Travels With My Kids

Although unprepared for the logistical minutiae of an overseas trip with his children, Carl Crotty doesn’t regret following his dreams.

Finally I was booked on a flight to South America. It was a long-held ambition, unfulfilled in my tumultuous twenties and dormant for many years. After teaching for more than a decade, I was owed buckets of paid leave. I was even tempted to give notice and clear the calendar entirely. This trip had been a long time coming and I was not about to compromise.

Best of all, accompanying me were the three people in the world I loved most: my wife, four-and-a-half year old son and 18-month-old daughter. We would do it exactly as we pleased; no packages, no fixed itineraries.

“It’s not going to be like it was when you were 24,” said my wife, her voice heavy with tiredness. It was past midnight and I was hopping from one guidebook to another. “Of course not,” I said, marking my place in ‘Argentina’ and picking up ‘Chile’. “It’s going to be very different with two kids,” she said. “Mmm…” I muttered distractedly. “You don’t realise – I’m doing it all. All the thinking, the preparation.” I looked up from my book. “This isn’t a novel, in case you hadn’t noticed. I’m preparing.” I wasn’t just reading guides; I had started on a list. I knew this trip would be different. On our honeymoon to Turkey we didn’t need to pack nappies, toys and a stroller. Or a port-a-cot.

In the weeks before we left, my wife would start conversations out of the blue such as: “How are we going to get from the airport?” “Cab, I guess.” “And the kids?” “Oh, they can hitch.” “Ha. You know what I mean; what about car seats?” “Well, we could pay the driver extra to obey the signals.”

To my wife, preparation wasn’t just making sure we’d packed everything or that we could carry our luggage across an airport and still have a free hand to hold a child. It was grappling with the logistical minutiae of how we might get through each day and imagining how the constants of travel – long-haul flights, changes in climate, differences in culture and cuisine – would affect the kids.

I like to think of myself as a big picture sort of person. Unfortunately, some important details seemed to have dropped out of frame. For example, when I envisaged us in a cool inner-city neighbourhood in Buenos Aires on a balmy summer evening, my mind had failed to render in the kids. They were also missing from my imagined dark, smoky tango club with polished black wooden floor.

My wife was right; I wasn’t prepared for how different overseas travel could be with kids. Every sleep-in, every trip to the toilet, every moment without the kids, every meal out involved horse-trading. Going from full-time teacher to full-time parent was daunting. Assuming equal responsibility for parenting quickly cured me of blithely dispensing advice to my wife about things of which I knew nothing, such as getting a toddler to stop having a tantrum when our bus is about to leave.

But I never contemplated how wonderful it could be to spend every single day for four months with my children. I was there as my daughter began to experiment with words. One day she stopped the body-shaking nod that was her signature mode of communication and started answering questions with a high-pitched ‘yeah’. When my son was brave enough to try speaking Spanish to a playmate, I was there to help him.

My rose-coloured imaginings also never hinted at what an extended holiday with the kids could do for me as a father. Taking them home on Argentina’s most crowded bus, driven by the country’s most reckless driver, with 40 people between me and the door and no idea where our stop was – now there’s a parenting challenge.

But with my daughter tucked up for her nap and my son and me ready to fire up the barbecue, I was revelling in being a parent. Sometimes there is no better company than that of your own kids.

I hadn’t spent a single night considering the impact of my dream holiday on the kids. I had circled attractions that would be of interest to them, such as cool dinosaur excavations, and had made sure we had comprehensive insurance cover. But if either of the kids returned with yellow fever that would have been cold comfort.

But the worst didn’t happen; all we saw were positives. The kids are much closer now, and when my daughter wakes in the morning, my name is the first thing she calls out.

This upside is largely due to preparation as opposed to romantic notions, but if you get too bogged down in the details, paralysis is the most likely outcome. Selfish or not, following your dreams can never be a bad thing.

Illustration by Serena Geddes