A reflection on the reality of travelling with young kids

milly beach

A casual google of ‘travelling with kids’ brings up a gazillion articles detailing the tips and tricks on how to do holidays with young kids ‘well’.  I’ll be honest from the get go, this is not one of those articles. 

I’ve tried many a tip from expert family jet setters and the results are always a very mixed bag.  Pack lightly, pack everything you’ll need, pack wisely, take it slow, but not too slow, involve the kids in packing (surely they aren’t talking about toddlers?!) pack new toys that the kids haven’t seen before  (there goes your holiday budget), pack a slim line car seat, a carrier, a light portacot, presents for your fellow passengers in case your baby has a vom or a pee in their direction or decides to scream the whole way to the destination.  The prep alone could be enough to have you rethinking the whole getaway.

Sure, planning is very important, especially when you do anything outside your own four walls with kids, especially the little kind.  It is prudent to do everything you can to provide damage control when on a family holiday and you really don’t want to be carting an eleven kilo portacot up the cobble stone pathways of Europe when your accomodation can provide you with one (if only we had rung ahead).   However, take heart if you didn’t spend days packing tiny new toys into tiny bags and making mini tubs of play dough for the journey because, the thing is, the holiday gods really don’t care about your planning anyway.  They care about keeping you on your toes and sometimes as far away from that comfy pool chair and aperol spritz as possible.  Maybe you get stuck with a case of day care gastro that descends as soon as you arrive at your destination or perhaps there are constant tropical downpours and you are left to entertain all your tribe in a small cabin with nothing but the hotel notepads and pens because the TV reception and internet are on the blink and the kids are over their two toys and two books (you insisted on light packing).  Or maybe you simply flip open your toddler’s water bottle and the pressurised plane cabin turns the water into a jet stream so powerful it showers the couple in the seat in front of you.  You assure them quickly it is just water and realise packing presents for fellow passengers might not have been such a crazy idea. 

For those of us lucky enough to travel with our family it does have its universal challenges. The safety net of your normal home routine has gone, there are no more school rules, the flood gates open and suddenly your eight year old boy is making fart sounds with his hands all the way to your destination.  The siblings, five and one not to be outdone, are joining in with their own percussive ostinatos.  Also, let’s face it, as parents we want a break from making and enforcing rules.  Surely we can all just relax, right?  Not quite, often a child’s idea of relaxing on a destination holiday is trying to eat their weight in gelato, going to the pool, then beach, then pool, climbing beach rocks, throwing rocks, basically moving at full speed, all day, until they crash at bedtime. 

holiday pic 1

In research professor Brené Brown’s new Netflix special The Call to Courage, ( a great tag line for a holiday with young children, I feel).  Brené and her husband speak about making rules for her kids to follow on the family getaway or they would be ‘feral’ by the end of the two weeks.  I’m not sure how the holiday rules go as she ends up having a fight with her husband on a swimming expedition and we are left hanging.  There is nothing like the chaos of a family holiday and the close quarters to bring out the full range of human emotion.  On the other hand, sometimes emotions are not running high, instead they are dulled from the sheer exhaustion of keeping up with the joyous energy of the children.  Some trips, it’s not until you get home and have a quiet moment to look through all the snap shots that you can fully appreciate how very special the time together was.  It seems to me that one of the most important things about travelling with your tribe is mindset and the willingness to dive into the chaos.  To prepare but prepare for the unexpected.

Travelling after all is about new experiences, some will be some of your best and some a little more uncomfortable, like the late onset air sickness that is exploding from your three year old and all over the customs counter ( I hadn’t planned for that one).  You are together making memories and that is what really matters.  Often it’s the smallest things that the children remember and love most, like the paddle pop to break up the long car journey or just the very fact that you are all together as a family.  Even if all your carefully planned tips and tricks fail to provide holiday zen, hold onto the joyful moments.  Finally, at the end of the day, it’s the mishaps that make for some of the best family stories in years to come.

Summer reading and why The Barefoot Investor feels the jobs we have as teens, are important

As a new year begins I always have a sudden urge to improve what I am reading.  The reading of ACTUAL books becomes my mission.  No more flicking through articles on my phone at break neck speed, trying to take in some new findings on gut health or how the Dutch have the happiest kids in the world.  It is inevitable that, mid article, one of my three children will steal my reading time in favour of some kind of hunger/toileting/first aid need, and I have to carry on raising them none the wiser as to why the Dutch’s offspring are so chipper.

summer readin

Every summer holidays I saunter into a book store with a new found confidence that I can suddenly devour a stack of novels, without any problem, even though my track record for such a thing is completely dismal.  It’s a similar scenario to your night self, you know the one, that cheeky counterpart to day self.  The one that stays up late to binge watch Netflix and devour a copious amount of snacks, leaving poor day self to scull Mylanta shots and coffee to get through their day.  Every year, my summer holiday self, wants ALL the books.  This year, on my annual book shopping sojourn, I stumbled upon the bestsellers stand and was surprised to see a book about investing sitting at number one.

Not one for finding thrills in budgeting I was bemused how a book on the topic nabbed the top spot.  Clearly this chap had found some kind of magical wizardry to get people salivating over spreadsheets.  I grabbed the book and after a flick could quickly see the appeal.  The section on teens and part time jobs transported me back to the days when trying to improve my reading quota didn’t feature and the crucial thing was a summer job to pay for the Dr Martin boots I was desperate for.  The Barefoot Investor, Scott Pape, says that teenagers can get external validation for their talents and can therefore gain confidence.  There are also the invaluable life lessons about tax, bank accounts and superannuation he adds.  Equally, part time jobs can bring out the best in them.  As a high school teacher,  I often catch glimpses of my students in their part time jobs over the weekend and it can be astonishing.  The manners, the maturity and the pristine work uniform.  The latter can be especially jarring, when at school, they may be permanently scruffy and the shirt always untucked.  Or in the ‘tuck, untuck’ form, where the shirt is tucked in at several points and then untucked in another five, a skill in its own right.  The sighting of a student, who normally likes to spend lessons disassembling biros and turning them into pea shooting devices, ripping the cinema ticket of an elderly person and going the extra mile to help them to their seat, is particularly heart warming.   As I see students pouring perfect latte art at the local cafe, enjoying great relationships with fellow colleagues and beaming with self confidence, I see how much pride they have in these part time jobs and the fulfilment as well as the enjoyment that comes from them. 

Of course there are surprising lessons one learns from these part time jobs too.  When surveying friends about their experiences, they mentioned things like their newly acquired knowledge on the length and breadth of the fruit and vegetable family learnt as a supermarket cashier, or the quickest way to get through a bail of jumbled bras.  No doubt Obama can scoop the perfect ball of ice cream after famously declaring he worked at Baskin-Robbins during his teenage years.  A job which he says taught him responsibility and working hard on a minimum wage. 

The most out of the box learning I ever had, was at a work lunch in an arts job that I was lucky enough to land as a young adult.  As another long awkward silence presented itself while we ate, I thought it was polite to offer up some banter.  I filled the conversational void with a compliment about the Creative Director’s beautiful brooch that she was sporting on the lapel of her jacket.  “That’s a gorgeous brooch you have, did it come with the jacket?” I asked brightly.   She stared for a moment, rather stunned and then replied “Ah, no, nooooooo, that is my medal of the Order of Australia”. Cue mortification. Excellent lesson learnt. Be mindful, not all jewellery is created equal.

These jobs teach us about the value of money, about learning to work in harmony with people of different backgrounds and ages, about finding and using our own moral compass, the difference between kohlrabi and celeriac, and in my case, what a medal of the Order of Australia looks like.  Something I might have known, had my reading quota been a little higher in my young adult years.

Baby brain, what’s the weirdest thing you’ve done?


I’ve always been prone to a Bridget Jones style moment.  I’m partial to day dreaming and my brain is constantly workshopping too many things, all at once, meaning that a task at hand may not always be getting sufficient attention.  Luckily, important things get my direct focus, however, less significant things can often turn into a clumsy moment. 

When I fell pregnant for the first time, my tendency for the ridiculous grew. I would grab my garage door remote and confidently point it towards the boom gate at the entrance to a shopping centre and look on perplexed as the boom gate sat unresponsive.  I would completely forget pin numbers to bank accounts I used daily (for years, mind) and be stuck on the bank hotline for an age trying to remember security questions I had chosen, to recover the pin that I had forgotten.  The lovely lady on the bank hotline would assure me that I had once chosen these security questions myself (in a former life, with a former brain, I hasten to add).   “What was your middle brother’s first girlfriend?”, “What was your favourite song in school?” she recites.  I explain to lovely hotline lady, there must be some kind of misunderstanding, these must be someone else’s questions.  We end up having to go through my credit card transactions to prove I am, in fact, me.  Luckily, after five transactions, I recognise one of them and I can retrieve my pin.  I am still, however, locked out of my hotmail account, they deemed my knowledge of myself to be too poor to reinstate my access. 

I had vaguely heard about ‘baby brain’ but I had also heard people, mainly men in my workplace staffroom, poo-pooing the phenomenon.   To my great relief, I read this year that researchers at Deakin university have since declared that baby brain is in fact a real condition, their studies showed that “General cognitive functioning, memory, and executive functioning were significantly reduced during the third trimester of pregnancy” (Pregnancy really does make women more forgetful: Study, SMH, January 15, 2018).

As I reached my due date for my first baby, I thought it was crucial to get my hair done, as from what I’d heard, leaving the house after having a baby was going to be impossible.  I booked in with my local Toni and Guy, as my regular hairdresser was booked out and I had convinced myself the baby was going to come early (I wish!) and the hair situation was dire.  The lovely English hairdresser was chatty and helpful and as he finished my foils and went to prep for my blow dry, I took the free moment to grab my phone and check on my messages.  As I reached into my bag my fingers suddenly felt icy cold, and my hand brushed a wet plastic bag as I fumbled around to locate my phone.  How on earth did ice get in my bag I thought?! I hoisted the sack of a handbag onto my lap, I may have grunted, such was the size of my girth at this point and opened the bag wide open to get a good look at what on earth was going on.  There, tangled between my headphones, sunglasses and tissues was a plastic bag housing a very large, frozen, fillet of salmon.  Bemused by the fish in my bag, I tried hard to think about how it could have gotten there. My brain felt like marshmallow,  it seemed impossible to spark the neural pathways into gear to get to the bottom of this caper.  As I stared at my sodden hair in the mirror I willed my brain to get into gear but I was getting bupkis.  I decided to utilise the ‘retrace your steps’ method that had become common place in the last nine months and went through every action since leaving the house that morning.  Shower, check, breakfast, check, getting dinner out of the freezer and putting it on the bench. Bingo! I remember putting the salmon out to defrost. Thank Christ. I had absolutely no recollection of putting the frozen fillet in my hand bag but after taking stock of my recent brain fog it was entirely believable.  The relief of finally solving the fish in bag scenario was quickly replaced with sheer terror as I realised I had been sitting in the hairdressers with a piece of defrosting fish at my feet.  What if the hairdresser had smelt something fishy and thought it was me!?  He’d have to assume it was, as what kind of lunatic walks around with fish in their handbag!?  Maybe he would be compassionate because I was with child. One could only hope.  I was grateful that I only had to sit through a blow dry and then I could flee, post haste.  What good luck it was that it wasn’t my regular hairdresser.  I could potentially be safe in the knowledge I would never see this dude again.  I placated myself with these thoughts as I sat through the final moments of my blow-dry.  Nevertheless, I slowly and discreetly used my foot to push my handbag as far from my seat as I could manage, just in case any pungent fish fumes happened to catch his nostrils. 

The fish incident was my first foray into motherhood brain meltdown.  As the years passed in a blur and I had subsequent children, things like buying a sandwich and leaving it on my car bonnet and bolting off to rhyme time were common place.  Strange men would gesticulate from their car windows when we were stopped at an intersection, I’d in turn lock my doors in fear of some kind of car jacking, only to realise after, that they were trying to alert me to the coffee I had left on my roof.  Then there was the time a man sidled up to my table in a coffee shop, I had braced myself for the usual pleasantries of “oh your son looks so much like mine” or “you’ve got your hands full” but instead he started describing the exact make of my car and said I’d left the door to the passenger side wide open on the street. I certainly hadn’t remembered doing it but it definitely sounded like a bad case of baby brain. 

Do I feel better knowing that the smart folks at Deakin have proven it to be a real thing?

I guess, but I already knew it was real.  

image by Martine Payne 

Four places you’ll ‘find yourself’ during the toddler years


It is the eve of our third baby’s first birthday and I am surprised how quickly we are being catapulted out of the baby stage and into toddler town.  He is mere days away from officially being a toddler and is exhibiting the tell tale signs. He is suddenly very taken with a book about a little train. The train does things like go through a tunnel and puff puffs on tracks, there’s even a bit were it goes ‘toot, toot’, are you excited yet?  He routinely lurches out of my arms to grab it, flapping the beautiful and more imaginative story books out of my hands.  It feels like it was only yesterday that I was reading ‘diggers and dumpers’ and ‘emergency vehicles’ board books every. single. day. Both cracking reads as you can imagine. They were often teamed with real life excursions too, if there was a jack hammer pounding through cement nearby, or a garbage truck or a fire engine in sight, we’d be there front row and centre, toddler in nirvana and me wondering how my life had come to this. 

It’s been years since we’ve had a toddler in the house, my eldest two children are now in primary school and as we prepare to celebrate this milestone, the memories of the toddler years from baby number one (boy) and baby number two (girl) are flooding back.  If you are about to embark on the toddler stage too, allow me to shed a little light, on four places you will be spending some of your time:

The Park

Ah, the park, where shall I start?

The park is the place that evokes unadulterated joy in a toddler but slightly different feelings in you.  On some days it can be mind numbing, you might find yourself wishing for some tumble weeds to appear so as to at least have something to entertain yourself with.  You won’t want to look at that tumbleweed for too long though, as the park can sometimes come with a side serving of anxiety and sheer terror if you have a particularly adventurous toddler.  In saying that, I’ve seen the most tranquil of kids get completely taken out by a rogue swing.  Toddlers and swings, like bees to honey. 

At times,  you may be lucky enough to meet up with friends which definitely quells the isolation but as soon as you are getting into really scintillating conversation you could well be interrupted by the sight of your little person dangling off the climbing frame inches from a broken arm or heading for the hole in the park fence that leads onto train tracks.  You then have to drop the coffee and sprint for dear life.  In my experience, this scenario could happen up to five times in one park visit. 

The home play date

Next you try playdates with your friends and their beautiful toddlers.  You’ve been friends since your kids were babies, they are like family.  Surely this will be a bit relaxing, you can sit and drink tea while your cherubs play.  Now that they are no longer babies, their play style has suddenly morphed into something you don’t quite recognise.  They aren’t sharing and have started throwing trains at each other, one might have even bitten the other, but one of them has definitely bitten the button off the TV remote.  They didn’t get the memo that you are best friends and you want them to be too.  You haven’t had an uninterrupted conversation for most of the visit and the biscuit you ate is somehow stuck in your throat and won’t loosen, just like the planking toddler you are now trying to fold in half, so you can get them into their carseat and home in time for their nap.  You drive home praying they won’t fall asleep as even 10mins means there will be no day nap and you sing Old MacDonald at full pelt, all the way home, to stall any drooping eyes. 

The non-baby-proof visit:

A visit to a friend or relative’s house can often be a NIGHTMARE.  Fancy hotels can also be in this category, so many seem to love abstract art and there is nothing quiet like a statue made out of cast iron spikes to get your toddler excited and RUNNING at breakneck speed in its direction.   Then there is the visit to your great Aunty Flo’s.  She has a great passion for knick knacks, especially the expensive porcelain kind, nestled all over the house on small toddler height tables, perfection.  As soon as you enter the door your toddler lurches forward to swipe an entire table to the ground.  You laugh nervously and proceed to spend the rest of the visit shadowing your toddler, walking inches behind them the entire time telling everyone there that you’d rather drink your tea and biscuit standing, thanks very much.

The toddler bedroom floor:

Toddlers often see no point in wearing anything more than an Emma wiggles tutu or a Batman outfit. To get your toddler out the door on time and properly attired for any event means you will have to get creative.  I was often reduced to a barn animal. With one of our toddlers it was much speedier to get on all fours, twirk and cock my head to the side, ‘bow wow’, I’d pant. “Puppy wants to you to put your shoes on wuff wuff”. They in turn giggle and jump, “again, again!” they squeal.  Round and round it then goes until you can hardly breathe and are sweating like a pig BUT the shoes are on, win!

Before having children I could never imagine how zipping up a simple hoodie on a two year old could leave you perspiring and as red as a beetroot.  The comedian Michael Mcintyre’s side splitting bit ‘People with no kids don’t know’ showcases this scenario brilliantly.  While you are there, watch the whole thing, it’s the perfect therapy after a long day with a toddler, you might want to snuffle up a box of chocolates too.

There is no doubt the toddler years are challenging.  Even Robin Barker the bestselling author of Baby Love and The Mighty Toddler admits that she didn’t find the toddler years easy and preferred the teenage ones. Or maybe they will be a breeze for you and there will be other stages that pose more challenges.  The thing is, the toddler years bring with them a rich tapestry of emotions but one thing is for sure, there will be moments, knock the wind out of you ones, that will be so beautiful and heart throbbingly exquisite that you will hold them in your heart forever more.  I’ll gladly do all four things on this list again, just to get to see that chubby little toddler finger pointing out every single new thing with an emphatic ‘dair’ (there!), eyes shining with more wonder and excitement than you ever thought humanly possible.  I’ll remember this very sentiment the next time a tumbleweed passes me by.   

Family cooks we salute you!


In a world where the celebrity chef reigns supreme there is one cook who needs a bit of love, a warm hug and a lie down.  The family cook, the most unglamorous chef, rarely in the spot light despite beating the odds and dishing up family meals three hundred and sixty five days a year. 

My mum was the family cook when we were small and my dad took on the mantle in our teenage years.  He was home by 5.30pm every night and headed straight to the kitchen to prepare our family meal. I now sympathise with his withered look as he presented the wholesome meal to the table and saw our collective eyes fall as we weren’t quite feeling his vegetable curry.  As we pushed the food around our plate for the next twenty minutes, it often became evident that some of us, may have bought a large kebab meal on the way home from school, and were no longer hungry.

I am now the family cook in our household, ain’t karma grand? I actually love cooking, I find it relaxing and would even call it a hobby.  HOWEVER, cooking dinner for the family, everyday, is none of these! It is in a category all on it’s own. Most nights it feels akin to being a soldier trying to get through enemy lines. 

Some meals are gobbled with gusto and there are resounding cheers for more, however, if I dare go off-piste and introduce something new, I fear the neighbours may call the authorities.  Forget thinking about the ratio of protein to carbohydrate or wether or not the meal promotes good gut flora or has the appropriate amount of plant protein or utilises locally grown, sustainable produce.  Some nights the mere lunge to the pantry door can often feel impossibly hard.

So, I’ve tried to prep more.  The idea being, when hangry o’clock begins, I only have a couple of small jobs left to do; boil the pasta, and cook the corn.  How hard could boiling pasta be? Cue middle child, ‘Mum, Muuuum can you help me stick up my gazelle?” Me: “Honey, I need to get the pasta on, I’ll do it after dinner” middle child: “I need the gazelle on the wall NOW, I need it above the ant eater on my mural, NOOOW” Me: “Please be patient, I will help you when I’m finished”.  Eldest child “Which do you think is better….a threadfin snapper, a bat that uses echo location to try and catch a moth or a blue marlin slashing a fish in half?” Me: “What?! Honey, is this homework?! I can’t now, I need to boil the pasta” eldest child:  “Mural mum, it’s for the mural”.  A crash is audible below, the baby has gotten through my make-shift barrier of cushions and has rolled into the kitchen (I cannot install a safety gate because the layout of the kitchen doesn’t allow it, because, well, because of course it doesn’t!). Baby is now kicking the dishwasher and he’s dismantled the lower section so the pump is visible.  Another bang, this one comes from the living room. “What’s that?!” I yell, not wanting to leave the boiling pasta and the baby who is now under the open pantry door. Middle child: “I fell off the chair trying to hang my gazelle up mum”.  I quickly check with eldest child that middle child is ok and push on with straining the pasta, baby is now wrapped around my legs.  Have not got to the corn yet, decide to scrap it.  The bolognese has enough veggies in it, surely?!  As I crane my head into the living room to call them to dinner I spy reams of sticky tape on the ground.   On further inspection, the walls are covered with the kids pictures of animals that have been stuck on with said tape. Rather than admiring their ‘mural’, my mind suddenly wonders if all the wall paint will be removed by the tape.  Baby is screaming, he has become stuck between pantry door and wall.  As middle child and eldest child tuck into their bolognese they ask, where is the corn? And can they have a drink? And where are the drinks? And do I know what is for dessert? I can hardly speak as I’m prostrate on the floor, picking up nearly all the pasta I dished up for the baby.  I thought those suction cup plates were supposed to stay suctioned to the table?!   

Jools Oliver, wife of celebrity chef Jamie,  isn’t immune to this kind of palaver either.   In an interview with Zoe Hardman and Georgia Dayton she comments on the challenges of feeding her brood and the way her heart sinks when her youngest River, drops his jam toast face down on the floor.   “How disrespectful” she says to herself, completely in jest of course, however, it taps into that relentlessness and exhaustion you can feel when you are preparing never-ending meals that can regularly end up straight on the floor. 

Jessica Rowe’s instagram, The Crap Housewife, generously serves up her nightly dinner offerings, which by the way are really not that crap, my kids would be cheering for schnitty that regularly!  Scrolling through her feed you’ll see many of her go-to dinner staples and in turn you can feel a little better if you find those Pinterest worthy meals completely unattainable.  As any worn out family cook knows, it’s often the very simplest of meals that the family end up liking best.  It is a cruel truth that the ones you’ve slaved over, like the special kale and fetta baby fritters, are most likely the ones to end up being frizbeed across the room.

To all the everyday family cooks out there, we salute you.  In case nobody has told you lately, you are doing a FANTASTIC job.  You are on the front line, growing the humans of tomorrow and are infinitely more important than you will ever get credit for.