Category Archives: What were we thinking? (aka travelling with small children)

Pandemic Travelling

My family took the plunge last month and travelled overseas. I suppose it was technically ‘optional’ travel, but it didn’t feel very optional since we hadn’t seen Q.’s family since 2019 (the kids had not one, but two cousins who hadn’t been born the last time we were there). We wouldn’t have flown just for a vacation. I was very stressed about the decision, but we survived and came home Covid-free. I thought it might be useful to post about a few things that helped us travel without catching Covid.

There are many reports in the news about the chaos in Canada with renewing passports and the chaos at airports, and our personal experience attests that none of these reports is exaggerated. Getting the kids their Canadian passports was very stressful even though we started the application process long before our trip date (I’d like to acknowledge how amazing the Australians were at processing the applications, while also recognizing that we probably got better treatment because we were lodging the applications overseas as I’ve heard reports things are bad there too). When I finally picked up the kids’ passports (24 hours before our flight), I thought the worst was over. I was wrong.

We also fell afoul of the delays at the airports. Every flight we took to get to Australia was late. In two cases, we were late (at least partly) because the plane was waiting for late passengers. On both occasions, that lateness caused us to then miss our connecting flight (which did not wait for us). One of these missed connections led to an unexpected three-day layover in a city where we had not planned to spend more than 90 minutes. I do not think the airline is going to compensate us for any of this.

The total travel time (door-to-door) ended up being 113 hours, for a trip that is normally 24.

Like I said, I wouldn’t have chosen to fly this summer just for a vacation.

But we went, and (eventually) we got there, and we did have a good time. So here’s how we stayed Covid-free:

Luck

Let’s face it, in an era of ‘personal responsibility’ and lack of any government mandates or precautionary measures, you can’t actually be sure that you can protect yourself from catching Covid if you go out into the world. I’m very aware that we engaged in a number of high-risk activities, and the odds could have gone against us. We spent hours upon hours in airplanes or airports. We had to eat indoors on some occasions (including in airports and on airplanes). We didn’t do a lot of things we would have done in a pre-pandemic world, but we were also out in the world a LOT more than we had been at home. The house where we stayed the whole time we were overseas had people in it who didn’t mask and who participated in activities we wouldn’t feel comfortable doing (eating in restaurants, exercising in group settings indoors, etc.), and they continued with these behaviours while we were there. People were invited maskless into that house without rapid tests beforehand. There was an unmasked toddler sitting directly across the aisle from me on our long return flight who spent the entire trip coughing. We were lucky. We could create safer travel, not safe.

Privilege

Everything we did to make our travel safer cost money, or time, or both. We could afford an unexpected three-day layover that the airline will not be compensating us for. Travelling generally requires privilege. Travelling as we did requires even more. I had the time and the knowledge to navigate the system to fix the problem with the passports (including lining up outside one of the offices at 4.30 am to make sure I would be able to speak to an actual person).

The tools we used to keep ourselves safer cost money.

Public health shouldn’t depend on privilege.

Government Measures

Ok, there are almost no government measures left, but Canada still requires masks on airlines and in airports and THANK GOODNESS IT DOES.

Yes the air on the airplanes is heavily filtered, blah blah blah, but it wasn’t as good as I was expecting (more on that below). I saw a study (linked to on Twitter, can’t find it at the moment) which suggests that the filtering on airplanes makes the 18 inch space between your face and the person sitting next to you equivalent to a 2 meter distance. So the filtering does help, a lot, but without masks it’s not going to be enough.

Australia was also in a BA 5 wave while we were there and there was lots of hand-wringing and suggestions that it was strongly recommended to wear masks in indoor spaces, but no mandates, so guess what? Not many other people were wearing masks.

(Effective) Masks

We wore KN-95-equivalent masks everywhere, except in the house where we stayed and in two other relatives’ houses, who were part of our visit bubble (and who also aggressively rapid tested whenever anyone felt even the slightest bit off). Every public transit vehicle. Every shop. Every indoor space, and some outdoor spaces when they were crowded. I was really proud of my kids, who were almost always the only kids wearing a mask (and often no one else around us was masking). They masked up without complaint every time. They slept in their masks on the plane. They asked me whether I had masks whenever we left the house. When one of our relatives had a big family party four days before we left to come home, my kids put their masks on every single time they went into the house, even though they were surrounded by unmasked children.

We get our masks here (no affiliation, I just love them and want them to get all the recognition they deserve). I brought packs of their kid-sized masks for my SIL, who struggles to find good KN-95s for children in Australia.

When we took 113 hours to get there, we went through a crazy amount of masks. I packed way more than I thought we would need, and I’m so glad I did. I’m also glad we didn’t lose our luggage because I underestimated on the way there how many masks we would need to have in our carry on. Lesson learned.

The masks we buy cost $15.90 (plus tax) for 10. They’re good for eight hours continuous wearing (but in theory you can then air them out and reuse them if they’re not dirty/damaged – the kids’ masks have never made it past a full day of wear). We have spent hundreds on them in the past year.

Rapid (and Molecular) Tests

I brought 20 rapid tests on our trip. We used almost all of them. Some of them were free; some of them we bought online.

We used them to confirm none of us caught Covid on our (extended) journey there.

We used them to gather safely with family.

We used them whenever one of us appeared symptomatic. Some relatives we spent a lot of time with nearly always had cold/allergy symptoms (which inevitably transferred to us). So we all spent heaps of time doing rapid tests to be certain that’s all it was.

We also had a couple of the Lucira Check It molecular tests, which are an at-home PCR-level test. These are really expensive – $75 USD per test. One of my relatives has access to a steady supply of them as a work benefit, and they’re able to flick a few extras on to us. Without easy access to PCR testing, these help us determine whether we need to be masking the entire household during those days when a rapid test might produce a false negative.

We used one when E. had a weird rapid test result (a shadow, not a line, and not quite in the right spot for the second line) and one when Q. was sick with the other family’s cold and we had a big family event to attend. Both times the tests were negative. Both times the result was a huge relief.

Again, see privilege above.

CO2 Monitor

I made a somewhat impulse decision to buy a CO2 monitor right before we left on our trip. I’d borrowed one from a friend for a few days earlier in the spring, so I knew how useful they could be, but I’d been hesitating over the cost.

In the end, I took the plunge (because, privilege), and I am SO GLAD I did. I bought an Aranet4 from here (no affiliation but they were fabulous to deal with and so fast!), which was the one my friend (who is a ventilation engineer by profession) told me was the best one to get. Quick summary: the monitor provides readings every five minutes of the level of CO2 in the air. Outside air has around 420 ppm. 1200 ppm means about 2% of the air you’re breathing has already been in someone else’s lungs. Cleaner air = less chance of catching Covid. (The monitors don’t take into account the impact of HEPA filters.)

That monitor paid for itself when our outbound trip took 113 hours instead of 24. It told me how good the air was in the airports (in three of the four, exceptional; in the fourth, very good). It told me how good the air was in the airplanes (disappointingly high, although I know the air is heavily filtered). It told me how good the air was in the hotel we ended up staying in (very very good, including in the restaurant).

When you are flying/travelling continuously for as long as we were, you can’t refuse to eat or drink and just keep your mask on. It’s not possible or safe. The CO2 monitor let us make better choices about when/where to unmask. It’s a lot less stressful to eat indoors for the first time since the pandemic started when you can see that the air is reading 480 ppm.

The kids had a particular public transit route they desperately, desperately wanted to take – it was on their list of things they most wanted to do down under. We rode it, and learned the air quality wasn’t good enough. So on the return trip, we took a different option with better air.

Now that we’re back home, I’m going to use the CO2 monitor to help me figure out which things we can add back into our lives. Indoor spaces can be safe with masks (even without mandates) if the ventilation is good enough. Covid isn’t going away, and our governments don’t seem interested in doing the work to control it. I would like to be able to do more things with my kids, but I would also like to know that we’re choosing safer environments.

I’m also really excited about the potential of the Raven CleanAir Map, which hadn’t launched yet while we were away. This is an attempt to crowdsource CO2 readings of public spaces, to help everyone make better choices. Someone posted a reading for a packed movie theatre in my city. No mask mandate. The air was excellent! We haven’t been to the movies the entire pandemic, and I’m not sure I could cope with a full house, but maybe seeing a movie that’s been out for a while is a possibility for us now.

Governments should be requiring businesses and public spaces to post their CO2 readings, and should have incentive programs to improve the ventilation in buildings that are found to have inadequate airflow.

But they won’t, and they don’t, so citizen activism will have to fill in the gaps.

I hope this was helpful! Does anyone else have good travel tips?

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Filed under COVID-19, Down Under, Soapbox, What were we thinking? (aka travelling with small children)

Read With Your Ears (For Kids)

I wrote recently about how I discovered audiobooks in 2018.

I discovered them for E. as well.

It started with our long car drives to go see my father. P. has pretty much stopped napping in the car, which means she and E. spend much of their time winding each other up and getting sillier (and noisier) by the minute. It got so bad we ended up putting a blanket ban on driving home from my mother’s house after dinner- the hilarity mania that ensued when bedtime was missed and dessert had been eaten was, quite frankly, distracting to the point of becoming dangerous.

If E. is otherwise occupied, P. can’t rile him up. And, if he’s not responding to her silliness, she pretty soon gives up and starts playing with toys or looking out the window. E. can read in the car without getting sick, so our problems were always when we had to drive somewhere at night.

Enter the audiobook.

I’m not exaggerating when I say audiobooks changed our lives. On our most recent trip we listened to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on the way there, and The BFG on the way home, and the only complaints we had were from P., who announced after one too many descriptions of the nasty giants that she ‘didn’t yike the ABCDBFG’ (which was a good reminder that her level of verbal comprehension is sufficiently high that we should be choosing audiobooks that are appropriate for her if we’re going to play them over the car’s stereo and not just have E. listen to them on his own). She was a huge fan of Matilda, however, especially the part where Matilda glued her father’s hat to his head.

Audiobooks have also been hugely useful as an alternative to quiet reading after dinner, when I’m putting P. to bed, and we need E. to start calming his mind and his body. Without the focus of a good book, he’s likely to end up bouncing off the walls (literally). On the nights he feels too tired to read, he’s happy to put on his headphones and borrow my iPad (although I do have to set Guided Access to make sure I don’t find any surprises on my camera later).

At the moment E. is really enjoying the Upside Down Magic series, but he also loves any Roald Dahl book when the hold (finally- our library doesn’t have enough copies of Dahl’s books) comes in. He’s listened to a heap of Beverly Cleary, quite a few Geronimo Stiltons (which Q. and I find deeply painful to listen to, but E. loves them), most of the Timmy Failure series, all the available Stick Dog books and a couple of Captain Underpants. I asked him if he wanted to put holds on the How to Train Your Dragon series, which is his current passion in ‘real’ books, but he said he prefers to listen to books he hasn’t already read (even though he’s also read all the Timmy Failure and Stick Dog books).

His list of holds is growing thin, so please do recommend anything great we haven’t yet discovered! I’ll take suggestions for podcasts (especially science-related) too, as I’m sure that’s going to be the next step.

 

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Filed under Books, E.- the eighth year, P.- the third year, What were we thinking? (aka travelling with small children)

Road Trip

We drove back yesterday from visiting both parental households. Q. and I spent most of the drive discussing the current state of my parents (mother very stressed but long-term prospects are still good; father’s situation provokes rage and despair in equal measure). There was a lot of ranting (not all of it from me) and some serious talks about what to do next, all buried under loud music for the sake of the little pitcher with huge ears in the back.

Meanwhile, it the backseat, the drive looked a lot like this:

Five scenes from a six hour drive

Scene 1. Turia is driving. P. is asleep. E. is telling a story to himself.
E.: *unintelligible* “Don’t worry, I borrowed it from the solar system! The Earth said it would be all right.”
*muttering*
*sound effects of crashing and explosions*
E.: “And all the planets were consumed!”

Scene 2. Turia is driving. We are thirty minutes away from stopping for dinner.
P. *shrieks of laughter*
E.: “Pick up the monkey and throw it back to me, P.!”
*flurry of motion in the rear-view mirror*
E. & P. *shrieks of laughter*
Repeat scene with everything within reach in the backseat

Scene 3. Q. is driving. We are trying to get back on the highway after having to take a detour to avoid an accident right before our on-ramp.
P.: “P. Door. Car.”
E.: “How far away from home are we?”
P.: “P. Door. Car. Out.”
Turia: “One hour and forty-three minutes, according to Google, once we get back on the highway.”
P.: “Mummy, Mummy, Mummy!”
E.: “I meant, how many kilometres?”
P.: “P. DOOR. CAR. OUT!!!”
Turia: “One hundred and sixty-eight.”
P.: “Mummy, Mummy, MUMMY!!”
E.: “Oh, ok. I will not start to look for the [very well-known building] yet.”
P.: “P!!! DOOR!!! CAR!!! OUT!!! MUMMY, MUMMY, MUMMY!!!”

Scene 4. We are listening to Sharon, Lois, and Bram’s Greatest Hits. Q. is driving. “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain” is playing.
E.: “You know, I think there are other versions of this song where they are eating things other than chicken and dumplings.”
*song ends*
P.: *very quietly* “Choo-choo.”

Scene 5. P. is asleep again. Q. is driving.
E.: “I still feel sad when I think about P. [our cat who died in April of 2016] just like I still feel sad when I think about Grandpa I. [my stepfather, who died in August 2016].”
Turia: “It’s ok to feel sad, E. You feel sad because you loved them and you miss them. I still feel sad when I think about them too.”
E.: “Remember after Grandpa I.’s funeral and I said that maybe at night he would get out of the cemetery and go geocaching? Maybe our cat gets up at night too.”
Turia: “Do you think she’s the one who makes our floorboards creak when L. [our other cat] is asleep on our bed?”
E.: “Yes!”
Turia: “Is she a little cat ghost?”
E.: “No! She is a cat zombie! She gets down off the shelf in her box and goes all around the house.”
*long pause*
Turia: *very quietly, to Q.*  “We really need to make time to bury her and get the box off of our bookshelf.”
E.: “Brrrrraaaaiiinnnnssss!”

Happy chaos.

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Filed under Blink and you'll miss it, Choose Happiness, E.- the seventh year, P.- the second year, What were we thinking? (aka travelling with small children)

Microblog Mondays: Thankful

It was Thanksgiving here north of the border a couple of weekends ago. Q. and I opted to rent a cottage for the weekend, rather than making the drive to see my parents, partly because we couldn’t face the idea of driving in holiday traffic in both directions after the abject horrors of said drive the previous year and partly because we realized that we hadn’t gone anywhere without friends or family since August 2014, when E. was three.

It felt both wrong and right to put my little nuclear family first, even though we found another weekend this fall where we could go to see my parents (E. has the Friday off from school and we’ll pull him out on the Monday as it’s not feasible to do both houses unless we have four days) and there’s the possibility that my father might be actually moved into his new house by mid-November. Gaining an extra five hours to visit (instead of sitting in traffic) and avoiding the horrors of visiting in the ICU with a toddler in tow seemed like a no-brainer, but I still felt guilty knowing that my sisters had made similar decisions and this meant that all the parents would be alone over the holidays. Our family is not in extreme crisis any longer, but it would be a lie if I said either situation was easy at the moment.

When asked if I was looking forward to the cottage, I said that I expected it would be not remotely relaxing but that it would be a nice change of scene, and (surprise, surprise) I was right.

There were some excellent moments (E. learning to kayak, discovering a tree castle on an island in the middle of the lake that E. could climb, watching the storms blow in and blow out again, E. catching tiddlers off of the dock, P. sitting up on the big outdoor benches eating her lunch) and some less than perfect ones (having both kids screaming within ten minutes of going outside because E. had fallen off a wooden swing and hurt his tailbone and the swing had then swung forward to smack P. in the head, not going hiking with our friends because the car couldn’t get back up the driveway that I had told Q. on arrival I didn’t think we should drive down, but which Q. thought would be fine, and then taking two hours to get said car up the driveway, breaking a taillight in the process). P. struggled with the slope of the ground between the cottage and the lake (read: fell down a lot), and tried to throw herself (or any toys within reach) off the dock at every opportunity.

E. had a blast.

Q. and I each managed to get in a bit of solo kayaking, and Q. even braved the lake for a (very) brief swim. I didn’t get much time to play with my camera, but I did what I could.

 

 

 

A cottage will be easier next year, when P. is older, and even easier the year after that, but I am trying not to wish away the phase of life that is my present. Two years ago we went to another cottage with friends for Thanksgiving. I had learned I was pregnant the day before we left. We didn’t yet know how it would turn out, but now, two years later, here was P., giggling and smiling and climbing into the kayak when she thought we weren’t looking.

I am so thankful.

How do you balance vacation time between your immediate family and your extended one(s)? Does anyone else find this incredibly difficult?

This post is part of #MicroblogMondays. To read the inaugural post and find out how you can participate, click here.

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Filed under Blink and you'll miss it, Choose Happiness, E.- the seventh year, Microblog Mondays, P.- the second year, What were we thinking? (aka travelling with small children)

Microblog Mondays: Bleary

We’ve had four nights back home now, after the epic trip back (which, thanks to P., who was both cutting a tooth and making a developmental leap, was by far the worst flight we’ve ever experienced).

I don’t love to travel.

I love to be somewhere new (or comfortingly not new, in the case of Australia), but I don’t love the process of getting there.

I don’t love flying- I can’t sleep on planes and I’m a nervous flyer.

I hate jet lag.

Usually, when we go to Australia, I have a moment somewhere around the eight or nine hour mark in the second flight (when there’s still six or seven hours left and I’ve missed an entire night of sleep) where I think to myself “WHY are we DOING this??!!”

And then we land and the sun is just so bright and there are cockatoos and kookaburras in the trees and the hours and hours spent stuck in that cramped seat are worth it.

Coming home is always harder, even though the flight is shorter. Our vacation is over and we have to try to return to our usual routine as quickly as possible. I’m reminded that I’m the adult every time I come home from a trip and our house looks the same as how we left it and we’re the ones who have to make dinner and buy the groceries and do the laundry, etc.

The worst part about being the adult right now is it means I have to fix my children’s jet lag before I can fix my own. We learned from our mistakes the first time we took E. to Australia (when he was the same age P. is now), so we ignored the clock and focused on establishing a twelve hour day. Once that was established we started waking them up progressively earlier to shift when their day “started”. After four nights they’re both pretty much back on EST, and P. last night didn’t wake up for longer than it took for her to nurse (as opposed to the previous three nights where she woke up and was then tired but unable to fall back asleep for an hour or two).

Me?

Last night I slept from midnight until 3 a.m. (insert rolling eyes emoji here)

Hopefully now that they’re sorted out I’ll follow suit within a day or two.

How well do you handle jet lag? Does it affect your desire to travel?

This post is part of #MicroblogMondays. To read the inaugural post and find out how you can participate, click here.

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Filed under Microblog Mondays, What were we thinking? (aka travelling with small children)

Quiet

Last night I sent the two people  most precious to me in all the world through airport security where they would get on a plane and fly the long arc down across the ocean to a sun-burnt country.

They are somewhere over the Pacific right now as I type. I know their flight got into YVR on time, and that they left YVR a bit early. They should touch down at SYD around 6:15 p.m. my time, a little more than 24 hours after I said goodbye.

E. was fine saying goodbye. I think we gave him just enough lead time (one week) that he was able to process through his anxiety about the separation and by the time we got to the airport he was just excited to get on the plane. I picked him up for one last hug and he said, “Mummy, I think we might miss the plane if we do not go through security soon.” All right, kiddo. I get it. You’re ready.

I wasn’t.

My sister, C., came with us so that I did not have to drive back from the airport alone. She ended up doing the driving, as I have a miserable cold that is badly disrupting my sleep and I am not really functioning all that well. Her crazy ‘avoid traffic’ app took us on a convoluted route that did, eventually, as promised, lead us to where we needed to go, and we could chat the whole way and we weren’t stuck in traffic like we would have been on the highway. A successful trip all round.

The house is very quiet. I got out my best stuffed animal, the cougar that has been my most special of friends ever since I was two and a half. I still sleep with him when Q. is away because I have a ridiculously overactive imagination and I can’t cope otherwise. It’s an effort not to put a light on somewhere upstairs when I’m in the bed alone.

I worked out last night that I have never been alone in the house since E. was born. I have spent nights away from E., two full weeks when I went to the UK early in 2013, but I’ve always been the one to be somewhere else. And when Q. has been away, I have been here, with E.

It is strange that this used to be my normal. That we spent two and a half years in this house, just the two of us and the cats, and I would be alone whenever Q. was away. Now the house is so thoroughly permeated with E’s presence, it is hard to believe that he is gone and that I will not be able to hug him again for a month.

It was the right decision. He will have a wonderful time down under. It will be good for him to have so much time with his father, especially since Q. will be doing more of the school pick ups next semester because of my teaching schedule. And I have a lot of work to do, not least because I just picked up a third course  yesterday (the course director took another job and quit halfway through the year).

And there is a part of me that is looking forward to getting my own breakfasts without having to organize someone else’s first; to be able to take a long shower without having that tiny pulse of anxiety wondering whether maybe this time my child might not be just sitting downstairs quietly reading a book, but might have hurt himself; to be able to make plans for the afternoon that can go past 3:05 p.m.; to make dinners that don’t meet with Q.’s approval (beans and goose sausage wienies, I’m looking at you). And I’m looking forward to going home for the holidays to be able to visit with my family without the added layer of Q. and E., because as much as I love watching my son play with his grandparents and his aunties, it will be nice to be able to have some long conversations.

I might even be really daring and go out and see a movie or two while I’m still at home by myself. With popcorn even!

Q. and I went out for lunch yesterday to have a bit of time together before the flight (lunches with Q. is one of the best results of E. being in school). He was a bit worried that E. might eat too much junk food and watch too much television and go to bed too late while they were away. In general he felt discipline might break down entirely.

“Whatever,” I said. “It’s a month. Let him have fun. As long as he gets enough sleep and eats on a regular basis and doesn’t get a sunburn, who cares about the rest.”

I never stop being a mother. But for the next month, I am no longer responsible for E.

That is weird and freeing in equal measure.

I am going to miss them.

But I am also going to make sure I do not waste this time to myself.

It will likely not come again for a very long time.

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Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Anxiety Overload, Down Under, E.- the fifth year, What were we thinking? (aka travelling with small children)

Don’t Forget the Map!

Microblog_MondaysQ., E. and I were away on the weekend, squeezing every last drop out of our glorious summer. My supervisor (also one of Q.’s colleagues) very kindly invited us up to his cottage for the weekend, and even the thought of talking shop non-stop wasn’t enough to keep us from saying, “Yes, please!”

Turns out the shop-talk was kept to a relative minimum (although there was this truly hilarious moment where my supervisor wondered where on earth E. gets his loquacious manner, given Q. and I “aren’t very talkative. I’m mean you’re all very civilized obviously, but you don’t waste words.” This is mostly funny if you know my supervisor and understand that you CANNOT get a word in edge-wise with this man.) There was loads of time for canoeing, swimming, falling in love with (yet) another lake, and eating too much good food. E. was in tears when it was time to come home and invited himself back again next year (which my supervisor seemed to think was a wonderful idea, hurrah!).

The drive home became miserable at the predictable point, where Highway With Reasonable Amount of Returning Cottage Traffic met Highway of Doom, so we hopped off, stopped for dinner and decided to plot an alternative route.

This led to the following conversation with our waitress:

Me: “Do you know an alternative route into Big City We Call Home that doesn’t involve driving on Highway of Doom?”
Waitress: “Oh, I am so bad with directions. What if you just tell your GPS to avoid highways? That should work.”
Me: “It’s a rental car. It doesn’t have a GPS.”
Waitress: “What about on your phone?”
Q. and Me, looking sheepish: “Umm. We don’t have smartphones…”
Supremely Patient and Helpful Waitress: “Oh.” *total confusion for a moment* “I’ll just go get mine and look for you.”

We left her a big tip and set off with her directions and got lost, as it turns out, almost immediately, but it all worked out because we drove past a gas station (which we had been looking for) and bought a mini road atlas of the south of the province and then discovered we could pretty easily get onto Alternative Small Highway which we have used multiple times before, as our general rule of driving is NEVER DRIVE on Highway of Doom, but we’d forgotten our provincial road map. This was foolish.

We took Alternative Small Highway and had a very easy trip home.

Lesson learned: If you’re not going to enter the twenty-first century by getting a smartphone, don’t forget your map (or your new handy pocket sized road atlas).

Is there anyone else out there who doesn’t have a smartphone? It seems to be mostly when we’re stuck in traffic we wish we had one.

This post is part of #MicroblogMondays. To read the inaugural post and find out how you can participate, click here.

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Filed under Microblog Mondays, What were we thinking? (aka travelling with small children)

Travel tips

Dear Turia,

Here are some helpful things to remember the next time you travel down under.

  • It is actually winter there at this time of year. I know it’s ‘winter’ and there’s no snow, and half the time the daytime high is comparable to a pleasant spring day in your part of the Great White North, but your memories weren’t exaggerating about how cold the houses were going to be. Yes, you can pack your slippers and your giant cozy sweater. No, they are not taking up too much space.
  • But pack some shorts. And if you go to the coast, take them. You might get to wear them. Packing six pairs of shorts for E., however, is ambitious.
  • Don’t bother bringing running gear unless you are actually running regularly BEFORE you leave for the airport. You’ve done this twice now. If you’re not in a pattern of regular running before the holiday, you’re not going to magically find the time to start while there. Stop wasting space that your giant cozy sweater could be using.
  • Stop thinking you’re going to read books on the plane. You won’t have the brain capacity. Just admit you’re going to watch movies (at least when E.’s not asking you questions), and stop packing books. They’re heavy.
  • Learn to say no to alcohol, puddings, morning and afternoon teas, etc., at least some of the time. If you’re not running, you can’t eat whatever you want, whenever you want, for a month without consequences.
  • Do whatever it takes to achieve a quiet life on the plane. You’re never going to see those people again. If E. is happy to watch 17 hours of television, and he’s quiet the whole flight (because he’s either sleeping or watching television) except for when he’s shrieking with laughter at the television, call that a win. You are not a bad parent for doing this.
  • Do not turn into your mother. Yes, I understand that you’ve been sucked into the world of bird-watching. Q. has a very low tolerance for such activities. Strive for the happy medium.
  • Don’t think it will be a cheap holiday. Yes, you’re staying with family. Yes, you’re not doing a lot of travelling around. But you seem to always forget how expensive Q.’s country is, and how much Q.’s family likes to eat out. Coffees cost $4 and tea isn’t any cheaper. Just get used to it.
  • Use jet lag to your advantage. All routines go out the window on such a trip. Why not embrace the chaos and use it for good? Upon returning from this trip you managed to get E. to start brushing his teeth after breakfast, to get dressed after breakfast, to sleep in his medium-sized guy bed rather than a crib, and to start sitting on (and using!!!) the potty. All without arguments or hysterics. Frankly, looking at that list, the sky’s the limit.
  • Don’t think of it as a ‘vacation’. It’s not going to be relaxing. It will probably get easier as E. gets older, but it’s never going to feel like a break. You’re going to come home exhausted. Make sure to take lots of pictures and see some things you’ve never seen before. That’s what you’ll remember in the years to come.
  • Don’t regret the life you have. Oz has a funny habit of putting on a good show every time you go to visit. The weather’s amazing, Q.’s city has the most beautiful harbour in the world (and you never get tired of the view from the train as you ride across the Bridge), the newspapers are better, the dairy products are amazing, the trains are so much more civilized. Remember that you can’t afford to live in Q.’s city. Remember how much you hate the summers there. Remember that most things that crawl or slither can kill you. Remember that there is a casual acceptance of racism that you were never able to be reconciled to. Remember how far away it is from everywhere else. It is the best place in the world to visit, but you don’t want to stay there forever.
  • Try to be nicer. Granted, a month is too long to spend with family (as you and Q. both agree). Granted, they are going to say some truly hurtful things that imply your life as it stands must be terrible because you don’t live where they do, and they are going to continue to ask some truly ignorant questions about your country (no matter how many times they come to visit), and they are going to make some very passive-aggressive (or sometimes just plain aggressive) judgments about your parenting and about your son. Remember that Q. chose you. He loves you. You have a good life. His family misses him terribly, and they don’t understand why he moved across the world. Remember that they love E. with all their hearts. Try to cut them a bit more slack, even when they are driving you absolutely fucking crazy. You make this resolution every time you visit. Try to keep it next time.

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Filed under Down Under, Family, Running, What were we thinking? (aka travelling with small children)

Resurfacing

Well, hello again.

So where am I at?

When last I wrote, I was facing down the start of a ridiculous month of deadlines. I was, not to put too fine a point on it, panicking.

Here’s what happened.

I eventually gave up and went to my doctor and got antibiotics so that I could stop being sick. I just couldn’t shake it on my own.

I marked all of my students’ assignments and tallied their final grades.

I finished the draft of my dissertation and gave it to my supervisor on time.

The next week I wrote the first conference paper and presented it. It was well received. I wrote the second conference paper while away at the first conference.

Then I wrote my final language exam. I thought I had done well enough that I might maybe, maybe, squeak a viva rather than being failed outright.

They passed me outright. No idea how I managed that, given the mess I made of the final passage, but I’ll take it and run. That made for all four translation exams (two ancient, two modern) passed on the first attempt. I’m the only graduate student in my program to have done this.

The day after the language exam I gave my second conference paper. It was fine.

That weekend my supervisor sent back my thesis, which he had actually read, and read carefully, in two weeks (this is pretty much unheard of in academia). He sent it back with 28 pages of typed comments. Not one was “you have to rewrite this entire chapter/section because it is terrible”.

That Monday Q. went overseas for three weeks. I was on my own with E. for a week, and then had two weeks with grandparents there to help (my dad for the first, my mum for the second).

I worked 12-14 hour days on the dissertation those two weeks. My days went like this: wake up in a panic around 5 a.m. and work at the kitchen table until E. woke up. Then have breakfast with E., and take him to nursery school if it was a nursery school day. Then go to the library. Work until a bit before 5, with a fifteen or twenty minute break for lunch (as much time as it took to get down to the cafeteria level, eat a sandwich, and go back up to the stacks), then get home in time to cook dinner. After dinner put E. to bed and then work until 10:30 or 11 p.m. before going to bed. Repeat.

I am so grateful my parents were able to help. I wouldn’t have been able to get the revisions done otherwise. Even if Q. had been here, he would have had his own deadlines to meet, and I needed every single hour I could get.

I didn’t get every i dotted and every t crossed. This led me to have a massive anxiety attack one night when it became apparent I was going to have to make substantial changes to the introduction where I just lay in bed and cried until I fell asleep, but by the morning I had accepted this and could focus on finishing what I could finish rather than stressing about the revisions that needed more time than I could give them at that point.

But I got it done.

Q. got home on a Saturday night.

Sunday night I finished the table of contents and then turned the draft into a PDF.

Monday morning Q. went up to work, printed the draft out and delivered the hard copies to my committee members, while I did my last duty day at E.’s nursery school.

Monday afternoon Q. and I packed, took apart E.’s crib, and set up his new medium-sized bed.

Late Monday afternoon I picked E. up from nursery school. We had just enough time at home for a quick snack (making sure he didn’t go up and see the change in his room) and then my sister drove us to the airport. That night we flew down under, where we’ve been for the last month, and where I thought I’d have loads of time to blog except that it turned out my MIL scheduled pretty much our every waking minute.

It’s been a bit manic, to be honest.

We’re home now, jet lagged as anything (two nights ago E. slept for less than four hours total), but glad to be back.

Expect more from this space in the near future.

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Filed under (Pre)School Days, Anxiety Overload, Down Under, Family, PhD, The Sick, What were we thinking? (aka travelling with small children)

Priorities

I did our taxes last week.

It was quite a good result in the end.

I knew we were going to get money back, but we are going to get back quite a lot more than I was expecting/hoping for.

Here’s the thing: it took me four days to realize I hadn’t once looked at that final refund tally and thought, “That’s a really big chunk of a full IVF cycle.”

I didn’t even look at it and think, “Well, we’ll have the money for that FET no matter what happens with my teaching in the fall.”

When I first reached the end of the program, and saw the total, what I mainly thought was this:

I want to get a cottage.

And then I thought about how Q. wants to take down our old shed and replace it this summer, and how we are redoing the roof in the spring, and how this tax refund just gives us that little bit more breathing space while my income for next year is so up in the air. And I told myself not to be frivolous.

Q. had the same thought I did.

So we’re going to be frivolous with some of it, we who are never frivolous with our money. We’re going to rent a cottage for a week in late August.

It isn’t fancy, but it has a screened in porch and a canoe and it looks out over a lake and there is deep, clear water off the dock and a shallow entry into the water from the shore with a patch of sandy beach where E. will be able to potter around with his buckets and his shovels (and, let’s face it, his trucks).

We’re going to have a family holiday, just us three.

I’m tired of mortgaging our present for a potential future that I can hardly bring myself to believe might yet come to be.

I want to build memories with E.

Most of all, I need a distraction.

On the other path, the future that I thought was going to happen but isn’t now, I wouldn’t have been able to travel in the week we’ve rented the cottage.

I would have been as big as a house.

I would have been seeing my midwives every week.

Instead, I will swim and canoe and read and stargaze and build sand castles with my son.

And maybe, just maybe, be happy.

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Filed under Anxiety Overload, Family, Grief, Loss, Money Matters, Second Thoughts, What were we thinking? (aka travelling with small children)