By Jean Hailes health writer Rhonda Garad
According to the Dalai Lama, unhappiness sits in the gap between expectation and reality. This could not be truer than when it comes to the summer holiday. Holiday expectations are great. All year round we dream about long, lingering, balmy days, cricket on the radio, cicadas singing in the evening and happy, contented children. Then there’s the reality gap: 45-degree heat, friends overstaying their welcome, bored and cranky kids and a family at breaking point.
The first great holiday expectation is that all those books, left half read throughout the year, will be finished. I have an unread pile to rival the American debt and just as impenetrable. My husband says he is scared to sleep at night for fear of being buried under an avalanche of intellectual good intentions. And he is right (about the good intentions part) because when I am buying these books I have every intention of finishing them, even the complete works of Paul Keating. However, the truth is that at last audit the highlights of my reading in past months were: a Target catalogue, Maisy Takes a Bath (did manage to finish that one!) and the “Do Not Iron” tags on the cushion covers (unfortunately read this after ironing said covers!). But all of that will change, I say bravely, when the holidays begin.
However, every time I settle down with Paul (good intentions in hand), the world seems to conspire against me. Cupboard doors open and slam shut accompanied by piercing screams, toxic plumes emerge from the bathroom and an old friend rings to say, “Surprise!” – she and her five kids are down from Queensland and will stay a few days, and by the way have my kids had chicken pox… no wonder I’m back to reading the recipes on the side of the milk carton!
In the first week of the holidays the children could not be more gorgeous.
They rekindle neighbourhood friendships, rediscover the backyard and start retail enterprises like selling cupcakes with green icing – so adorable! By week two it is as though someone has abducted them and left feral wolf children in their place. The neighbourhood friendships have given way to factual wars, with front fences acting as shields against the onslaught of water bombs and paper planes laced with itching powder. The backyard resembles Darwin, post Cyclone Tracy, and a neighbour has turned the same colour as the cupcake icing and was last seen heading to casualty.
Time for action, time to pull out the big holiday gun – the holiday day trip!
The day trip is always conceived with great enthusiasm and unbridled optimism about what a great day we will have. We, like many families, conscientiously carry on that great Australian tradition of visiting the big everything: the big banana, the big orange, and my personal favourite – the big lobster. This year we decided to ask the kids what they would prefer to visit, the big chook or the big Murray cod. To which the eldest, quick as a whip, replied, “The big idiot and I’m looking at him now!” as he stared pointedly at his brother. Undeterred we head off, with a farewell happy horn beep to the envious neighbours as we hit the great Australian road.
About half an hour into the trip, however, a curious thing happens. The space in the car shrinks to the size of a postage stamp and a cry of, “I can’t see anything ‘cos his big head is in the way” rings out, causing me to wonder why we don’t have a law in this county limiting the number of children per family to match the number of car windows.
By day’s end, we are all a little worse for wear as a pack of kookaburras, flying commando style, had demolished the sausages on the barbie and the GPS wrongly delivered us to the big barnacle, from which one child had to be prised after its shell accidently closed. Once safely home, while applying calamine lotion to the mysterious welts on everyone’s skin, my husband remarks that he hasn’t had so much fun since the last tax audit.
So, some holiday survival tips…
By all means fantasise about how wonderful the holidays will be, but know that the reality of being around each other 24/7 has it stressful elements. Throw out your “to-do” list and instead go with the flow. Stock up your first aid box and keep day trips to a minimum. It is entirely possible that holiday tribulations are the universe’s way of making us desperate to get back to work.
Jean Hailes for Women’s Health is a leading national not-for-profit women’s health organisation dedicated to making health information accessible, easy to understand and practical to do.