a brilliant time in Nashville.

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Maker’s Mark Distillery Grounds

Which unfortunately also put me in a bit of a broody mood on the whole, but particularly vis a vis, our children. Or more specifically, our separation from them.

The monkeys are only 3 and 5 so a two-week parting was always going to be a bit of a gamble. On both sides. Aside from the obvious, my fear was missing them too much and essentially ruining a good holiday with bad, moping moods.

And for their part, we left them with Hoff’s parents who live about 300m from the ocean, and they have a pool, and they have a thing called ‘second breakfast’. So there was a good chance they wouldn’t notice we were gone at all. But, you never know.

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Mudjimba Beach

Add into the mix that by Louisville we were well and truly on the home stretch of our trip and, well, it was a tricky day, emotionally-speaking.

I don’t think it was any coincidence that the one full day I spent apart from Hoff was also the one day I struggled most being away from the kidlets. As it turned out, all of us – both the kids and I – were pretty much fine throughout our holiday apart from each other.

We chatted to them on FaceTime every day, which as anyone with preschoolers will know, is tricky. Despite the fact that increased screen time seems to be the ultimate goal of my five year old most days, FaceTime with his wayward parents didn’t quite seem to fit the bill.

Also embarrassingly, every time we had to FaceTime them in public, within earshot of Americans, they had this odd habit of coming out with the weirdest things, such as “Hey Mum, guess what, Grandma hasn’t checked the mail for three days because there’s a frog living in the letterbox!” Doing nothing for the Australian stereotype on the whole.

frog

On this day though, I realised for me that any anxiety I had around being apart from the kids was probably being offset by the absolute pleasure I took from being in Hoff’s company for an extended amount of time; in reconnecting a little bit. It was the best. We had great conversations – finished them even, we shared new experiences and dissected them later, we had moments of doing our own thing and we had long periods of sitting together in silence, scrolling on our phones or reading, and taking absolute joy in the fact that would to do that, together. There was no work, no phone calls, no housework, no My Little Pony, no Hot Wheels, no cooking – at this point I’m legitimately unsure as to where my cutlery draw is located.

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The point is, I’ve been giving a lot of thought as to whether I’d do it again – leave the kids for this long. And I think the answer is, yes, absolutely I would. But not for a long time. It has been a dream, a refresher and a bit of a CTRL – ALT – DELTE on our lives, which had become a little stressful of late. But because it has been so wonderful, at this point, I don’t feel the need to do it again any time soon. It really has felt like such a privilege and I really believe this will carry me through for a good long time.

That said, I can absolutely also see myself being back around my children for about 23 minutes before I surreptitiously begin Googling airfares and hotel deals.

The three-year-old fancies herself as a bit of a comedian, highlights of which include “Why did the cat and the dog climb the tree? Because they got hit by a car.”

And when we ask the five-year-old about his day, he generally recounts the plot of the latest animated garbage he watched on telly. Despite the fact that the other 12 waking hours of his day were probably filled with activities specifically design to plant magical childhood memories in his brain.

Following the tour, I felt instantly better once being reunited with Hoff. I resolved to enjoy my last night in Louisville, and the last night of our holiday. It was filled with more bourbon and fried chicken (Kentucky-style), and of course lots of lovely, lovely reflecting on how very lucky we’ve been.

2011 ME WAS THE WORST

It’s 5.49am and our then four-year-old has crept out of bed, paused in our doorway to pass wind, and is making his way into our bed to commence the daily process of demanding we start our collective day. His little sister won’t be far behind him.

Hoff rolls over and instead of my usual sleepy cuddle, I get this:

“Remember all those times before we had kids and I wanted to sleep in and you were all like, no, get up, we should do something?”

Me: Loaded, suspicious pause.

Hoff: “NOW WE HAVE TO DO THINGS ALL THE TIME AND WE NEVER GET TO DO NOTHING AND WE SHOULD’VE BEEN DOING NOTHING THAT WHOLE TIME AND WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?”

He’s right. We should’ve been doing nothing. What a joyous privilege I was naively taking for granted.

I was reminded of this sentiment recently while re-reading a post of our last trip around the US, which was eighteen months before our son Zach was born.

Reading back over our antics I was struck by how good we had it. Don’t get me wrong, [INSERT OBLIGATORY BUT UNNECESSARY CAVEAT LIKE “I LOVE MY KIDS” OR SIMILAR HERE], but those kids are intense. Most days I feel like they’ve nominated me as the activities director for the world’s most deranged cruise line, the job description of which involves a constant program of suitable entertainment daily from 6am to 7pm, 365 days per year with no public holidays, annual leave or lunch breaks.

So in honour of my infuriating pre-parenthood innocence, I’ve decided to re-write parts of a previous post, which was entitled: “A perpetual state of wonder”. I’ve taken the liberty of highlighting the 2018 additions. Enjoy.

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A PERTUAL STATE OF WONDER 2.0

I am mildly concerned that I am suffering ‘scenery fatigue’.

As opposed to the bone-permeating actual fatigue that I have been unable to escape since the day five and a half years ago when a doctor sliced my guts open and pulled a giant baby out.

In the last week or so we have seen so much natural beauty that I am concerned that my threshold for what constitutes natural beauty has been raised and I risk being very hard to please in the future. And I haven’t seen Uluru yet.

(Still haven’t seen Uluru. Because even though holidays are meant to be restful and soul-renewing, travelling with two preschoolers is actually harder than living with two preschoolers, so all non-essential travel is limited to visiting interstate family and destinations where we can engage their ‘spirited’ minds with trademarked children’s television characters. Oh and chips. There has to be chips.)

The point is, the most recent part of our journey has had me in a perpetual state of wonder, which I was allowed to feel because I travelled with another adult-type human being who is occasionally quiet. Not two children who essentially spend their days concurrently talking at me, the content usually consisting of: a) telling jokes that are not funny or involve macabre animal deaths, b) recounting the plot line of the previous afternoon’s television viewing, or c) asking life’s real questions, like “Mum, why is it Thursday?” (not rhetorical).

Tuesday saw us catch the Grand Canyon Railway to the Southern Rim, and I willingly chose to undertake this activity because unlike my current travelling party size/situation, being in an enclosed space with other unsuspecting travellers DOESN’T fill me with the sense of dread that I usually reserve for a pap smear. Evidently I could actually be around other people for extended periods without ultimately screaming like a banshee at my children to SIT DOWN, STOP POKING THAT LADY AND WHERE IN GOD’S NAME DID YOU GET THE IDEA THAT IT’S OKAY TO SCREAM AND SHOUT IN PUBLIC?

So we arrived at the Grand Canyon and we immediately decided that it is absolutely a canyon worthy of the adjective ‘grand’. And we felt quite chuffed that we got to see it under clear skies with a smattering of snow about the place.

We should’ve also been quite chuffed that we were able to stand there and appreciate it in relative peace without doing the mental arithmetic of how fast can my kid run and if I triangulate the distance between them, me and the edge of the canyon, am I close/fast enough to intercept them should they inexplicably make a bolt for the rim? I probably also didn’t end up anxiety induced IBS at the end of this day either. Huh. 

So now we find ourselves in Phoenix. We are feeling warm and very excited to be here, surrounded by cacti. Hoff is watching Virginia Tech v Georgia Tech on the telly and I was probably sitting on the hotel bed, completely oblivious to the unbridled joy of being in a hotel room without having to build an ipad-watching fort under some blankets in darkness, lest I interrupt the requisite nap schedule that waits for no man, not even in over-crowded hotel rooms in the middle of the day. Bless my ignorant heart.

*****

Honestly. 2018 me is going to appreciate the crap out of this trip.