Toddler-Infested Waters

Last Friday, we set off for an adventure. It was our idea entirely, and therefore if it was pure torment we had no-one but ourselves to blame.

There were several notions inspiring us: With CJ on leave and the horrors of pregnancy officially over, right now is a good time to repay favours and catch up on life – so I wanted to visit my godparents, and when I floated the idea of travelling to Sydney it was clear we should visit some of Chris’ relatives too (we chose those who were least able to travel to us). My sister had recently visited my godparents with her toddlers and husband, and had thoroughly enjoyed visiting the Sea Life Aquarium (with a discount voucher from her entertainment book – I acquired one from my mum). Also, Canberra is cold and Sydney is relatively close but SO much nicer, even if only for a day.

Other than enjoyment (we primed Louisette with toys, discussions, and books with sea creatures in them – I literally studied the Sea Life website so I could make solid promises about which animals we’d see), I had two goals, in the following order:

1. Minimal screaming from the children.

2. Minimal sleep deprivation.

TJ is on a feed-wake-sleep cycle (mostly sleep) that lasts 3-4 hours, 24 hours a day. Louisette sleeps 7pm to 6am almost to the minute (unless things go horribly wrong) and 1.5-3 hours between 12 and 4 each day, which is a vital but precarious event (eg if she gets in a car at 12 she’ll fall asleep for 10 minutes and then be awake and vile for the rest of the day).

Both kids sleep well in the car, but if TJ is awake he’s frantic. If he’s been fed recently he’s pretty much guaranteed to throw up due to the seatbelt pressing on his stomach. Louisette is perfectly content for at least half an hour, but would definitely feel trapped sometime soon after that. We did not want her to get vocally miserable just as we hit Sydney traffic.

Ultimately, I thought outside the box and decided we’d leave home well before dawn; as soon as TJ was well finished his 4am-ish feed. Hopefully both kids would sleep, at least for a while. We planned at least one lengthy break along the way. Since CJ and I were already deeply sleep-deprived, I’d drive the first leg before letting him take over. That is exactly what we did, leaving the house at 5:30am.

We’d taken advantage of Louisette’s night-time recalcitrance to leave her in her clothes overnight, and I even put a jacket and hat and bib on her without waking her – but once she was moved, she was brimful of energy and excitement; smart enough to know that parents don’t wake you up an hour before dawn unless something seriously awesome is going on.

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For the first hour, she was bouncing with sheer glee (“Yee! Yee! Yee!”), only occasionally pausing to comment with concern that it was “A bit dark”. I was struggling to stay awake in a night-flattened world, and used my usual night-time anti-circadian-rhythm strategy of eating a steady stream of small lollies (of which I’d bought half a dozen full packs by way of preparation) – and of course I hadn’t taken a sleeping pill the previous evening. TJ was out cold. CJ dozed a little, and fed Louisette a steady stream of portable breakfast (milk, pieces of pear, and several crackers) and some of the hand-held toys I’d prepared earlier (searching through stored toys to find things with as much novelty as possible.

We continued in this fashion for two and a half hours, and finally pulled up in a tiny town when Louisette was starting to get grumpy and it was a good time to feed TJ too. We found a little playground that impressed both kids (TJ had never ridden on a swing before and was fascinated; Louisette loves see-saws). TJ woke as soon as he was taken from the car, and was promptly fed; Louisette was given yogurt (she always has milk, fruit, weetbix and yogurt for breakfast, so what she had was close to normality – I was careful to always feed her the same amount of fruit as she’d have at home).

Unfortunately for my bladder, the public toilets were locked. We changed nappies outside, laying towels etc on the filthy tables and leaving the nappies (bagged) in the bin. Once we felt TJ was starting to settle, we packed up and set off. TJ cried hysterically for five minutes, then paused for twenty minutes, then cried for another five minutes, then slept properly until we arrived (from then on, he gave five minutes of crying about every second time we got in the car, but after that burst of crying he’d stay calm as long as I was making white noise “shushing” to reassure him, and would fall asleep again – every car trip was times for about one hour after starting a feed, so he was always falling asleep anyway).

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Louisette was fairly high-maintenance but cheerful, and quite interested in Sydney (especially the tunnels). We went directly to a carpark recommended by the Sea Life website (CJ had picked the closest one, for my benefit) and after a quick repackaging of the nappy bag and wandering around helplessly for a while we found the exit and walked to the aquarium with only minor toddler negotiation and baby jiggling.

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TJ fell asleep; Louisette hurled herself on the foyer floor as we waited for the free wheelchair hire to take effect (SO handy, by the way! The six-minute walk was about as much as I could handle without having problems, and Louisette loves riding on my lap, which I’m sure made the day MUCH nicer since she really wants to be carried these days. . . not a good time!)

Once we were inside everything was great. We brought out toy versions of several of the animals (a platypus, a clownfish, Louisette’s turtle bag) and Louisette was “showing” the animals their toy equivalents. It was so adorable watching her “swim” the toy platypus in imitation of the real ones.

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Of course we took a million photos. Aquatic creatures and toddlers have more in common than I realised – neither is capable of staying still. The dim light didn’t help (although it did create some interesting effects).

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The pool for touching was something I was looking forward to hugely. It was quite high – Louisette needed to climb up (which she enjoyed very much) but still could barely touch the water. I really appreciated the staff not cringing at the sight of her, even when she gleefully splashed the water. She was oddly shy about actually touching things, but there was an (empty) shark egg that could be picked up (how crazy are shark eggs, by the way!?!?!) and she finally drew up the courage to touch a star fish (“Spot”, who staff said was their most chilled-out starfish!).

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We walked out at just the right moment. CJ and I were satisfied and starting to lose enthusiasm as Louisette’s mood turned surly. Luckily she enjoys high chairs, so we had lunch there before a moderately difficult walk back to the car, where we discovered that we needed aquarium staff to validate our parking ticket to qualify for the discount. The kids were oddly serene so CJ went back alone. We’d bought Louisette a rather nice toy turtle which we presented to her in the car.

As planned, Louisette promptly fell asleep. TJ screamed, then did the same. We arrived at my godparents house, and weren’t surprised when we failed to transfer a sleeping Louisette to continue her nap inside. Instead we scrambled to unpack, feed TJ, and deal with a Louisette who clearly needed much more sleep. I’d wanted to take her to explore the glorious slice of bushland beside my godparents’ house, so we did that. It was exciting enough that she held my hand (extremely necessary) but not that she’d cooperate for photos beyond smirking and looking away. Good enough for me 🙂

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We had a LOT of trouble settling her to sleep that night – it took over two hours – and she woke briefly when we fed TJ – so it’s a good thing we only stayed one night (her lack of sleep is still very much on show a full day after coming home), but she handled the relatively short trip to CJ’s relations the following morning quite well, and was simply angelic with them. TJ was utterly asleep as he was passed around, despite being overdue for a feed. At last he woke and was fed, and we left soon afterwards. In twenty minutes, both kids were utterly asleep.

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When Louisette woke, she was in a delighted mood. We stopped half an hour later, ate lunch and gave TJ an early feed. He fell back asleep when we left, and Louisette responded well to a brand new colour book that I’d saved for a desperate moment.

The trip was an enormous success. Adventures were had; children met adoring relatives; we didn’t drive off the road and kill us all; and the topic of divorce wasn’t brought up even once.

We might just visit Sydney every Winter.

Total cost (not counting snacks etc from home):

Petrol cost: $75 (one full tank)

Toll Roads: Unknown; it hasn’t vanished from our account yet.

Sea Life Aquarium cost: $40 with discount card (kids under 4 are free; check the website for deals)

Plus: Parking, $17 with discount; $10 turtle toy (while she was distracted); Food $25 for three sandwich-type things in foyer.

Other food: All free, from relatives; and Maccers for three on the way home.

For those thinking of travelling with kids (or who already know some of the potential horrors), here’s a great article I read today (after arriving home, but whatever): 7 Survival Tips.

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