There’s a saying: “it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey”. I’m fairly confident that whoever said it had never been on a car trip with small children. I tend to try and blur the memories of long drives because it puts me off going anywhere, ever, but generally there’s a lot of bribery, silly games, pulling over, body contortions that a gymnast would be proud of to reach dropped toys, endless snacks, a decent amount of whinging, and the occasional puke into a hastily proffered container. But even after the most fraught car trips, there’s a lovely moment when I realise we got there safely, and can relish the thought of happy times just waiting to happen. Sometimes that lovely moment doesn’t hit until well after the house has been frantically cleared of mouse poo and the unpacked car has been pulled apart to find missing Snuggly Bunny, but it does hit eventually.
Going away even with just our little family isn’t the casual after-thought it used to be before we had children…it’s a manoeuvre planned with military precision. Travelling with another family ups the stakes even further – we’ve had to pull the plug on our fair share of trips thanks to any number of childhood ailments. Once we even made it to a destination, but then had to turn around when someone was hit with a tummy bug soon after arriving.
Recently though, the planning gods smiled upon us, and we actually managed a weekend away with my cousin, her partner, and little boy (Redford). We’d pinpointed a weekend two months in advance that didn’t clash with any prior engagements/birthday parties/specialist appointments, and when that day arrived everyone was magically healthy! We loaded up two cars with four adults, three children, one cat, kid-clothes for every eventuality, enough food to survive a zombie apocalypse, and headed out of town. When the kids were all settled in their sleeping quarters, we opened some wine and practically did a happy jig to celebrate how well it was all going.
It had been a little bit too easy. And we paid for that when Amy flung open the door to the room we were sharing with Tilly at midnight, shrieking about a dropped teddy and coming-off bandaid. The fracas woke up Tilly (who is a light sleeper at the best of times), which was The Beginning Of The End. If Tilly wakes up in the night, she’s instantly WIDE awake and hell bent on partying for at least four hours. At home we can manage this state of affairs with some sleep training techniques, but in a house full of people? Tricky. Tilly sensed weakness, so quickly started dictating her demands. She graciously allowed one parent to escape to the couch. The other parent (me. It was me.) began a five-hour negotiation process that involved singing, story-telling, rocking, jiggling, looking at the moon, and desperate pleading. You don’t really realise how much power your baby has over you until you find yourself succumbing to their demand to sing ‘HotDamnHotDamn’ (Tilly’s name for Bruno Marrs ‘Uptown Funk’) at 4 A.M. She finally drifted off in our bed close to dawn with her feet wedged under my chin.
Sleep deprivation be dammed: tiredness was absolutely worth it to be able to hang out with my cousin, and for Amy, Redford and Tilly to play together the next day – just like we did when we were little. Strong coffee also helped.
Sure, the weather wasn’t the best and someone did wees in the back of the car when we were sheltering from a sudden downpour, but there were animals everywhere, sandcastles were built, and there were lots of lovely moments like these ones:
On the second night my husband and I were anxious about a repeat performance of the night before, and decided not to even open bedroom door after Tilly had fallen asleep in case it led to one of us having to do moonlit Bruno Marrs impersonations. So Tilly slumbered for 14 uninterrupted hours in a master bedroom with en-suite while we lightly snoozed on a mattress next to a fridge that made sounds like it had a poltergeist trapped inside it. At least we were lying down. No one dared to flush the loo.
Frankie the cat was the only one who seemed to come through the weekend refreshed after hours and hours of peaceful sleep in his heated igloo (which we’d also brought with us). We were all a bit jealous of Frankie.
Now that grogginess and stiff backs have long gone, I keep thinking about all the giggles, looking at our photos (of the fun bits – we didn’t take any photos of Tilly shouting in the night, oddly enough) and I can’t wait to head away and do it again soon.
(Originally published in the Feb/March 2016 edition of Little Treasures Magazine. This is a slightly extended version of the published article)