‘Relaxing summer holiday?’ Forget about it, Dad

Taking the right mindset into your trip away could save you a world of pain, Niall Seewang writes.

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Mr Almost-Two is sick. Mum is sick. Grandma is sick. Little cousin is getting sick. I am sick. And to be brutally honest, we’re all a bit sick of each other.

This is day two of our supposed ‘relaxing summer holiday’. The 10-day trip to Hobart was the light at the end of the tunnel of a mega-stressful 2018 in which we juggled two full-time jobs with all the challenges of raising our first child in Melbourne.

We also ran a side business, which ate into our spare time in the evenings and weekends, while extra layers of stress seemed to come at us from all directions – big-life issues such as changing jobs, moving cities (treechange, FTW) – and unfortunately the death of my wife’s father.

It all added up to a year in which my wife and I both felt like we’d aged a decade – if I’d had any hair left on my head, it would almost certainly have turned grey, or been ripped out in frustration.

“At least we get a couple of weeks in Hobart to unwind at the end of the year,” I’d tell myself as 2018 drew to a close. It was a mistake.

For me, any time spent in my hometown of Hobart is gold. But after the birth of our son in March 2017, the journeys south take on extra significance as it delivers precious opportunities for my father and his partner to spend time with their ‘favourite’ grandchild (note – they have never said or even hinted that he’s their favourite … I just know he is).

So ahead of our so-called holiday, I imagined my wife and I taking a back seat as Grandpa and Gran spent quality time with our pride and joy.

We would put our feet up and sit outside with a cold drink! We would read (I optimistically packed my Kindle)! We could try to recapture some of the old romance with a meal or a movie while the grandparents babysat for us! I could catch up with all my old mates (did someone say 18 holes of golf?)! I would sit up with my dad late into the night with a bottle or two of red! Right? Wrong.

The trip was a slog.

The sicknesses – including a late-night dash to the Royal Hobart Hospital’s emergency department (only a scare, thankfully) – didn’t help, but the travel, family politics, packed calendar and new environment completely threw our son out of whack.

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He changed from a gappy-toothed smiling assassin into a sleep-deprived grizzle guts, and his parents were much the same.

In isolation, the little things that affected him weren’t game-breakers: the gastro and ear infection, the uncomfortable travel cot, the absence of blackout blinds in his room, the new faces and environments.

But the complete lack of routine, importantly instilled in him at home and childcare, combined to make his, and our, life a lot more difficult.

This should not have come as a surprise. My wife certainly forecast the storm that was to come, telling me as I grew frustrated: “travelling with a kid is hard work … this was never going to be a relaxing holiday”.

“We could try to recapture some of the old romance with a meal or a movie while the grandparents babysat for us!”

Deep down, I knew that – we’d travelled to Europe when our son was only four months old, a gruelling experience filled with myriad trials and tribulations — but for some reason I mistakenly viewed our Christmas break as a time to relax.

How wrong I was.

At one stage, as I attempted to soothe my son in the early hours during another restless night, tears of frustration and tiredness poured down my cheeks – the first time I can remember having a genuine cry in a long time.

This wasn’t on the Christmas holiday brochure!

Pre-kids, I remember harshly judging parents who took their children on ‘kids club’ vacations (“that’s not real travelling!” I would scoff) but as I wiped the tears from my blurry eyes, careful not to allow any to fall onto my son in fear of waking him, oh how I wished we’d considered that instead!

Of course, there were some beautiful experiences on our ‘break’ – every minute he got to spend with his grandparents was precious, while he also met his little cousin for the first time.

These moments alone made the trip worthwhile. But on reflection, it was a key lesson for me on the importance of mindset.

My wife knew it was going to be a challenge and therefore was emotionally prepared for it; I for some idiotic reason thought it was going to be a chance to unwind and recharge my batteries and I paid the price.

It’s a mistake we won’t be making this year – selfishly, we’re planning on throwing our doors open to any family members who want to travel up our way for Christmas, but we won’t be hopping on any planes, or sleeping in any strange beds.

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