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Posts Tagged ‘traveling with children’

As the comedian Pat McGroin once said about the crew of the SS Minnow on Gilligan’s Island: “A three hour tour? It’s one and a half hours there and one and a half hours back. I mean, how lost can you get?”

I might have laughed at the time, but now I know how lost you can get. I know.

The other day, we set off on the one and half hour drive to my mother’s house in Blinkton after picking up the kids from school.

My husband, made edgy by the school traffic, suggested I take a different route down the freeway to avoid it. He then promptly fell asleep without really explaining what that route was except to say “Follow the signs to [Blahblah]”.

About twenty minutes of hurtling down the freeway, with not as single sign for [Blahblah] in sight, I woke him up.

“Um, I think I’ve missed the turn off.”

Turns out there was another turn off I should have taken before I started following the signs to [Blahblah]. Of course there was.

We decided to get off the freeway and find a road heading north to get us back on track. It didn’t help that we didn’t have the street directory in the car and that my husband was trying to work off a pocket-sized Roads of Australia map book.

“That’s the road!” my husband suddenly shouted. “Take that one!”

“What? West Road?” I said, somewhat doubtfully, as I turned into it. “Wouldn’t West Road, like, take us west instead of, say, north?”

“I know exactly where we are,” he said, pointing to the map book triumphantly. “This road is taking us exactly where we need to be!”

And he was correct – if, that is, you accept that “exactly where we need to be” happened to be a complete dead-end with nowt but the forbidding gates of a Cement Factory to see.

So we turned around and started heading east along stupid West Road. And eventually, we found a road heading north and were back on track. It was at this point my husband decided to put one of his Dire Straits tapes on the stereo.

“They like their guitar bits,” I commented, my teeth slightly gritted, after the fourth track in a row with an extended guitar solo.

“Okay, okay,” my husband muttered, rummaging around for another cassette. “Ah! Here’s one you’ll like!”

And he launched us straight into the middle of an Eric Clapton guitar solo. Lovely. I didn’t get a chance to comment, however, because it was right then that we hit bumper-to-bumper traffic heading into [Blahblah]. And the kids, like some kind of Greek Chorus in the back of the car, all chose this moment to break their silence by simultaneously shouting:

JUSTICE: “I’m starving!”
PIXIE: “Are we there yet?”
McGEE: “Need to do a weeeeeee!”

“Gee, I’m glad we missed three minutes worth of school traffic at the beginning of the trip so we could sit in peak hour traffic here with the kids at their finest,” I remarked to my husband, who merely grunted. After all, I was the one who had missed the all-important turn off in the first place.

In the end, a quick stop at a supermarket solved some of our troubles – and created some new ones. While I did the mercy dash up and down Aisle 5, my husband stayed in the car with the kids and let Tiddles McGee piss out of the sliding door of the Star Wagon in the crowded carpark. McGee then promptly stood in the puddle of his own creation, soaking his one and only pair of shoes for the weekend. Shortly after that, I returned with only two of the five essential items we had needed and a whole heap of other things we didn’t need, shouting “Don’t ask me what I forgot to get! DO NOT ASK ME!”. But of course my husband had to ask me what I’d forgotten, after which I went a little postal and shouted for a long, long time, pausing only to ask “Why does the car smell like urine?”.

Finally, almost three and a half hours after we’d set off, we arrived in the dark at my mother’s house, all of us cold, hungry and grumpy as fuck and Tiddles McGee screaming “I want to go hoooooommmmmme!”. And I found myself thinking how at least on Gilligan’s Island there were coconuts to make cocktails, bras and radios from and nobody ever had to clean piss out of someone else’s shoes. They didn’t know how good they had it, really.
________________________________________
I’d like to take this opportunity to wish my mother a happy One Year Anniversary of living in Blinkton. May she have many more happy years in her little home there – and may we never make the mistake of taking West Road on our way to visit her again.

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I think we can all agree that there’s nothing like a Road Trip. Yep, nothing like it. Thank fuck. 

Especially when everyone in the car has started screaming – none more than you, the driver – before you even get to the end of your street. And then you still have two hours’ drive ahead of you with one child cheerfully announcing how many minutes are in each successive hour while another child complains about stomach cramps, and all you can think is “ Go Vomit On The Mountain” while still trying to show enthusiasm for the fact 16 hours equals 960 minutes. 

Still, as I’ve said before, getting there is half the fun. Which means that the other half of the fun is at your destination, right? 

Well, in this case, the destination – a beautiful holiday house my friends had rented – didn’t disappoint.

For one thing, there was a creek. My friend led us there on a pre-lunch walk with visions of us all gingerly dipping our toes in the water and maybe skimming stones along its glassy surface. But she didn’t factor in the instant effect any body of water has on my children – be it the size of the Pacific Ocean or a small puddle of unidentified liquid on the kitchen floor. Before we could say “sneaky little hobbitses”, Mr Justice had stripped off and was scrabbling around on the sharp rocks on all fours like Gollum with the others in close pursuit. And my friend also didn’t factor in the effect that my children’s water activities would have on my voice, making it all loud and very very shouty. Oh, happy days. 

But I always knew that bedtime was going to be the biggest challenge, for this was an overnight visit, you see. As night-time approached, I became a kind of Oracle and, in a somewhat trance-like state (i.e. slightly drunk), I predicted the following: “The youngest two children will run up and down the stairs until I grow angry and put the child-gate at the top. Then they will stand at the gate and shout. Maybe cry. Or do that shouting-cry that I love so very very much. And that will go on for a very long time indeed, maybe hours. After which, I will have to go up there and physically restrain them in their beds until they finally submit and accept Sleep as their Master.”

Which is pretty much what happened, although I skipped the child-gate/shouting-cry stage just to spare us all from permanent damage to our eardrums.

Anyway, I went on to spend the night flitting between beds: Tiddles McGee is a high-maintenance sleeper at the best of times and The Pixie got all restless and started running a fever. And then I remembered her stomach cramps complaint and began to worry she was going to vomit and tried to work out a Vomit Action Plan which identified the best vomit receptacle in the room, which items of furniture to avoid at all costs and whether I had brought enough change of clothes in the event of “splashage” (or worse). And then I started to worry about driving home the next day alone with vomiting kids (because already, I’d assumed that of course they’d all come down with it) and how I’d manage it after having no sleep. And then I started worrying that all this worrying about not getting any sleep was actually preventing me from getting any sleep and slowly, but surely, my mind got more knotted up than Tiddles McGee’s baby hair, all with a mosquito flying in and out of my ear and an angle-parking Tiddles McGee kicking me in the kidneys.

And after hours of this worry (or so it seemed), I somehow managed to remember that worrying about something before it happened was futile and how I should just roll with the punches and go with the flow (even if that flow ended up being a Type 3 Vomit). It was like so much of parenting – if I let myself be paralyzed by all the things that possibly could go wrong, then I’d never leave the house. Like ever. 

And after that illuminating thought, sleep finally came – albeit punctuated by the occasional kick to the kidneys. And the vomit that I was so worried about never arrived. And the morning brought us a happy breakfast with friends ’round a large sunny table and then other adventures too, including an incident involving the purchase of sugar-coated jam donuts on the drive home. But that, my friends, is a story for another day.

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Mr Justice asked his friend Master E  the other day if he ever got “traffic sick”. My first thought was that it was an appropriate description of the feeling I used to get whenever I had a driving lesson. And then I realised he probably meant “travel sick” which was based more on that time a bacon sandwich made a surprise comeback after he’d been reading a Simpsons comic in a moving vehicle. Which wasn’t quite the same thing, although they both involved a high degree of nausea. 

As a Late in Life Learner, I had more than just nausea to overcome. For one thing, there was the ever-so-slight humiliation of driving around the ‘hood, at the ripe old age of 36 years, with L plates on. Two words: Not. Cool. And there were also the tears which inevitably started flowing like some kind of Champagne Drinking Fountain for at least half an hour before each lesson (there’s that Incredibly Pathetic Crying Lady alter-ego of mine again, damn her). Plus the unnerving sensation of being perilously close to crapping my own dacks every time I even thought about doing the driving test. 

But one bright day in July 2007, I turned up at the Local Driving Authority wearing my best brown underpants and passed that test with flying colours. In the end, my only real mistake during the test was leaving the windscreen wipers on too long because it had stopped raining and I was concentrating too hard on the road to notice. Apparently that counts as “failure to control the vehicle”, which I had previously thought was more about swerving into oncoming traffic. Silly me. 

Still, I passed. And now, after 19 months of being On The Road, I thought I should share with you some of the things I think I really should have been taught and/or tested on before being Licensed To Drive…

REVERSE PARKING
I practiced many a perfect (and imperfect) reverse park while under instruction. My instructor was always like “Take your time. Line the car up. Blah blah blah.” But what she really should have taught me was how to do it in great haste before one of my children throws up.

This observation is based on Actual Events, of course. Mr Justice, prone to the old “traffic sickness”, was trying to transform Megatron in the back seat when he “felt the sick coming” and suddenly announced: “I’m going to throw up!”. I pulled into the first side-street I could, saw a parking spot, reversed into it, but in my haste, lightly bumped the car behind us. Which unfortunately had the owner actually sitting in it. This man helpfully alerted me to the situation by blasting his horn and getting out to confront me.

I, in the meantime, had jumped out and was running around to the pavement side, saying “Oh sorry, sorry, sorry, my son is about to throw up!”. The man followed me and watched as I slid open the Tarago back door to reveal Mr Justice just as he executed this perfect arc of vomit into the gutter. At which point the man Backed Right Off and, saying it was only the smallest dint in his number plate that I’d caused (and even “smallest” was an exaggeration), left me to it. 

Now if only I could train Mr Justice to vomit on demand. For one thing, it certainly might sort out that little Late Pass situation of mine…

CHANGING LANES
Before changing lanes, my instructor taught me to check my mirrors and then do a quick headcheck of my blindspot before proceeding. Although, as I’ve subsequently discovered, it is often a case of checking the mirrors and then doing a quick headcheck of the helium balloons the kids are holding before crossing my fingers and hoping for the best…

TAKING DIRECTIONS
During your lesson and test, it’s all “Take the first right after the lights when it is safe to do so” spoken in the calm modulated tones of HAL the computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

In Real Life, directions are more like “Now you’ll have to turn left soon, like NOW!… THAT ONE! BACK THERE!….SHIT!”.

LEARNING THE RULES OF THE ROAD
One thing I’ve realised since I’ve been driving by myself is how willing people are to teach you all about road safety. Yep, they all see those P plates and they want to teach you “real good”.

For example, one day I had to do a last minute lane change and, admittedly, didn’t do it all that well. Fortunately, the lovely gentleman who I had moved in front of showed me how to do these things correctly by first hanging back, then driving up really fast right up behind me, quickly overtaking me, and cutting in front of me in quite the sharpish manner.

“Oh!” I thought to myself. “So that’s how it’s done. Why, thank you, kind stranger.”

Although when I went to thank him out loud, the words “kind stranger” accidentally got substituted with the words “dick wank”. 

*************

Yes, indeedy, I’ve learnt a helluva lot since I first officially took charge of that wheel.   

But here’s the most surprising thing of all: my husband always said that when I was finally able to be the designated driver, he would buy one of those hats which hold two cans of beer on top and have with straws that come down to your mouth. And he said he would wear it 24/7, even when I dropped him off at work. I don’t know why I’m disappointed he hasn’t yet delivered on this promise, but I am. Bitterly disappointed, in fact. I mean, who’d have thunk it?

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It’s probably worth remembering this: never wear an op-shop top that you haven’t properly road-tested when you embark on a long car journey. Why? Well, your less-than-reliable vehicle might suddenly break down and you’ll end up having to hang out with three children at a country pub for hours and hours amidst the Friday Arvo drinking crowd with your breasts on the verge of popping out to join the revelry at any given minute. 

And yes, that’s what happened to me. Honestly, the hotted-up utes were pulling up thick and fast, as if one of the guys had sent a text around that said “Get your arse here. City housewife flashing tits at pub.”

My husband was, in the mean time, wrestling with his own demons. “Bacchus is testing me,” he said, referring to the God of Wine and All Alcohol-Related Fun whom he had foresaken for an entire month in the name of “Dry January”.  (For the record: my “Dry January” ended up being “Dry January Day” as I took much pleasure in star-jumping off that boring old wagon at my earliest convenience). It turns out that the pub we’d ultimately broken down in front of had its own micro-brewery and the roadside assistance company was on the phone was offering us free accommodation at the B&B next door.

“Be strong!” I urged, whilst secretly planning to order myself some tequila shooters at the earliest opportunity. After all, I’d been wrangling the kids in various locations (the car, a paddock, the pub) for many hours while he tried to fix the problem and sort things out with the roadside assistance people. And, let’s face it, there were more than a few men in the front bar who’d be willing to buy me and my potential wardrobe malfunction a drink or two. 

Anyway, in the end, nobody drank anything except water and I played “What’s the time Mr Wolf” with the kids on the verandah of the pub while those utes kept rolling in. And then the Mother of All Towtrucks came to take all five of us and our Love Bus those final 104 kilometres home. At over eight hours door to door, our original three hour tour had almost ventured into Gilligan Island territory – though, arguably, a coconut bra might have helped me out some.

As the tow-truck pulled up outside the house, some of our neighbours, upon hearing the commotion, came out to enjoy the show (the Love Bus being taken off the tow truck and not my breasts, apparently). “Yes, we’re home!” we announced to the neighbourhood at large. One neighbour was notable in his absence, however. The Mason across the road, who had sold us the Love Bus in gleaming new condition just three years ago, was no doubt watching from behind his lace curtains, looking at his beloved Tarago and saying “Oh, Mojo!! What have they done to you???” And if you didn’t get that reference, kindly take your eyes off my cleavage and go watch yourself some more Simpsons, please.

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First a little bit of preamble: When it came to writing this guide, I had to turn to my learned-in-these-matters friend Madame Lush, who is married to a lovely fellow who happens to be in the US Foreign Service (I shall call him “The Quiet American”). Over the years, Madame Lush and The Quiet American have lived in a number of extremely exotic places: Vietnam, India, Sydney and, of course, that most exotic place of all: Washington DC. And during that time, Madame Lush has calculated that her older child (now 8 years old) has been on 93 separate flights – only two of them without Madame Lush in tow. Their younger child (now 6) has been on 58 flights and again, only two of them without Madame Lush. So I think anyone who has ever traveled on a plane trip of any duration with a small child will totally understand that I have decided to instantly upgrade Madame Lush’s “nom de guerre” to Saint Lush before I’ve even finished the first paragraph of this post. 

So here are a few pointers, with a little help from Saint Lush, on the art of air travel with “little ones”.

Boarding the plane
If the flight has pre-assigned seating, do not under any circumstances go on the plane any earlier than you absolutely have to. I once made the mistake of boarding early with a very young Mister Justice and found that all Good Will (both his and mine and the people sitting within a five row radius) had evaporated long before we’d even left the runway. My eardrums still bear the scars from that flight. The screams… the screams…

If it’s one of those flights with bitch-fighting over seats, by all means take full advantage of the early boarding offered to people traveling with small children. If you’re traveling with a child under two who has no paid-for seat other than your lap (and even then you’re waiting for the cheque in the mail) – make sure you pinch them really really hard just as everyone else starts boarding. Unless the flight is full, the ensuing wailing will absolutely guarantee the seat next to you will remain unoccupied and upon which you may offload that under-2 child at your earliest convenience.

During the journey
For the parent traveling with under twos, prepare to work that aisle like it was a catwalk at Fashion Week, complete with the little swivel at the end. You will be going up and down and up down and up and down. For hours. Sometimes in a new outfit if someone has vomited or thrown orange juice on your crotch. And either with the ultimate fashion accessory: a babe in arms (my advice: bring a sling) or perpetually hunched over, holding a small hand. Just work it, baby. Work it. 

For those traveling with older children: the great thing about being in the air on a long-haul flight is that you’re crossing so many different time zones that those two precious hours of “permissable” screen time per day get stretched into 14, just like that! So you can let them rack up as many hours of TV as their little square eyes can handle, and it’s all guilt-free. 

Saint Lush says those buttons on the arm-rests also provide good value entertainment to small children – although Saint Lush is quick to add that she always stresses that the “Lady Button” is strictly off limits. With the number of times The Pixie has had her hand down her undies recently (see “The Dangers of Taking the Piss“), I’m thinking of making that a permanent rule for any public place, whether in the air or on the ground. In any case, the pushing of the call button is purely left to people like my husband, who can work an inflight service like no other man I know. Which is why it is terribly good practice for children to amuse themselves with the Emergency Procedures card for as long as possible, as they are 100% guaranteed to be far sober than you in the case of an actual emergency.

Do not, under any circumstances, rely on any help or support from any other passengers. As Saint Lush says, it doesn’t matter how well-behaved your children are, other people will look at you with distaste, as if you are bringing small children on board purely for your own amusement, or expressly for their discomfort. Having then failed to meet your eye for the duration of the flight, the minute the plane starts its descent, those same people will suddenly feel a wave of magnanimousness and exclaim thing like “Oh, your children were sooooooooo good” or “I didn’t even know there was a baby on board” because they can afford to with disembarkment only minutes away.

There are, however, ways to rort the system. My friend RW and her husband Mr S recently moved their young family to Switzerland. At their leaving party, a rumour was flying around that Mr S had booked one seat in Business Class for his wife and three seats in economy for him and his kids with no intention of swapping half-way. This had completely divided the party: one half (the women) thought this was the Best Thing they had ever heard and the other half (the men) considered Mr S to be a total traitor to the brotherhood. There was indisputable logic behind Mr S’s decision: the kids behaved better with him (we all know how children enjoy mother-baiting) and he had a far better chance of getting some sympathy and help from the crew and passengers if he was on his own with the kids. I know a few happily-married men who work the Weekend-Access Dad angle to their advantage when out with their children in public. Good luck to them, I say. When I personally see a man alone with the kids, it makes my heart all warm and fuzzy because I like to think the mother is off drinking champagne and eating chocolate somewhere. Preferably in business class on board a  flight to the Seychelles. 

After the journey
After a long haul flight with children, health-care professionals recommend that you avoid any further air travel until the children are old enough to no longer be your legal responsibility.  Too bad if you’ve just flown somewhere exotic (like Washington DC)  for a two-week holiday as, let’s face it: once you’ve disembarked, it feels far easier to organise all your belongings to be packed up and transported to the other side of the globe, sort out working visas, find gainful employment and a new place to live (etc etc etc) than it is face another long haul flight with your small children. And that’s a fact. 

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