It’s the time of year when the certifiably insane families hit the road for their annual holidays. We’re no different. In a week’s time we’re heading to the Sunshine Coast. It will be our first holiday since a mini-break during last year’s renovations. Although I must point out that this year we are FLYING – yippeeeeee!
But what were the lessons we learned twelve months ago? Well, Levi took the iconic phrase, ‘Are we there yet?” to another dimension, and I discovered that I have some major over-protectiveness issues. Could it be that I really am a helicopter parent desperately hiding in a Free-Ranger’s outfit? Please say no – or at least don’t tell @An_Idle_Dad.
Our dream getaway last year included a family apartment at a Gold Coast resort and tickets to a theme park. After our journey a few years ago across the Nullabor in a campervan with two kids and no portable DVD player, we swore that ‘fly-drive’ and ‘five-star’ would be the only way we would holiday in the future.
The competition between airlines boded well for budget flights but we found that, even with the current exorbitant fuel prices, four return airfares still cost more than double what we would pay to drive our own little car. So, we bit the bullet and decided to do the Great Aussie East Coast Family Drive – a pilgrimage that many of us remember from our own childhoods.
Levi is not the most patient of children. He is also not afraid to express himself in whatever fashion he deems necessary, so I was kind of dreading the drive. About twenty minutes in he asked the inevitable, “Are we there yet?” At this stage I still believed in the honest approach. “No, sweetheart,” I explained patiently, “We have a really long way to go. Just try not to think about it and we’ll be there before you know it.”
The following hours were punctuated by a progressively more creative line of questioning:
“Are we almost there?”
“Are we super nearly there?”
“Are we a big bit nearly there or a little bit nearly there?”
“Are we super, duper nearly a big bit there? Or just a super duper little bit nearly almost there?”
“When will we be there? I’m really bored/hungry/tired/feeling whingey and annoying.”
Okay, that last one’s mine but you get the picture.
As luck (?) would have it our trip was also punctuated by a dead battery and a broken gearbox at the halfway point. It was here, in our frustration – and the fear that we had embarked on the holiday from hell – that Luke and I wised up. When we finally reclaimed our car (with a long, long way still to go) Levi almost immediately piped up, “Are we there yet?” Luke and I answered, almost in unison, “NEARLY! Look kids,the Big Banana!” For the remainder of the trip we were always ‘nearly’ there.
And delayed gratification works wonders. Our arrival at our destination was El Dorado-esque with its glittering promise of holiday pleasures and treasures. We visited the theme park; ate out lavishly; bought indulgent mementoes and generally recharged our batteries.
The kids – at six and seven – were the perfect age for holidaying. No nappies, naps or sippy cups required. Late nights were fun and were usually followed by languorous sleep-ins. We had found our little piece of heaven.
But it was on the last day that I recognised a tone I had adopted for the entire holiday. I was aghast when I realised what kind of parent I have, in fact, become. It would seem I am a holiday doomsayer and general party pooper – pointing out hidden dangers to my kids at every opportunity. The following are all direct quotes (from me). Sadly I am not exaggerating for comic effect.
“Don’t go out on the balcony! People DIE when they fall from the eighth floor!”
“Don’t lean up against the lift doors! What if they open and you FALL DOWN THE ELEVATOR SHAFT?”
“Stay with mum and dad at all times! People STEAL children at theme parks!”
“Don’t swim where I can’t see you! You CAN DROWN IN AN INCH OF WATER!”
“Don’t laugh while eating nachos! You’ll CHOKE TO DEATH!”
I was disgusted. I had spent the holiday ranting to my kids about a litany of freakishly rare and macabre occurrences. But I couldn’t help it – in this unfamiliar place my protective impulses went into overdrive.
I had to face the fact that my windswept and interesting days of lying on a beach in Greece – with nothing to worry about except whether I should go bottomless AND topless – were long gone. Holidays were now gruesome headlines waiting to happen.
Luckily my kids are starting to turn the tables and have perfected the art of ‘pretending to ignore’ – just as I used to do to them when they were in the throes of their toddler tantrums a few short years ago. These days they simply roll their eyes and ask Dad to take them swimming. He’s a little less helicopter, a little more daredevil – exactly what they need.
Family holidays – Heaven or Hell? Or a little bit of both?