Tips for road tripping with kids

Tips for road tripping with kids

We have just returned from a two week epic road trip around NSW. The official destination was Byron Bay for wedding however we decided just flying or driving there would be too easy. Why not take AGES to get there and take the New England Highway via Sandy Hollow and Glen Innes. Then stay in Port Macquarie on the way home make it an epic two week road trip with a three-year-old and a six-month old?!

I’m making it sound awful, right? But actually it wasn’t. Sure, we were up at 6am every day, fell exhausted into bed at 9:30pm every night and only read about 30 pages of that holiday novel, but it was heaps of fun, even the driving. The scenery was magnificent and our kids did really well on the long drives (mostly).

I recently wrote an article about road tripping with kids for Wotif and all the advice we followed to the letter. But I’ve got some more specific things that I learnt on this trip which I couldn’t really write for a generic article.

  1. Daylight savings ending was our friend. Yep, most people hate those 5 or 6am wake-ups when daylight savings end but they were a blessing in disguise for us. Why? We were up early, hit the road early which meant when we got to our destination it was generally by 2pm. If we were in the car any later, cue world’s worst witching hour.
  2. Get a baby that sleeps in the car. You probably can’t do much about this if you don’t have one but it helps. Although the three-year-old doesn’t nap any more, she did a few on the driving days and the baby slept most mornings for a few hours at least. Two children asleep at the same time = winning at life.
  3. Get a car seat with inbuilt speakers. Yes this exists and it’s amazing. We put some audio books and albums on an old iphone, plugged it into the car seat with speakers and our three-year-old was entertained for hours. Best thing was we didn’t have to listen to ‘Do the propeller’ 100 times over the trip.
  4. Download albums from spotify when you’re on Wifi. Specifically Frozen. Our three-year-old listened to Frozen 6 times in a row on one journey. Over and over and over. But because of the car seat with speakers, the only bit of ‘Let it Go’ we heard was her singing along, which was actually quite cute. I really can’t oversell those car seat speakers enough.

Bon Voyage!

 

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The contradictions of imperfect parenthood

The contradictions of imperfect parenthood

I looked down at the smashed glass Christmas bauble and felt hot tears well in my eyes. I knew it was irrational, but the disappointment, exasperation and feelings of failure that had been bubbling away finally made it the surface, and the broken Christmas decoration was the final straw.

It was a present my parents bought in Iceland especially for our newborn baby. I had shown it to my toddler, pointing out the gorgeous painted drawings of little teddies, ducks and giraffes with ‘Baby’s first Christmas’ written in Icelandic on the side. Then the next morning, she had grabbed it from the box on the dining table and carelessly swung it around her finger until inevitably, it fell onto the kitchen tiles and smashed. Was it because it was her new sister’s gift or was it an innocent mistake and entirely my fault for leaving it within her reach?

When people ask what it’s like with two, I usually laugh and say, “It’s tough but I’m getting used to it.” Which is true. Everyone tells you that the journey from one to two kids isn’t easy. Not only are you dealing with a helpless little newborn and all the sleep deprivation, constant crying and sore boobs that goes along with that. But you’re still dealing with the demanding toddler who has become used to 100% of mummy and daddy’s attention for the past few years.

However what has most surprised me is the dual feelings of failure and achievement, almost running side by side. It’s not just double the challenge of raising two small children, it’s double the emotion, both the highs and the lows. I wasn’t prepared for the immense feelings of failure when both children are crying at the same time and I just don’t know who to tend to first. One is increasingly urgent and shrill wanting food that only I can give. The other is more succinct but generally more irrational. She wants water from that cup, “no, the STRIPY CUP MUMMY”…. Where the hell is the stripy cup???

The toddler is more demanding and in your face (often literally) however the baby’s cry transitions from tired to overtired because yet again I missed her sleep queues. It’s much harder to notice jerky legs and tiny little yawns when I’m busy doing toilet runs. When I’m trying to tend to one, the other is neglected and I feel like I’m making a hash of both. Every decision seems like the wrong one; there’s no guidebook for this and even if there was, there would be no time to read it.

However sometimes it’s just a few minutes later and a sense of order is restored. One child is sleeping happily, the other is playing quietly with her dolls and I’m curled up with that long awaited cup of tea feeling a moment of intense achievement. I can do this. I am doing this.  My little girl comes over and hugs me and says “I love you mummy,” and I feel a burst of love and pride. We are doing the best we can and generally, we’re doing alright.

As for that Christmas bauble, my husband found some glass superglue and managed to put it back together. It sits pride of place on our Christmas tree commemorating this season of our lives. Sure, it’s a bit imperfect but then again, aren’t we all?

Time to remember – October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month

Time to remember – October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month

Time is a funny thing. When things are going well and life is busy, days feel like minutes, weeks feel like hours. Before you know it, it’s Christmas and you’re saying things like ‘where did the year go’ to relatives you haven’t managed to catch up with since the year before.

However when things aren’t going according to plan or you’re anticipating a long awaited event, time feels like it’s at a standstill. Four years ago, that’s how life felt for me. 2012 was an awful year in my family: we experienced cancer, injuries and job losses and I personally went through both a stillbirth and a miscarriage. To say that we yearned for the end of that year is an understatement.

Fast forward four years though, and 2016 has flown by. I was blessed with my second beautiful daughter last month and when Christmas sneaks up on us in eight short weeks, I’ll be pouring my bubbles and saying ‘the year has flown by’ with a mixture of pleasure and a tinge of sadness that my babies are another year older.

The other benefit of time is its healing properties. Four years ago, I penned an article about my stillbirth experience. I remember the tears streaming down my face as I described my still raw feelings and the decision we had made to terminate our baby at 21 weeks. I shared it with my husband however beyond that, I wasn’t ready for my story to be told. I saved the article in a hidden folder on my computer and vowed to come back to it one day.

Time marched on. After we experienced a miscarriage in late 2012 at 11 weeks, we got pregnant again in early 2013. This time we were lucky and delivered a healthy baby girl in November that year.

After the fog of the first year passed, and I went back to work and got on with raising a toddler, I started to process my experiences of 2012. I realised that I could think about our lost babies and talk about them with friends and other people who had experienced loss and the tears weren’t as close to the surface as they used to be.

Knowing that I felt less broken, I wanted to reassure other women who had experienced loss that they will one day feel almost normal. Last year, on the anniversary of our first loss, I wrote an article for Mamamia as a tribute to how far we had come. ‘A letter to me three years ago: I’m writing to tell you it gets better‘ helped me start to open up about my experience however I was still too scared to add my name to the story so chose to write it anonymously.

However over a year later, I feel ready to own my experience. October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month and I was asked to write an article about stillbirth for the parenting website Kidspot. I decided it was time to share my story so with trepidation I unearthed that article I wrote four years ago and submitted it with my own name. Incompatible with life – the decision no pregnant woman wants to make was published.

As it’s such a personal and controversial topic, I was particularly scared about the comments I might get on social media. However I was pleasantly surprised to read some beautiful words from other mums who had experienced the same thing. It was like these women hadn’t had the outlet to share their stories, many thanked me for being brave enough to share mine in such a public forum. I felt like I had truly made a difference.

I was listening to an episode of my favourite podcasts the other day, Coffee and Crumbs. They were talking about miscarriage, and Jessica Zucker said that miscarriage made the lens on her world shift. I realised that this is exactly how I feel. Although I’m still the same person and I don’t feel defined by my losses, I’m forever changed by my experiences. While I suffer more anxiety and fear than before, I have also learnt so much more about myself and how strong I am.

So on this last day of October, the last day of this awareness month, I thank all the women (and men for that matter) who have shared their stories through media, social media and other forums. Miscarriage and stillbirth is so common but still so many people talk about how they feel such loneliness after going through a pregnancy loss. I hope this month we all feel a little less alone.

The passing of time has helped me process my experiences however I don’t think a day will go by without me remembering what I lost. But in remembering my losses, it also helps me remember what I have gained, and for that I am truly grateful.

Photo: Flickr: Andrew Seaman CC BY-ND 2.0

 

Gender disappointment, or not…

Gender disappointment, or not…

I’m 6 months pregnant with my second child, and although I’m definitely more exhausted, I feel like a huge whale already and can’t comprehend how I’m going to last 3 more months while running after a toddler, fortunately everything is going well so far.

Just like we did with our older daughter, we opted to find out the sex. This time, however, we did the harmony blood test so found out at about 13 weeks that we were expecting another little girl. Our toddler is so excited, she proudly tells people she’s getting a little sister and has been busy practising wrapping her dolls in anticipation. I’m hoping she might give me back some of the swaddles for the real baby at some point…

We didn’t mind either way whether it was a boy or girl. However according to the rest of the world, we apparently should have wished harder for a boy. When I tell most people that we’re expecting another girl, I almost always get a look of disappointment. It’s like they don’t know what to say with such devastating news.

If it were a boy, the response is easy:”Oh one of each, how lovely,” or something of the sort. However I’ve been getting responses like “Are you happy,” (well yeah, obviously) and the worst – “Will you try for a boy next?” (Because you can plan these things apparently…)

I’ve asked some friends with 2 boys and they received the same reaction. It’s like having a family with uneven genders is some sort of disappointment. Our Central Casting, Hallmark culture teaches us that one daughter and one son is seen to be the ultimate. It fits into our perfect image of two parents, two kids and a dog behind the white picket fence.

Of course not everyone is like this, I’ve had some lovely reactions from people (particularly those who have 2 daughters themselves). They’re quick to point out the advantages of having two of the same gender, like sharing friends, hobbies and toys.

I’m so happy I’m having another daughter although mainly I’m happy to be having another child. I have many friends going through the uncertainty of infertility and secondary infertility. Furthermore, this is my fourth pregnancy. After the trauma of stillbirth and miscarriage, I will feel blessed just to meet this baby. Whether she is a boy or girl seems immaterial.

Obviously there are practical reasons why having two girls is an advantage. I already have a bursting wardrobe full of clothes and a toy area full of dolls and floral accessories. Many of the clothes were barely worn with number one, so it’s great to be able to get another child into them. Dressing girls is so much fun, until the age of 2 that is, when Miss Toddler decided to assert herself and refused to leave the house without some sort of ‘dancing skirt’. Now it’s hell, but I digress.

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My sister and I

Mostly, I’m excited that my girls will get the experience of having a sister. I was almost 9 when my sister was born and although I loved my brothers, I was beyond thrilled to get a sister. Over the years, our relationship has grown despite our age gap. Although we are always at different stages of life, she is one of the most important people to me and our relationship is one I treasure above almost all others.

So all going well, in three months we will welcome our special second daughter. I’m excited to meet her and find out why type of person she is. Will she be feisty or placid? Will she like football or dancing or art or music? Will she shun dancing skirts in favour of jeans and sneakers? I’m so excited to watch her grow and see the relationship with her big sister develop as they hopefully become friends for life.

My parents are on a golden gap year

My parents are on a golden gap year

The gap year is a familiar concept. Soon out of school or university, young teenagers with few responsibilities and even less money jump on a plane and head abroad. They spend a year or two living in overcrowded share houses in London, drinking cheap beer most nights of the week and working in temp jobs or dead end bars. They spend their weekends in backpacker hostels in Berlin or Barcelona, drinking more cheap beer and attempting to tick a few landmarks off their list.

You might have done it, maybe your kids have done it. This year, my parents are doing it. Yes my sixty-something parents are on a gap year, or as we’re calling it, the ‘golden gap year’.

I’m not sure how it started. Maybe it was the realisation that some of their adult children were never going to leave the family home so maybe they should go first? Or perhaps the first-borns of the next generation gave them both mid-life crises and they decided they needed to live a little before accepting their fate as grandparents

Whatever the catalyst, last year they packed their bags, bought a one-way ticket and jumped on a plane to London. Initially they told us they would be there for eight months. It’s now been 12 months and they are reluctantly considering when to book their tickets home. Maybe by Christmas, they say.

To be fair, they’re doing it slightly classier than their more youthful counterparts. They have a two-bedroom flat in a gated complex that they only share with the copious amounts of visitors who have been taking advantage of the free London accommodation.

They have also picked up decent jobs, Mum is lucky enough to have a British passport so with no restrictions, they found it easy to pick up part-time work in their chosen fields.

One thing they have in common with their younger counterparts is the travel. They’re currently in Portugal, a few weekends ago they visited Budapest and they spent Christmas in Vienna and the Canary Islands. Every weekend they can, they’re off to another destination, seeing all the exotic destinations that seem so far away from Australia.

When they travel, they’re more likely to stay in AirBnb than a hostel, although that’s not to say they wouldn’t stay in a hostel if the need arose. It would have to be a private room of course. With an en-suite. Mum has even declared ‘I’m never flying Ryan Air’ after yet another flight delay but the lure of £10 flights have proved too tantalising more than once so I think that’s an empty threat.

They’ve also had the benefit of travelling with friends and family who have visited over the last year including my hubby, toddler and I who joined them on a visit to southern Spain. Travelling with a toddler is never easy but with four adults keeping an eye on the rambunctious tot, we managed to enjoy a reasonably relaxing few weeks as we meandered through ancient, Moorish towns and sundrenched, seaside villages.

Like the traditional gap year kids, my parents have also enjoyed the European alcohol (although maybe not quite in the same excessive amounts). They have been indulging in the large variety of inexpensive European wine, exploring the French, Italian and Spanish varieties that it’s rare to get at home. When it’s only 6 quid a bottle, well you may as well get two!

As for us kids at home, it’s been a mixed bag. It’s been hard that they’re so far away, particularly as the grandchildren grow up. The younger one doesn’t really know his grandparents which is sad for all concerned. Our parents are missing milestones like first birthdays and Christenings and all the day-to-day things like learning to talk and walk. Skype does a wonderful job, but it’s not perfect. And we’re missing the free babysitting, gotta be honest.

On the other hand, my three siblings, partners and I have grown closer, learning to rely on each other without the overarching influence of our parents. We have loved hearing about our parents adventures, quirky stories about getting lost for two hours in Amsterdam and watching videos of mum trying to master cycling again… Maybe stick to walking?

When it comes down to it though, I’m so proud of my parents and what they’ve achieved in the last year. They’re an inspiration to us younger folks that dreams can come true at any age, even when it’s living out of a suitcase and travelling the world like a teenager.

Hopefully they come home soon though, the world is wonderful but home is where the heart is and we miss our patriarch and matriarch. And let’s be honest, we’re missing a night out without the kids. Those grandkids aren’t going to babysit themselves!

This article was first published in Mamamia.

‘We’re all going on a summer holiday…’

‘We’re all going on a summer holiday…’

I’ve recently returned from a family holiday on the beach. It was idyllic – long, sunny days that never got below 25 degrees, a beautiful, deserted beach on our door step that we only shared with sea gulls and the occasional beach jogger and the crisp sea air and sound of crashing waves that lulled us to sleep each night.

Previously on these types of holidays, I would read a novel every few days. I’d sleep in until 10am and have late breakfasts before resuming my horizontal position on a beach towel or sun bed. However that’s not how it rolls when you’re holidaying with a toddler.

Wake up is, well whenever she usually wakes up, which is considered a sleepin if it’s post 7am, generally it’s earlier. Instead of lazy breakfasts, we wrangle her into our makeshift high chair (cushions at the table) and convince her to eat something… anything… then it’s time to hit the beach. However there is no horizontal lying or book reading here…

“Mummy, Sandcastle. Daddy Swim, Mummy look for shells?” The mornings would be spent splashing in the waves and making endless sandcastles for an eager toddler to jump on. Sometimes we visited the hotel pool and swam until we were wrinkly and exhausted. Still, we would hear “One more swim Daddy” and we would be convinced to jump back in the water to pretend to be a shark (again) or catch her as she jumped with reckless abandon into the pool.

It was awesome fun and so great to spend some quality time together as a family. But, my god it was tiring… at the end of the week we were saying that we needed another holiday, without the toddler.

We were holidaying during the middle of the school term, so the only people around us were other families of small children, and older travellers. I found myself staring at these grey nomads, with their magazines and wine and endless free time, and feeling a little bit jealous. Not that I want to be at that stage yet, but I couldn’t help imagine the freedom of being at the stage of life where your time is your time and you can spend it doing what you choose. The grass is always greener, right?

However turns out they were thinking the same thing about us. When we chatted to one couple, they looked doe-eyed at our daughter, who at that point was picking up rocks and didn’t want to leave until she had chosen the exact right ones.

They told us that they remembered when their little one was that age. “So cute and innocent and excited about the world,” they’d say. Now their little girl is a woman of 40 with teenage kids of her own. They wistfully watched us as we managed to convince the toddler to start walking and we made our way down to the beach for another morning of fun and adventure.

It made me realise that although it may be tiring, these are the times I’ll remember for the rest of my life. I’ll remember the look of excitement in her eyes as she jumped into the pool and grabbed my arms. I’ll remember the way she gripped my hand with trepidation as the wave rushed around our ankles. I’ll remember her sweet little kisses and welcoming smile as I greeted her bleary eyed at stupid o’clock in the morning.

Yet again in this crazy ride that is parenthood, I’m reminded to stop, smell the roses and take it all in before it’s over too soon.

 

 

What is the best protection for whooping cough?

Concerned by a recent brush with whooping cough in my family, I was complaining to my colleagues about the vaccination options and whether they are really the best solution. I’ve always been pro-vaccination, so that’s not the issue, but I was unsure why so many people were getting whooping cough when we have such a prevalent immunisation campaign.

‘Why don’t you investigate it?’ my editor suggested it. So I did. Although I write and edit a medical website, doctorportal, this was my first article for the Medical Journal of Australia InSight website.

My article Best protection from pertussis? Jab the mum was published today on the MJA InSight website.