MY REMEDY FOR SCHOOL HOLIDAY BOREDOM

I promised myself that these school holidays, I would try really hard not to use Uncle TV to babysit my children. As much as the kids love him and I love that he is part of our lives and offers free babysitting at a drop of a hat, I wanted to give them experiences that didn’t involve technology or send me broke.

I had a plan to do loads of arts and crafts; rock painting, slime making, water painting, drawing, craft making with recycled materials. It was supposed to last a week. It kept them occupied for three days. During that time, the squabbling was kept to a minimum but without a backup plan for activities, they were at risk of boredom. We all know bored kids equals broken things, fighting and nagging.

So what did I do?

I took them for a big walk to a nearby oval and let them run off their leashes until they came back panting and tired. They enjoyed the fresh air and freedom. Two weary and satisfied children, one content parent and a good night’s sleep. Nine days left.

I created Project Weed Annihilation. The side court was chock-full of overgrown weeds, so I set them to work weeding. They thought it was fun (suckers!). Two tired and happy children, one grateful parent and a weed-free court. Eight days left.

I persuaded them to role-play ‘Cleaning Crew’. It involved cleaning the entire house and lasted several days. It was epic. They weren’t impressed with that game. Two grumpy children, one ecstatic parent and a cleaned house. Six days left.

I strongly encouraged them to play ‘Shopping at the Supermarket’. It involved making a grocery list and buying said groceries. This got me on the sh*tlist. Two angry children, one tired parent and groceries no one helped me carry. Five days left.

My husband took pity on our situation and suggested we do an overnight stay in a country town a couple of hours away. The catch? We would take public transport and walk EVERYWHERE. Anyone who knows me understands that I am ill-equipped for walking. Something about chaffing thighs, itchy sweating and sore feet just doesn’t appeal to me.

It took four bloody hours, three trains and a bus ride to get to our destination! We walked for hours on end! The only thing I was looking forward to was getting to the hotel and resting my tired feet. It was a pity that when I booked the place, I hadn’t realised it was a drive-in motel inn in the middle of bumfudge nowhere. We had to walk the Great Plains and trek Mount Everest to find solace in a hovel.

My germaphobe alert beacon was in full distress mode. The shower had black mould infestation, there was hair on the bathroom floor, towels had suspect stains, dust infiltrated all living spaces, and the beds left an itchy sensation. There was no way I was even bothering with their complimentary communal gym, sauna and spa. We couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

Highlights were an overpriced tram ride, eating from a kebab food truck for lunch and McDonald’s for dinner, and a walk through a beautiful park. The kids saw many interesting sights like a giant skeleton head, a British tram cafe, and statues. Two exhausted and satisfied children, two wiped out parents and experiences for the memory bank. We’re in the home stretch now.

It’s important to give children valuable experiences to create memories, provide learning experiences and develop an understanding of the world around them.

We asked Henry, the train/tram enthusiast, what his favourite part of the trip was.

His answer? The motel.


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STRANGER DIRECTIONS

Ever had to tuck away the pride, steal some courage, and ask a random stranger for directions? Only to find yourself lost because you didn’t ask enough questions before dashing off, worried about inconveniencing and interrupting someone? Or the person giving the directions gave you general descriptions like ‘turn left at that store with the red door’ or ‘two lefts and a right’, and you were too embarrassed to admit you needed more information?

I suffered from this very same problem while at a shopping food court. Sometimes you gotta push aside those feelings of disquiet, and ask more than one question to get your answer.


The woman takes a bite from her fried chicken parcel. She closes her eyes momentarily as though she’s savouring the taste sensation that’s exploding in her mouth. There is a look of satisfaction on her face as she picks up a napkin to swipe at the crumbs that peppers her lips. I can only imagine the gratifying crunch as she takes the next mouthful. I’m frozen, mid fork to mouth, captivated by the food porn playing in front of me. She looks like she’s having a foodgasm. I want one! Heck, I want two!

I look down at my pitiful meal. Six lumpy, doughy and dry gyozas sit on some wilted lettuce. Not even a soy sauce drowning can rescue these mediocre dumplings. Food envy. That’s what I’m feeling. How can I eat these now? I throw down my fork in disgust. Maybe if I hadn’t witness the ecstasy flitting across the woman’s face, these concrete blocks would be churning my insides now.

A moment later, I find myself standing in front of the woman, propelled forward in a trance-like state, chicken on the mind. Like a weirdo, I say nothing for a good few seconds before pointing at the oversized fried chicken fillet in the blue cardboard packet in her hands.

The woman stops eating, swallows her food and looks at me with a mixture of confusion and curiosity. “Can I help you?”

Nodding like a dashboard toy, I breathe out, “Can you tell me where you got that please?”

She stares at me, not sure what to make of my strange behaviour. “Um, it’s at the entrance as you walk in. Near the newsagent.”

“Uh huh. Front entrance. Got it,” I reply, nodding in understanding.

Armed with one tiny morsel of information, I drag the family in search of the entrance that would lead to scrumptious chicken delight. We traverse through the weekend crowd and reach our destination, only to find a boutique toy store instead.

“Which entrance did she say?” queries Gary. “Did you get the name of the store?”

“Mum! I’m tired. I wanna go home!” whinges Mandy, leaning on Henry’s pram like a limp rag doll.

“Uh, I think it was something like… Hot Chicken? Hot Spice?” I reply. I can’t believe I didn’t even get the name! I can’t believe I didn’t ask which entrance! Why didn’t I ask more questions? I should have gotten a map! Why was I so stupefied?

After twenty minutes of circling around, I’m sweaty, frustrated and hangry. The kids and Gary are giving me death glares, and I keep promising to leave soon. Eventually, a Henry tantrum forces me to give up, admit defeat and turn for home.

It’s been a few weeks since I first glanced at the holy grail of the almighty chicken. Occasionally, I find myself wondering about that elusive crumbed goodness. It could have been the best thing since sliced bread, but I’ll never know.


Note: The above post was written a while ago. After some Magellan-type exploration, searching high and low, I eventually discovered the true location of my deepest desire.

The verdict? Let’s just say that some things are better left to your imagination because the reality is far less impressive.


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LIVE WITHOUT A NET

I am a control freak. It’s a coping mechanism, a safety behaviour, an intolerance of the uncertainty, that makes me want to take charge of all situations to ease my anxiety over not having control of the unknown. These vicious cogs of anxiety have me worrying over hypothetical situations, ruminating and overanalyzing interactions, and avoiding any circumstances that may induce negative feelings. Unchecked over the years, my brain has learnt that to eliminate the symptoms of anxiety, I must either avoid anxiety-producing situations or have complete control. You can imagine how tiring being me is, can’t you?

Part of my personal growth has been working on breaking the negative internal dialogue through graded exposure; small steps to challenge my fears. With that in mind, I left the organising of my father’s birthday dinner to my younger brother. I had relayed my wishes for an early dinner for the kids, and he already knew of Gary’s dietary restrictions, so it was simply a matter of booking a restaurant. There was no need for the control freak to loom her ugly head. What could go wrong?


We’re ten minutes late.

“Ugh, they’re late,” I groan as we enter the Korean BBQ restaurant. It’s a helluva lot warmer than standing outside in the cold.

“You have a booking Ma’am?” asks the waiter, standing at the entrance.

“Yes, it’s under Andy,” I reply, stamping my frozen feet to elicit some warmth.

“I can’t see anything under that name Ma’am,” informs the waiter. “Are you sure you have a booking?”

I call my brother and let him sort it out. The waiter walks to his podium, checks his book and shakes his head. He returns and hands back my phone. “Sorry Ma’am.”

I stare at him in confusion as I put the phone to my ear. “Hey Sis, sorry they got the date wrong. I’ll find another place and text you the details.”

So I bundle the family back into the car and wait for his text. Breathe. No big deal. Happens to all of us (not me). It’s still early, and the kids have yet to show signs of the dreaded hangry. Hungry and overtired kids make any outing a nightmare.

“Why didn’t I bring snacks?” I wonder. “This is exactly why I should always have snacks on me, like a vending machine.”

I’m only mildly anxious at this point. At least we are warm in the car.

Meet at Japanese Teppanyaki.

We head to the new restaurant and luckily it’s only ten minutes away. The detour has delayed dinner by a smidgen. It’s raining cats and dogs by the time we’re parked. We make a dash for the front door. The wind is fierce and icily cold. I get to the entrance of the restaurant, Henry weighing heavy in my arms, to find the doors unmoving. I peer into the restaurant to find the lights off and not a single employee in sight.

“Why did you leave the car? It’s freezing,” Andy stutters, shivering from the cold as he reaches the door.

“What are you talking about? Why is this place closed?!” I yell, frustrated at the turn of events.

We rush over to the nearby gazebo and take cover from the unrelenting rain. Gary has been tasked with the job of getting our jackets, an umbrella, the kid’s water bottles and Henry’s baby bag. I’m in anxious terrain now.

“It’s not open until six p.m. I thought I told you,” Andy replies, looking sheepish. “Sorry about the booking.”

“No you did not tell me, otherwise we would be in the car!”

“Relax,” Gary returns with our things and tries to calm me as I continue my rant, “we only have to wait ten minutes until it’s open.”

Eventually, we’re inside and dinner ensues. The cook is wearing a red toque and samurai-print robe, his belt fitted with several knives, and pepper and salt grinders. He performs a myriad of cooking tricks. Instead of looking entralled with his performance, Mandy just looks bored. She doesn’t even bat an eyelid when the salt grinder is flicked into the cook’s torque hat.

“Want to see fire?” the cook asks, looking at everyone for their approval. He lights the oil with some water and a whoosh of fire shoots up into the air.

Henry jerks back in fear before crying uncontrollably and screaming out “I’m scared! I don’t want the fire!”

For the remainder of the meal, Henry clings to me like a koala baby to its mum, while I desperately try to coax him into eating some overpriced meat. Mandy is slumped over her meal, tired and uninterested. It’s like she’s seven going on fifteen-years-old.

“Who wants to catch some egg?” the cook asks, holding some omelette on his spatula.

My brother and his girlfriend catch their egg on the first attempt. They make it look easy. I decide to step out of my comfort zone and agree to participate.

The first attempt has the egg flying past my face and landing on the floor. Ok, so if at first you don’t succeed, you try again. The second shot lands next to my mouth and falls off. I am so close that the cook insists on another go. The third bounces off my left eye and drops unceremoniously onto my plate. The cook gives up. He’s probably never had anyone as unco as me. In all honesty, I think it’s in my best interest to stop. I only have two eyes and my left eye is tearing up, ready to shut up shop. I gave it a go (three, to be precise) and that’s all that matters.

We end the night with a bill of over five hundred dollars and a drive-thru to KFC for a top up.


What did I learn from this experience? While there were some anxiety-producing moments, I think I coped rather well. The outcome of unforeseen events wasn’t catastrophic; we found another place (although more expensive), the kids were fed (eventually) and went to bed a little later than usual, and no one was worse off for standing in the cold. I climbed a step towards my goal of breaking the cycle of anxiety. Overall, a good achievement for me.

Does that mean I’ll let my brother book another family function? Of course not.

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