Reflections on “Rookie Parent” Holidays

Last December, The Husband and I made some colossal “rookie parent” holiday mistakes with our nine month old. These were the major errors, which we try to remind ourselves of, before planning holidays with kids:

1) We went to three destinations:

We went to Cape Town for five nights; Hermanus for 17 nights; returned home for two nights; went to The Seychelles for six nights. Total packing and unpacking time: an estimated 40 hours or the equivalent of exactly one normal work week (outside of France). And those 40 hours exclude shopping for the holidays…

2). We stayed in a five star hotel

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for luxury accommodation. The problem was that the establishment we chose only altered its “no children under 12 policy” a few months before we arrived and it soon became clear that this was an economic decision to increase occupancy levels during the recession – strangely enough, they weren’t longing for screaming kids to adorn their secluded swimming pool area. Not only were there obviously absolutely zero facilities for babies or children, there were also naturally no family rooms on offer. Booking a second five-star room for The Princess and her night nurse was not an option, so we waved goodbye to our then, full-time nurse and said hello to 17 virtually sleepless nights with an unsettled child and her clueless parents in our lovely five star suite, overlooking the ocean.

3) We thought we’d survive sans nanny and sans changing station for 18 days

After three days of carrying a nine month old and solo nappy changing on a hotel bed, I felt about a hundred years old, possibly older. I thought I had somehow cracked a rib or pulled one of my intercostal muscles in my sleep. I struggled to breathe if I tried to walk even slightly quickly – that included walking around town with a pram, so I was honestly not attempting to walk particularly quickly at all. I couldn’t laugh because it hurt too much. By around 9am every morning I had lower back pain which only abated after lying on my back for the night, but then it would start up again the next morning. I honestly thought I had somehow sustained a severe rib-cage injury. It took me several days to figure out what was wrong. The Husband then tried to take over carrying The Princess as much as possible when he wasn’t cycling. A few days later he was complaining of severe pain in his left arm… Basically, we made a great, full-time, parenting duo.

4). We took a five hour flight to the Seychelles leaving at 1 in the morning

Even at nine months old, The Princess was not one to miss out on action. We arrived at the airport at around 8pm, believing that she would shortly fall asleep in her pram. No such event ensued. Instead, she reveled in all the action around her and got progressively more and more excited during the long wait in the check-in queue. At about 11pm, after approximately 90 minutes of queuing and many more minutes getting through security and passport control, we arrived at the lounge where our friends and travel companions’ 11 month old had been sound asleep in his pram since 8pm. She finally allowed herself to be pushed to sleep in her pram for 30 minutes before we had to board the flight. This cat nap was precisely the second wind The Princess needed. During the five hour flight to Mahe, The Princess and I pretty much enjoyed an all-nighter.

The return journey from the Seychelles equally eventful. Our pick-up for the airport was at 6am. As though sensing that we had an early wake-up ahead of us, The Princess decided to pre-empt things, and woke up – for the day – at 2:30 in the morning. When it became obvious that she wasn’t going to go back to sleep, The Great Pack began, lasting approximately three hours, until nearly 5:30am – close to perfect timing for our pick up. Then, just to liven things up a bit, The Princess had started to show signs of gastro-like symptoms towards the end (fortunately) of our holiday. She had one enormous vomit (could have been way worse, of course) and developed diarrhea. Subsequent laboratory tests revealed that she had contracted not just salmonella, but also some type of ecoli. (In defence of the beautiful Seychelles, these two lurgies can apparently be contracted anytime, anywhere…)

We did, however, get one thing very, very right during last summer’s holiday. We took a nanny with us to the Seychelles. At the end of the holiday, The Husband turned to me and said, “We should never have wasted money taking a nanny with us.”

Me: “You’re joking, right?”

The Husband: “Of course not! The cost of booking a separate room, the flight, all of that…”

I was incredulous. I thought it was the best money ever spent. To this day, I would forgo new clothes, new shoes, manis, pedis, holidays and hairdressers for three years if I had to choose between these things and holidaying with a nanny. I wasn’t too sure how to get this across to The Husband, so I tried a different tack:

“Taking a nanny on holiday with a baby is value for money. Owning seven bicycles – ​that ​is a waste of money”.

(I think he secretly agrees – not about the bikes, of course).

Home Sweet Home

The Husband, The Princess and I returned home for good, so to speak, ten days ago, after rather a long holiday involving:

– 5 nights in Cape Town

– 12 nights in Hermanus

– 2 nights back home

– 1 night on a plane

– 6 nights in the Seychelles

Rather a hectic itinerary for a 9-month old. Although she continuously amazes us by how tough she is, our poor little Princess picked up not one, but two, bacterial tummy bugs, almost certainly thanks to our travels. After 8 and a half months of near perfect health, she contracted a tonsil infection in Cape Town in mid-December, which led to a recommended course of antibiotics. And then, barely three weeks later, she started another dose of antibiotics to kill the salmonella and ecoli she picked up in the Seychelles.

Note to selves: babies aren’t meant to be dragged around the country and the world!

Of course, I realise kids pick up all sorts of bugs by simply going to the supermarket down the road, but we definitely want to try to minimise The Princess’ exposure to tons and tons of air travel in the next while. She’ll have plenty of time to clock up her air miles later on in life.

Although… come to think of it… you don’t want to breed such well travelled kids that they turn into ungrateful, well-travelled teens. Like the bratty South African 13 year-old The Husband overheard shouting at his dad from the side of the pool at our 4 star resort in the Seychelles:

“Hey! Dad! Why aren’t we staying at a 5 star place?”

“Are you kidding me you spoilt little brat? You’re in paradise (30m away from him was one of the most amazing beaches I’ve ever seen) and that’s what you have to say for yourself?”

I’m glad I didn’t personally overhear the little critter because I may well have been sorely tempted to give him a piece of my mind. I know, know… OPK’s (other people’s kids)… don’t get involved, etc etc. But there’s a very good reason I say I wouldn’t have trusted myself not to say anything had I overheard him… Before I learnt that he considered his luxury overseas vacation to be sub-standard, I witnessed a scene involving this little brat that literally made my blood boil. It went like this:

I was minding my own business relaxing by the pool with The Husband and The Princess when a kiddy pool war broke out between this 13-year old South African kid and his younger SA entourage and a set of three French kids. God knows who started what and who had it in for who and why. All I knew is that I was overhearing these revolting kids threatening to hurt one another, hit one another, issue ” I’ll-throw-him-with-a-ball” threats against one another. Maybe just normal kids stuff but it seemed overly violent if you ask me and the bottom line was, it was seriously disturbing my pool peace.

Luckily for me, I spied a very clear sign saying that children under 12 in the pool must be supervised by adults. After confirming that the uber-bronzed male model and his uber sexy girlfriend lying next to us had not spawned any of these brats, I felt it safe to enquire about the respective ages of each member of the French-South African warring party. As I suspected, only the “5 star” kid was technically allowed in the pool, since he was the only one who was over the age of 12.

In my best French, I told the French kids that if I witnessed anymore fighting, I would get the authorities to haul them out of the pool, given that their parents were nowhere to be seen. I was so annoyed by their bratty behaviour that my “best French” saw me stuttering and stammering for words, but luckily they seemed to get the message and I think were too shocked at being brought to book, that they weren’t able to mock my grammatical errors. When I turned to the Saffer kids to issue the same threat, Mr 5 Star had all sorts of lame comebacks, like “he started it!” (finger pointing at the French ring-leader half his age). But he also quickly realised that I meant business and that there was a real possibility all the under-age kids would be kicked out of the pool and he be left alone, with no-one to wage war with.

I can’t even sit back, sigh and say to myself that at least I’ll one day be spared breaking up violent, international, pool noodle bashing flights, because The Princess is a little girl, because one of the six kids was a ten year-old girl and she looked far from innocent. I guess it’s very easy to point fingers when it comes to OPK’s but I’m sure that some kind of karma must be awaiting me someday.

In the meantime, The Princess remains a little angel with a feisty streak when she doesn’t get her way. It’s still very, very adorable right now. Fortunately, she seems to be over her bout with bugs and seems very happy to be back home, in her own cot, with all that’s familiar in her little world, around her.

Next milestone will be her first birthday at the end of March. Of course, she won’t care too much about the bash itself but for her proud parents, it’s a momentous occasion so some party planning will need to commence soon…

Night Nurses and Bad Mommies

The Husband knows me well. He knows how grumpy I get when I am sleep deprived. For this reason, he wanted to arrange a night nurse well before The Princess’ birth. I resisted. I told him I would manage. I said, “So what if I don’t sleep all night? I have help during the day and I don’t have a job to go to, I’ll sleep during the day.” He begged me to at least get the names and numbers of night nurses before the birth. I refused. And so he got onto it himself while we were in the hospital. He asked around and it turned out that one of the Park Lane nurses worked as a night nurse during her off days. She gave him her number. Still, I resisted. We went home with The Princess and I think I lasted one and a half nights. At 3am on the second night, both delirious with fatigue, emotions and, for me, insomnia and hormones, we had a huge blow-up. So when The Husband said, “NOW, can we get a night nurse?” I relented.

Courtesy of the luxury of having a night nurse, we did “date night” one night some weeks later. I squeezed myself into my jeans, my baby belly bulging over the waistband. I then squashed my swollen feet into a pair of agonisingly tight heels and off we went to a restaurant 250m from home. The restaurant was deserted but for a few drinkers. The hostess was dressed in a white mini-skirt that she couldn’t quite pull off. She was overly obliging, she desperately needed to have her roots done and the food was abominable. Nonetheless, we had an amazing time. It was on this night that we discussed how long we were going to employ a night nurse for. I was thinking three, maybe four month tops, when The Husband announced that he would be prepared to fork out for a night nurse for a year. One year? It sounded totally insane. It was around May 2011 at the time and a night nurse for one year would mean having someone until the end of March 2012. The Princess would already be a year old and I imagined her practically reading to herself by then – one year seemed a lifetime away.

Now, here we are, eight and a half months later and I am as attached to Margie, our night nurse, as The Princess is. And this is despite the fact that, very soon after we met, she asked me what I weighed. I resent being asked that by grown women who buy size 13-14 pants. I know she wears children’s clothes because she told me so – somewhat smugly, if I’m not mistaken. She also asked The Mother Figure how old she was. I was hoping my mom would give her the same response she used to give The Sister and I when we were growing up – “I’m as old as the moon and as young as the stars” but instead I laughed out loud at the audacity of the question, thereby disturbing The Princess who started to cry and so everyone’s attention was diverted from the “how old” question to the baby. And of course, I refused to tell her how much I weighed.

My attachment to my night nurse is even strong enough to withstand the fact that, basically, she thinks I’m not the best mother. Here’s how I know this. We brought her to Cape Town with us last week so we’d have the evenings free to catch up with friends without disrupting The Princess’ night routine. Oh yes, and also so we could sleep all night, as we are so fortunately accustomed to doing. Margie was supposed to be off work all day, only working nights, but by 8:30 one morning, The Princess’ crying and moaning disturbed her sleep and she came downstairs looking concerned, if not a little cross. She wanted to know why The Princess wasn’t yet asleep and offered to put her down herself (because I obviously wasn’t succeeding). This is the exchange that followed:

Me: She just won’t go to sleep. I’m not a bad mother, Margie. (Smiling). (I was totally, totally kidding. I think I’m a great mother).

Total, earth shattering silence.

Me: Margie, I can see she’s exhausted, but she refuses to fall asleep. I tried for ages and ages. Seriously, I’m not a bad mother. (Still smiling).

At this stage, I was fully expecting her to say, “No, no, of course, you’re not a bad mother.” Instead, here’s what she said:

Margie: You know, Natalie, it’s not my place to rank you as a mother. That’s not what I’m employed to do.

Dead, dead silence.

I said nothing. I think I just stared at her with raised eyebrows. I was sort of paralysed somewhere between shock and amusement.

Luckily, I’m pretty thick skinned when it comes to people who look after my child while I get a full night’s sleep so I can’t say I took major offence.

Later that day, I gave Margie some proper ammunition to back up her bad mother theory. The Husband had managed to put The Princess down in the afternoon for the first time ever. He was very proud of himself and declared that we were not allowed to wake her until she woke up herself. “I want her to sleep the full time,” he said. “Sleep is good for her, right?”.

As a result we arrived at The Husband’s brother’s house about an hour late, at 4pm, for The Princess’ first meeting with her three month old cousin. The Princess’ supper time is normally between 5 and 5:30 but somehow, I was feeling super relaxed, we were on holiday and I just went into some sort of zone where baby chores don’t exist.

When we got back from our late tea date, I dashed straight to Woolworths to shop for a dinner party we were hosting that night, while Margie and The Husband bathed The Princess. I was back by about 6:30 and as I walked in the door, The Husband shouted down, slightly annoyed: “Has she had supper?”

I paused… slowly re-entering the zone…Hmmm….Food…The Princess…5pm…supper time…

Crap!

I forgot to feed her!

Bad, bad, bad mother!

Of course, Margie had noticed that there was something remiss during bath time and wanted to know if she had eaten, given the fact that feeding her would have been her useless mother’s responsibility.

Whilst frantically preparing The Princess’ supper, I tried to make light of my oversight by reminding Margie and The Husband, that very often The Princess refused to eat more than one or two tiny mouthfuls of supper anyway. But of course, Murphy’s Law, on this particular evening, when offered food at 6:45, The Princess ate like a ravenous wild animal. At one stage, she even grabbed the spoon out of my hand because I wasn’t shoveling the food into her little mouth quickly enough.

Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad mother!

Now, we’re spending eleven nights in Hermanus without Margie. I am viewing this as training for when her time with us comes to an end on 1 February next year. So far, we’ve sort of survived three nights. The first night was a very rude awakening to night-time parenting. The Princess woke up at midnight for some reason and just wouldn’t go back to sleep until 3:30. We walked, we rocked, we sang, we shushed. We tried everything. We would’ve dosed her with Calpol but we recently discovered that Calpol is like Espresso for her – it totally gives her a buzz. Luckily, the past two nights have only involved a few dummy dashes and she’s slept like a little angel.

Holding thumbs for the next eight nights until we’re re-united with Margie for one more blissful month of sleeping all night…