It was the small, magical moments during our holiday to Hawaii that mattered most

Forgive me for my recent radio silence, but I’m struggling to get back into real time since our return from Hawaii.

No doubt, some of you will be interested to know how we fared, having spent so much time reading about my angst in relation to where the fuck to take an anxious, middle-aged man who didn’t want to leave his suburb. But, alas, I am no travel writer, so I’ve decided to style this post in the same way as Jamila Rizvi did here last week in The Age, and focus on the small things that made it feel so special.

Woman sitting on beach in front of view.
I call this photo “Come to Mama!”

I won’t lie, the holiday (in the company of my husband and our twenty-something daughter) wasn’t always the plain sailing experience I had prayed for prior to our departure from Sydney. However, I won’t bore you with the stories of when our two hire cars broke down – leading to the old man’s worldwide ban from AVIS – the loss of his bank card, or the time he turned the wrong way down a street. As I’m sure you can tell from this photo, he had a great time.

Man looking miserable at shopping center.
Have you ever seen such a vision of natural joy? He just LOVES shopping and Halloween.

And by normal standards, I imagine that the sort of holiday woes we experienced are the kind of par-for-the-course shit that everyone goes through, laughs about and puts down to travelling.

Admittedly, the bus tour between Honolulu and Haleiwa on the North Shore was not the anticipated 45 minute journey I had forecast in my itinerary – probably because I read the ‘by car’ calculation of time instead of ‘by stagecoach’ – but at least it included an educational tour of Honolulu’s military bases and a nostalgic trip back to the prison set where Hawaii 5-0 must have been shot. The return journey was even longer, and while none of us expected a three-hour circumnavigation of Oahu that took us into the night, we were all grateful for the scenic experience.

Many lessons were learned: we now know never to declare war on a feisty Hawaiian customer service lady who deals with entitled tourists on a daily basis; we learned that the portion sizes really are as terrifying in the US as we had been led to believe, and that you only need order a few plates to share; and finally, we now appreciate that the mountain temperature on our weather App is no guide to the temperature on the beach.

Mouthwatering plate of Tuna Tataki.
The TUNA!

There were the usual minor medical issues like blocked ears, dehydration, and some ongoing issues with obesity augmented by the portion size of the Rocky Road ice cream they sold at our local bar.

But let me get back to the small things that justified our thousands of dollars spent choice of destination, that still make my heart sing to the tune of Moana each time I think back to them:

  1. The landscape: What’s not to love about a destination that offers world-class beaches, the spirituality of a mountain landscape (that look like it belongs in Peru), and cheap, designer shopping that even the most ardent window shopper will find impossible to resist?
  2. The beaches: I can honestly say that Waikiki, the beaches on the North Shore of Honolulu, and those in Maui lived up to the paradise we had been promised. Living in Australia, it’s hard to impress us when it comes to beaches, but we weren’t disappointed – particularly by the ocean temperature, which made it dead easy to plunge into it several times a day.
  3. The turtles: I’ll be honest, we didn’t see flocks of them like I imagined – a bit like when we visited Kangaroo Valley and never saw any kangaroos – but we spotted several from the shoreline and a couple swam up close to us. Fact: they can be SERIOUSLY BIG MOTHERFUCKERS!
  4. The snorkelling: This time it was the relaxing experience I imagined it could be when I was growing up and wanted to be Jacques Cousteau. Pretty, unthreatening tropical fish were a welcome change from The Great Barrier Reef’s terrifyingly black Gropers and slimy cucumbers, and although NC swore she saw a sea snake, she only told me about it once we were on the plane home.
  5. The music: Hawaiian music comes from the soul and shoots straight through the heart. I will always remember the night the old man asked a Hawaiian singer to sing a song from Moana for NC, who ugly-cried (very publicly), and another when a heavily pregnant dancer performed the Hula.
  6. American coffee: It gets a bad rap around the world, but the choice of flavours is awesome. I mean, how can a Vanilla/Macadamia nut coffee be bad?
  7. The food: OMG! Sex is good but have you ever tried melt-in-your-mouth Ahi (tuna), sealed in hot butter, with sides of coleslaw and coconut rice?
  8. The sunsets: I’m usually half way down a bottle by sunset and never fully appreciate their beauty, but Maui’s sunsets light up the sky like fireworks and are impossible to ignore.
Restaurant view of stunning mountain landscape in Maui.
Not a bad view for lunch.

And then there were the cheap COCKTAILS, an overdue discovery of Fireball whisky. and the old man’s dishcloth dance – after aforementioned whisky. All in all, a myriad of magical moments thrown into twelve days and an experience I’d love to replicate, had the old man not thrown away his passport.

Is It Normal To Hate People Who Go On Exotic Holidays All The Time? Asking For A Friend

This is a follow on from my last post in which I discussed my chances of dragging my husband away on an exotic holiday this year. Thank you for the abundance of awesome recommendations (for anxious, middle-aged couples, with zero interests in common) that you kindly left on that post, and which have since been dissected, over-thought and (no doubt) put on the back burner until I force him to make a decision.

Image found on Pinterest from awakenmindset.com

I should point out that I have warned him that his refusal to commit is exactly the sort of thing that middle-aged couples divorce over, and in response he asked me when I am leaving.

I am not, by nature, a green-eyed monster, so I find this whole travel-envy thing to be quite peculiar. Indeed, I have always denied the impact of social media on my happiness – made easier in this case, I imagine, by our move to the other side of the world to a wonderful country that offers a wealth of different landscapes and natural beauty.

I was, (and still am), committed to the financial choices the old man we have made to semi-retire.

However, it does leave us with a very limited budget for holidays and lately I’ve started to get itchy feet, thanks to all of those inspirational memes about travel, adventures and growth that fill my FB home page, as well as the bunch of our friends that are starting to take advantage of their new empty-nester status and are therefore ALWAYS on fucking holiday.

So what’s changed? I suppose that when I entered this stage of my life I still had the arrogance of the European who feels like they’ve seen the world – when the reality is, I’ve visited a couple of European countries a lot of times. I may have lived in Europe for forty years, but I didn’t have the wisdom back then to make the most of what it had to offer.

Added to which, I came back from our last exotic trip to Bali in two minds about foreign holidays. I was pretty shaken up by the level of poverty – in what I had been led to believe was a paradise – hence, I spent much of our time there stressing about the families on scooters, food poisoning and feral dogswhich always made a beeline for me.

Unsurprisingly, our next holiday was to Forster.

I’m not certain what is behind this current attack of itchy feet. Is it an innate fear of time running out? Am I missing a diversity of culture that simply doesn’t exist on the Northern Beaches of Sydney? Or is it simply that I’m scared that I am cruising through life and getting boring?

While there are many benefits to working from home – the main one being that my desk is close to the fridge – one of the few downsides is that life can become very insular. And when you struggle from anxiety, the fact that you rarely have to leave the house can cultivate the problem.

Interestingly, when I think about my dream holiday, it isn’t about swanky hotels, exotic beaches or even two-for-one cocktails like it used to be – we have some pretty nice beaches here. No, the appeal is more linked to new experiences, new cultures, the challenge of pushing myself out of my comfort zone, and growth. It is about sharing those experiences with my soulmate – rather than the typical mundanities we share each week, like when the dog last went out for a poo.

Don’t get me wrong. I am very content to get comfortable in certain areas of middleage-dom. I wouldn’t trade flat shoes, nightly Netflix and separate bedrooms for anything! But I can’t ignore that little voice that keeps nagging me to keep on exploring.

The Prodigal Daughter Is Not Coming Home For Australia Day, She’s Coming To See Us

The prodigal daughter returns this weekend for the first time since she left the nest. While she assures me that she won’t be celebrating Australia Day for political reasons, I’ll believe that when she turns down the special bottle of Champers I’ve bought for tomorrow. 

girl-2480361_1920Although I only saw her a few days ago, it will be good to get some girl power back in the house. I use the word ‘prodigal’, but obviously, we won’t be cooking up a fatted calf in celebration, NC being a strict vegetarian who only eats fish if it doesn’t have a face and when she’s pissed. Anyway, a few cans of cider and a whole Camembert is much more my daughter’s style, because she’s classy like her mother.

I’ve changed her bedsheets, filled the fridge with tofu and warned Kurt to curb his excitement about her imminent arrival, because when I reminded him, he asked me why she had to come, and an ill-disguised look of pain crossed his face.

Siblings, huh!

‘Because it’s her home and we’re her parents and she wants to see us,’ I replied, convincing myself at the same time, because we all know what trips back home are really about after you land your first job and you’re still living hand to mouth – they’re about the all-inclusive hotel perks of home cooking, hot water, unlimited booze and access to your parents’ wallet.

I remember when we used to visit my in-laws when NC was a baby, how we’d walk through the front door, dump her straight into Grandma’s arms and then like Vikings, raid their home, their fridge, their wine cask, and even their wallet so that we could eat out that night. I don’t remember feeling any sense of shame about our behavior – we’d done our part, carried on the family line, and now we needed someone to parent us again for a short time.

We only saw NC when we had to during those glorious weekends, and I encouraged that dangerous grandma/grandchild connection. Frankly, I sold my motherhood soul while I was there – I didn’t give a toss about how many lollies she blackmailed my child with as long as she got up to her in the night, and I ignored all her unsubtle hints about my parenting skills not being quite like hers for those two precious lay-ins; forty-eight hours when I could pretend to be me again, the person I used to be before birthing this tiny monster that had sucked the lifeblood out of me.

Secretly, I’m excited to have the chance to spoil my little girl (I would say ‘again’ but I know she’ll dispute that). I know we’ll be arguing about the glasses in her room, the foundation streaks in the bathroom sink and the endless cans of lentils she opens and never finishes, probably by tomorrow morning, but for the moment I’ve filed my daughter’s annoying habits to the back of my mind.

He feigns not to be, but it is obvious that the old man is even more excited than me. He hasn’t seen NC for a month – because that would involve leaving the safety zone and embarking upon a treacherous, high-risk journey to the big smoke, an hour away. However, he has been suspiciously quieter than usual this week; no doubt sharpening his wit and revising his views on feminism, climate change and vegetarianism, to ensure an evening of typically light-hearted debate with his eldest child. He has also filled the fridge with cider.

Fuck Holidays and Resolutions And Bring Back Routine

Michael Buble took us into Christmas again this year, so I’m going to allow him to take us back out gently and buoy you with optimism for the year ahead with his classic rendition of  ‘Feeling Good.’

There was something very anally fulfilling about creating my new January 2018 folder for this month’s blog posts this morning. Admit it – how bloody wonderful is it to get back into some sort of routine – work not included, for obvious reasons – after the free-fall of Christmas and its many delicacies and indulgences?

While I do realize that some of you poor sods are still on family holidays, have kids at home, or are fighting to stay warm in the US – as I sit here trying to feel full on my healthy afternoon snack of hummus-on-nothing – our lives are almost back to normal. And I like it that way.

We are back to eating healthily again, back to pretending to exercise and work, back to trying to ingest more water than wine in a day – we’re even back to arguing about how often we can afford to turn on the air con in this heatwave. Yesterday, the old man mowed the lawn without moaning.

The Princess got her first proper walk of the New Year this morning, (and December, if I’m honest), and we even remembered her breakfast this morning. Even better – all signs of turkey and ham have gone from the fridge and we gave up on dry January jointly, with only the tiniest iota of guilt, blame, and self-flagellation.

I set my alarm for the first time in weeks this morning and wasn’t disappointed when it yanked me rudely from my perennial dream about not completing the final paper of my degree. Dare I admit that I might actually have bounced out of bed this morning, the lyrics to that Buble song pounding in my head – ‘it’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life…and I’m feeling like wine.’

I’ve been on a walk, had a swim, put in a wash load, done a food shop –  an uncharacteristically healthy one by our standards as a reluctant nod to January, the New Year and those goddamn resolutions, but one that I’m certain will be topped up shortly with illegal goodies.

Can anyone seriously resist all that Christmas cheese on special?

I’ve even finalized the organization of our social life for January, which was followed by an argument with the old man about our aforementioned social life for January, after which I thought about wine A LOT, and stuffed my face with the last of the mince pies and brandy custard.

Fuck resolutions. Fuck starving yourself and scales. Fuck sacrifice. It’s a new year and guess what, there’s still time to reinvent yourselves, take risks and do something crazy. The diet can wait, the liver can cope, the kids will be okay. Seize the day, peeps!

Hell, I may even open my first bottle before 5.

What Do You Do When Your Daughter Rejects The Most Sacrosanct Of Family Christmas Traditions?

There has been a rollercoaster of changes in our house recently, all of which are interfering with the slow and steady build up to Christmas and my preparations that I pride myself on each year. That’s the thing about this stage of parenting – one minute you’re stumbling along in a fug of wet-towel-on-the-floor acceptance, and the next thing you know, their entitled asses are off without as much as a wave goodbye.  

 

donkey-105719_1920
Meet “Sacrifice”

 

Friends of ours recently arrived home from a long trip overseas to discover that their youngest had left the nest while they were away and I could tell by the emptiness in my friend’s eyes that she is still adjusting to the echoes in the house.

 

And just before Christmas. Very cruel.

 

At least NC has given us some time to acclimatize to the news that she is leaving us to manage her brother by ourselves for pastures new, but this bold new independence has empowered her in other ways as well. She now believes she can call the shots in terms of change in other long-held bastions of family tradition as well – and as you know, change is something neither my husband nor my son does well.

 

This Christmas, she has dared to request that instead of the cheap tat that Santa normally delivers to her Christmas stocking, that she has fewer, more useful gifts than the one-dollar bath bombs, multi packs of hairbands and five-for-one knickers with the days of the week emblazoned on the front of them, from Target.

 

Now, it’s one thing to get my head around her leaving us alone with her brother just before Christmas –  but quite another when she decides to alter Santa’s responsibilities. As it is, I’ve had to accept that my mince pie is now vegan and veggie sausages have been added to the food mountain list for the past two Christmas’. Before I know it, she’ll be demanding sustainable gifts, or worse, suggest donating my personal gift budget to some donkey or goat in Africa – an act of questionable generosity that a friend of mine swears she does each year in place of our Christmas cards.

 

I like to think I am progressive and I certainly believe in change for the better, but you don’t mess with Christmas and customs that (albeit, may have scant regard for the religious connotations of the festival), yet continue to remain sacrosanct to our traditional family values.

 

There is a joy to tradition. It’s like having a holiday home and knowing that your own wine glass is there waiting for you each time you go. In the same way that there were certain things you could count on as a child – you would be eating your lunch for dinner if you didn’t finish it, there was absolutely no leeway for negotiation over bedtimes, you had to have one bath once a week, and there was always that comforting certainty of a giant tube of Smarties, an orange and a net of stale chocolate coins in your Christmas stocking.

 

I know that other families’ approach the gift-thing in different ways, but in our house, the stocking has always come from Santa and the more expensive gifts come from family, are wrapped and placed under the tree. As marketed by the retailers who import the tat from Asia, what Santa puts in stockings are “fillers”, and as such, not gifts that really serve a purpose. It is the crap that sits in your room once all the chocolate has gone, until the realization that it is useless tat sinks in – usually somewhere around New year. It is first-world materialism, and nothing to be proud of, so perhaps NC has a point and I should stop supporting child labor, play Hare Krishna instead of Buble as I dress the tree this year, and name my donkey “sacrifice.”

Couples Holidays For The Middle-Aged – When Sometimes It’s Easier To Stay At Home

buoy-914766_1920The problem with going away when you finally reach that longed-for stage of almost empty-nesting is that anxiety tends to rear its ugly head at about the same time in your life, and it throws up all sorts of other issues. So although we don’t have to worry about remembering a long list of toddler essentials like nappies and sterilizers and portable beds nowadays, we do have to prepare ourselves for the mental anguish of dashed expectations, change, flying, other people and more importantly other people’s small children.

Sometimes, I wonder whether it would be easier to stay at home.

Somewhat predictably, I fear we have turned into one of those moaning, judgmental, middle-aged couples on holiday because there is definitely a pattern emerging each time we go away, where we spend more time waiting to get home than actually enjoying our holiday.

‘It’s a bit hot,’ the old man had commented, an hour into our holiday as we downed our second drink in celebration of our survival of the most tumultuous flight since London to Dublin circa 1995.

‘Stop moaning,’ I said, as I watched him squint at the sun because he forgot to pack his sunglasses.We’re making an effort to be grateful this holiday, remember?’ I reminded him sternly.

Because we know we should be grateful. A whole week without the kids at one of the nicest hotels we’ve ever been to – (because I got a deal) – and I had even managed to ignore the unspoken meaning behind the words of mine and Kurt’s doctor when she grabbed me by the shoulder the day before we left and said, ‘are you seriously leaving Kurt with NC?’ Surely, she should know by now that’s not the sort of thing you say to someone you are treating for anxiety disorder?

‘I’m never flying again,’ I had stated earlier that morning when we stepped off the plane on legs that refused to coordinate after two hours of non-stop turbulence on a three hour flight in which that whole scene when NC tells Kurt that the old man has left all of their inheritance to the Spoodle Sanctuary had played over and over in my mind as I decided we were going to die – and even worse, on a flight during which there was no alcohol with which to dull the demons of anxiety because it was breakfast time and society dictates…never mind.

But two hours later we found ourselves in paradise, and the effects of drinking wine in the sun at lunchtime and the knowledge that we might survive another week had given me some (false) hope, so we ventured down to the pool of our hotel. And lo and behold, two free sunbeds jumped out at us immediately (without the old man having to threaten or remove anyone’s towels) – in the shade, but as the old man informed me whilst setting his alarm for 5 am tomorrow, that would be the last time anyone put him in the shade – and so finally, we settled down to relax.

But if you believe in the Law of Attraction, you’ll know that it was almost inevitable that as soon as our eyes began to glaze over, those first cold splashes of pool water from about a dozen noisy kids who decided that the best part of the Olympic-sized pool to play in with big blow up toys and water soakers was directly in front of us, would bring us back to reality. Kids, we had assumed, would be at school at this time of the year.

The heat of hatred seared my body from the direction of the old man’s sunbed well before the sun had a chance, as he hissed a ‘fuck!’ under his breath. ‘Breathe!’ I said to myself as I pulled my towel over my head.

‘Look at how gorgeous this place is,’ I tried, looking out towards our surroundings above the heads of the feral children at the clear blue sky framed by palm trees and the crystal waters beneath it – my ears just about able to pick up the clink of Champagne glasses from the al fresco restaurant over the whining squeals of ‘Mummy, MUMMY…LOOK AT ME!’ in every other direction.

A tut came back in response.

‘Do you know how intolerant you’re becoming with middle age?’ I asked him, wiping the water from my legs.

‘Pfft!’ he responded. ‘We’re going to an over-18 hotel next time.’

‘We can’t afford over-18 hotels…’

‘Okay, well I’m staying at home, then,’ he said, jamming his earplugs into his ears, like a sulking teenager.

‘There’s still the buffet breakfast…’was my last-ditched attempt to save the week.

To be continued…

‘Tis The Season Of The Family Holiday

It’s that character-building time of the year when all those carefully thwarted irritations caused by living with people you didn’t choose to live with, are thrown squarely into the spotlight on the family holiday. family-932245_1280

 

Why I insist on instilling this week of hell bonding I have no idea, but I get sentimental after I watch the Americans celebrate Thanksgiving and we begin the final approach to the silly season. All those movies like Love Actually, The Holiday and Home Alone remind me of the importance of keeping families together, no matter how far apart our life journeys take us.

 

Why I should feel the need to do this when our young adults refuse to leave home, I don’t know, but the aim of this week is to get through it to be thankful for what we have and to remind each other how much we really love and appreciate each other. I expert either Kurt or the old man to be back on the road by day two.  

 

We’ve allowed the kids to invite a friend this year, with certain conditions drawn up by our solicitor. We want to encourage their friendships, show them how much we respect them as young adults and demonstrate to them how chilled we can be by this out-of-character ‘more the merrier’ approach, but we also hope that their friends provide enough of a distraction that we don’t have to actually do anything to entertain them ourselves.

 

We have yet to meet Kurt’s friend in person because each time he has come to the house so far he is stowed away in Kurt’s den as fast as you can say ‘Marijuana’, so the only evidence of his visits are the sound of his baritone laugh, an increase in the smoke levels in the courtyard and a shared enthusiasm for twanging ‘Waltzing Matilda’ on guitar late at night. He did order in a pizza the other night under the name of Donald Trump, so I assume he has a sense of humour.

 

We’re not over-anxious parents but Kurt and his friend don’t arrive at our holiday home until the day after we leave Sydney and so to avoid the temptation of the current teenage trend for a ‘free’ at our place – teenage slang for when the “rents” are away, hence a free house to destroy – we need to make sure he leaves before we do, check every orifice for any spare keys he may have secreted, and hire guards (at great expense) for each boundary of the property.

 

NC’s friend has replaced The Astronaut – he who can never be mentioned but whose loss the old man and I continue to grieve over when we’re drunk, much to her disgust. Hopefully she matches NC’s current enthusiasm for all-night partying which means we won’t see them much of them.

 

The best part about this holiday is that it is a dog-friendly establishment and so The Princess is coming with us and her superior parenting skills should keep things vaguely civil. Hopefully this means that the old man won’t be tempted to spoon me in the bed for our annual Christmas ‘cuddle’ and we won’t have to endure her un-stoic suffering at the kennels on the pet-cam either. When the suitcases came out, her usual panic attack provoked by separation anxiety was quickly quashed once we gave her her own back pack which she has been filling with relish with her toys and the contents of hers and Kurt’s Advent calendar ever since.

 

The old man and I remain optimistic about long walks along the beach, time for reading, a chance to catch up on the one or two British Netflix series that we haven’t yet done marathon screenings of when hungover and some culinary indulgence. With four twenty-somethings (who we suspect are only really coming for the free booze), and an anxious dog, what could possibly go wrong?