Guest Post,  Parenting

GUEST POST: Lessons Learned from an Ambitious First Family Holiday

By Gemma McIlroy

A week before we left I saw a foreboding meme on Facebook:

“There’s no such thing as a holiday when you’re a parent – it’s just looking after your children in a different place.”

Fiddlesticks*. We had booked a week long road trip around the lower North Island visiting family and friends, stopping at a few action packed attractions on the way. I had spent the month prior full of a cold that had outstayed its welcome and my daughter had finally, at 10 months, started to pop some teeth. I was in need of some much needed R and R, but it was looking more and more like our holiday wasn’t going to be much of a holiday…

Why I was nervous

The kids, 10 month old Tessa and 2 and a bit year old Flynn, hadn’t ever really slept anywhere but their own beds. While we’d planned all the driving in 2 hour increments, to allow Tessa to have her usual naps, she didn’t have a history of sleeping in the car… The kids weren’t going to sleep, we weren’t going to sleep, and we were driving from Upper Hutt to the Wairarapa to Napier via Dannevirke, then on to Taupo, followed by Ohakune and home via Palmerston North. The kids surely wouldn’t cope with so many visits to new people at each of our destinations. And for the attractions we’d planned? I had been building it up for Flynn for weeks and by the time we got there I was sure he’d think everything was a let down. We were DOOMED.
The only place we’d booked accommodation was in Napier so if the doo doo* hit the fan we could come home from there. At least that’s what I told myself as we packed up to go…

What I learned

I learned that I underestimate the kids. The first night in Martinborough I had such a rank sleep. The kids, on the other hand, slept, well, like babies (and I mean that in the sense of the outrageously misinformed simile). I’d mentally prepared myself for unsettled nights so my subconscious must have decided instead of going to sleep and being woken multiple times, it would be easier to just not go to sleep at all! They slept through the entire week after going to bed on time and without a fuss. Of course they did – they were so exhausted from all the busyness of our holiday. I had been so intimidated by how much we’d planned, how many stops we were making and how many different beds and houses we’d be sleeping in. I thought the kids wouldn’t cope, but they were so tired that when it came to naps and bedtime, their routines didn’t alter. Tessa slept in the car for 2/2 of each day’s driving legs, and Flynn 1/2. When he wasn’t asleep, Flynn happily chatted away to us about what he was seeing out the window or sang us songs. He had a few moments, but nothing food and conversations about what we were going to do at our next destination couldn’t fix. As we were leaving Palmy for home, in the dark, at normal bedtime (surely the most fullproof part of the road trip), Tessa lost it. Duck*. We’d made it this far without any driver-distracting tantrums and we were about to have one this close from home. In a totally ovary-exploding moment, Flynn, completely unprovoked, started singing the lullaby from his favourite Netflix show (Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood – check it out if you haven’t already it’s also ma fav), calming Tessa. Richard and looked at each other and started welling up. Our children exceed our expectations of sleep, behaviour and cuteness everyday.

I learned that I underestimate myself. I am disorganised, suffer from severe brain fog and don’t always see the most sensible way to do something. I am also a bit of a self-doubting pessimist. I broke Richard’s phone charger port 24h into our holiday. After our first night, I left the cot sheets behind. When we got to Napier, I thought I had lost our one remaining phone charger. I had taken it out of the bag at Great Aunty Maureen’s and now desperately needed it as Tessa listens to womb sounds played on my phone while she sleeps (nb: this is probably more for our own benefit as we’ve now gained a sleep association). My reaction was to frantically search all the thoughtless places I could have left it while ruthlessly verbally attacking myself: “you fluffing* nincompoop*! Every goshdarn* time!” I eventually gave up and remembered that part of my self reassurance before we departed from home was that we weren’t ever going to be far from a Warehouse and that I could replace anything I had forgotten quite easily. I looked in our suitcase for suitable clothes for leaving the house and lo-and-behold what was in the suitcase? The silly* phone charger… And as for Richard’s phone charger port? We dropped his cell off to one of many phone fixing establishments in Napier. When it matters, I am capable of being onto it! And as for when I’m not? Calm, rational thinking and problem solving is what will fix any self inflicted conundrums. And who knows – maybe if I back myself more often, I will eventually become organised, clear-headed and sensible!
Also, I’m left dreaming of a simpler time before cell phones and they would have spared me a lot of strife on this holiday!!!

I learned that once you strip parenting back to its basics, it is enjoyable. With no chores to do, no hobbies – nothing but the children to focus on – I was reminded that, as the parents’ in Flynn’s favourite aforementioned Netflix show sing, “Taking care of you, makes me hap-py toooo!”. The holiday was all about the kids; showing them new things, taking care of their basic needs and reassuring them when they were scared to try new things/homesick/off. It was so motivating to feel like we were doing a good job of this when we had nothing else to worry about. Now that we’re back to the daily grind, when the housework is overwhelming and work pressures bog us down we’ll remember that none of that really matters as long as the kids are taken care of. I find that struggling to find balance can make me resent parenting, like its added to the list of chores. Whenever such feels hit me in future, I’ll make sure to remember how enjoyable it was to just focus on the parenting and use this to pull me out of what Richard and I like to call a funk.

And most importantly, I learned that a holiday with young children can be a holiday! We CAN do it, and there’s no reason for us to miss out on stuff for fear of how it might go. We were very lucky that we went during the term time and that the attractions we visited weren’t busy. The weather gods were also in our favour as it was beautifully sunny and hot all week. But even with these blessings, I think we made an adventure of it which made it successful. We were flexible, but made plans and considered how each part of the holiday would go. We talked lots about the things we would do, which was reassuring to the children and kept them excited during moments of homesickness. Flynn is now holiday obsessed. He remembers things from our travels and tells us stories of what he did and saw. He has even asked us when we are going on our next one and makes requests for our next destination. Next time when we plan a trip, I’ll skip the step where I anticipate the worst and thing of how poopy* it could go and get straight to the fun stuff.

* words have been censored to ensure this post is SFW/little eyes who may be reading over your shoulder

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