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).

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…

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.

TAKING BACK ‘TOURISTY’

One of my favourite Saturday Night Live sketches is a Weekend Update with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler where they re-appropriate the word ‘bitch’ as a person who gets stuff done.

Tina: Maybe what bothers me the most is that people say that Hillary (Clinton) is a bitch. And let me say something about that. Yeah. She is. And so am I. And so is this one.

Amy: [Nods in agreement] Yeah. Deal with it.

Tina: You know what? Bitches get stuff done.

Since then, Hoff and I have found ourselves doing the same. He might come home from work and find everything looking unusually organised and say “Wow! You’ve been a real bitch today!” Or I’ll say, “Honey – I can see the bottom of the dirty clothes basket!” and he’ll say, “What can I say? I’m a bitch.”

Anyway, prior to arriving in Nashville, we’d heard rumours that the downtown can be a bit ‘touristy’. Some lovely people even gave us some recommendations with a more local flair.

But as we were staying in downtown, and feeling a bit lazy, on our first night we decided to go and check it out anyway.

And. It . Was. Awesome.

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So many people, so much music, so much fun and frivolity. So many groups of people celebrating special occasions wearing matching self-made t-shirts in honour of said special occasion.

We had the best time. We ate BBQ, we drank, we danced and we sang. We wandered down the street, listened to the live music floating out of bar windows and followed our ears to the ones we thought sounded best. And if we got sick of that one, we one upstairs – IN THE SAME PLACE – and listened to a different one. And then we did it all over again on our second night there.

I don’t know if that Tennessee Whisky had me feeling all warm and fuzzy (it is very smooth apparently), but I didn’t get a sense of any dirt-baggery either. Everybody just really seemed to be there to have a good time and enjoy the music. I wonder if that came down to the large cross-section of ages that seemed to be out having a good time. It could also be because Hoff and I never stayed out past 10.30pm because we ourselves are no spring chickens so perhaps this is not a peak dirt-baggery period.

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Whatever the case, I decided that I liked the touristy downtown of Nashville. Probably because I am a tourist. And also – why should ‘touristy’ = bad anyway? If lots of people flock to a place, it must have some intrinsic appeal? Frankly, I’m tired of trying to find the ‘hidden gems’ and sites ‘off the beaten track’ and ‘away from the crowds’. It’s too much hard work. I’m on holidays.

So I’m taking back ‘touristy’. Would I recommend a night out in downtown Nashville? Hell yeah, I would. It’s super touristy.

FOOD DYE IN MY CITY-GIRL HAIR

You guys. You know how some people (monsters) don’t like puppies? Well… here goes… I’m not the hugest fan of country music. There, I said it.
I don’t know why. It could be my general preference to poetic and abstract lyrics over flat out narrative story-telling through song.
Or it could be because my high school boyfriend was a farmer and country music reminds me of when we used to go to B&S Balls together. The locals thought it would be funny to squirt food dye in my (peroxided) hair with water pistols because I was a city girl. Which ironically could be the name of my country music hit.
Regardless, I was still keen to see Nashville. It came highly recommended.
Given our slight change of itinerary in Memphis (see Joe Biden: Itinerary Wrecker to catch up), we hustled into Nashville and bolted to the pick up point of our first stop: a Nash Trash tour with ‘The Jugg Sisters’, Sheri Lynn and Brenda Kay.
I’d booked the tour because 1500 people on Trip Advisor said it was excellent and also I was keen to start our stay in Nashville by getting to know the city in a re-purposed school bus that’d been painted hot pink.
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And it did give us a pretty good insight to Nashville for the most part. Especially if we had a particular interest in any and all locations that might have a vague association with Burt Reynolds. The sisters were big fans.
The ladies were also particularly excited when they found out we were from Australia. They told us that they’d had Karl Stefanovic on their tour once, in his Today hosting capacity, and then they proceeded to list all the Australian landmarks at which they’d like to bang him.
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Then we went from the hot pink bus to the Man in Black – the Johnny Cash Museum. It should’ve been quite the departure but towards the end of the tour I learned that the man himself had lent his likeness to a bunch of ATMs – Johnny Cash Machines – so it’s not like he had no sense of humour.
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It was a fabulous museum following his humble beginnings to his eventual death and included all the stops along the way. I was impressed to find this included his turn as the voice of the hallucinatory dog in chilli episode of The Simpsons.
johnny cash simpsons
I loved Nashville. It looks like a big city, but the way they tell their stories very much feels like a small country town (plus no one put food dye in my hair).
All the major sights are linked and reference one another. For example, the Ryman Auditorium was the ‘Mother Church of Country Music’. It hosted both the Johnny Cash Show and the Grand Ole Opry. The Grand Ole Opry then left to perform in their own facility and took a circle of the Ryman stage with them when they moved. The Grand Ole Opry’s cast included superstars like Patsy Cline and Dolly Parton. Both of whom are honoured at the Country Music Hall of Fame. The intersection between all the major sites and their tributes to one another are really quite charming, and seeing them all leaves you with a really good understanding of the city’s history.
We actually toured the Grand Ole Opry and it was an interesting one. For the uninitiated, the Opry began as a live radio show of musical entertainment and was then broadcast from the Ryman Auditorium across the US. When it got too big it eventually moved to its own theatre and continues to broadcast three nights a week to this day. It is the longest running radio broadcast in America.
It also has a very official capacity as a ‘club’. There have been 200+ members inducted (all country musicians and entertainers) and some 60 them are still active participants of the Opry shows today. If you are a member, you get to come to any show you like and even pop onto the stage for an impromptu performance if the mood strikes you. New members are invited sporadically and at random. You are invited in public and without warning by another member with whom you might have a connection – a mentor, a childhood hero, for example. Then you need to officially accept the invitation by participating in you first Opry performance.
It’s a bit like a cult, actually. Only a really useful one that puts on awesome shows for people three nights a week and instead of a church or commune they have an auditorium with cool themed dressing rooms.
But it’s not a cult. I don’t think. I’m pretty sure it’s not.
Although curiously, I think actually quite like country music now. Despite the food-dye/peroxide related hair trauma of my youth I find myself quite keen to open my mind a little bit. I’ve found myself trawling through Spotify and opening up playlists such as ‘Country Kind of Love’ and ‘Hot Country Favourites’. I don’t know what’s come over me.
It’s weird.
(One of us, one of us…)