How do you take a family with 8 kids on holidays? Katie shares the story of their recent Melbourne to Port Stephens road trip. I love the way Katie writes and as she tells her family story honestly and with love.
You can read Katie’s other family stories she has shared on the blog here.
Our Big Family Summer holiday has been a great way to stop, relax and reconnect!
It’s the Summer holidays. They seem to take forever to arrive and then….fwooooot!!!!!….they’re over. I must be honest and tell you that I enter the holidays with equal parts excitement and trepidation. We stayed on high energy until Christmas was over, and then collapsed to my parents-in-laws home by the sea. It was just the change of pace we all needed.
Our Big Trip Up the Hume
Upon our return home we had a week to prepare for our big road trip away to Port Stephens in N.S.W.. As we do not own a car to accommodate all ten of us, we charged up the Hume Highway in convoy. I had the VW (easier to drive), with a full load of passengers on board. My husband ferried one child, who on report stayed very quiet throughout the trip. My journey was a little more rambunctious, but I really was pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable the drive was. There were occasional cries of, “When are we stopping…can we have a treat…are we nearly there and I want to go home!!!??????! “. Mostly from the kids!!!!
Our trip up the Hume was made slightly more fun with the purchase of a pair of walky talkies (thanks for the tip Lou). Whilst the kids also had fun with them, and were voyeuristically capable of listening in to random travellers less than interesting conversations, it was a fantastic way for my husband and I to maintain communication between the two cars. A little noisy when one or some of the children were asleep – but very convenient to convey directions for turn offs or planning the next drinks break. These were reasonably frequent given the number of bodies in transit.
Port Stephens arrival!!!!
Shortly after arriving in Port Stephens we headed to the Nelson Bay Marina for a little look see and some award winning fish and chips. I had noticed one of our four year old twins holding one of the walkie talkies earlier, and predicted disaster. Of course, I forgot about it with the herding of the kids to the marina. And then bloop! bloop! into the murky depths slipped the walkie talkie. My husband said it sank into oblivion in no time. Our four year old has since been attempting contact with the mermaids!
On our way home from the marina (in two cars) I got lost. I have the most abominable sense of direction ever. I had four of the kids on board, and I am at best, a disoriented driver. Usually, if I am not sure which direction to take, I back myself and take a punt. I’m often wrong, so you would think I might have learned by now. But no, I generally drive and wait for something to look familiar, or wait for that ‘sense’ of which is the right way to go. In other words, I wait for a miracle.
We ended up driving through open countryside on our way to Newcastle. I did the usual and phoned my ever patient husband. And I am stressed when this happens so I am generally curt (maybe….rude?????)). “I am going past Cultiver St now. Where the ……am I?????”. And my gorgeous man gets me out of a pickle….again. And my poor 13 year old son is in the back of the car, head in his hands groaning “Why…why did you have to pass this no sense of direction gene on to me!!!!! Ohhhhh!!!!! This will be me in ten years.” At which we all laughed and I sped up a bit because I had two coffees on board and my man to direct me home.
I love it that we are far enough away from home that we know nobody. Everywhere we go it is a sea of unfamiliar, blank faces staring back at us. I think we all need this anonymity occasionally. I certainly do. I am not antisocial. It actually takes me a few days to disconnect from my friends. I miss them terribly at first. They truly are my lifeline most days. However, I do appreciate that a holiday far from home really does put the focus back on the family.
Kid’s Holiday Rules
We have instigated some holiday rules. We are staying in my brother-in-law and sister-in-law’s home and fabulously, for the kids, they have Foxtel. Well, life has never been so grand. The first day we arrived, and were unpacking, the television stayed on…and on…and on…. Until we finally switched it off at 9.30 that night when the biggies were marched off to bed. Since then, the rules are that the television is allowed on in the morning until ten, and in the evening after dinner until bedtime. This seems to be working beautifully. The kids are negotiating their program’s upstairs, and we have a snippet of downtime downstairs. Whilst they are transfixed there is breathtakingly beautiful silence. Occasionally an argument erupts which is usually quelled by the bigger kids or on rare occasion my husband or I intervene.
We allowed iPods and iPads on the trip up, and will allow them again on the way home. Otherwise, they are off limits. And it is amazing! There has been much book reading, talking (intriguing what 10-13 year olds discuss), playing games, drawing, fighting (yes, they do), playing with each other (hence the fighting), cooking, walks and trips down the street. It’s lovely (mostly).
What I am really loving is that my mind is having a break from rushing to and from everything. My sister-in-law has this amazing array of wonderful novels-and I am in heaven just browsing the shelves. Can you believe I have begun three novels-and finished one! And she has all of these interesting magazines. I had never heard of ‘Frankie’ magazine, and now I am totally hooked. It is a very hip mag for 20-30-40 (I think) somethings!!!! I could be deluding myself. I am totally putting a subscription on my birthday wish list. It is such a discovery living in someone else’s home. I promise, I haven’t looked in any private places (we are very respectful).
I am writing this sitting on a beautiful beach (One Mile Beach) of fine white sand. We checked out all of the beaches in the area, and this is definitely the one for us. Great run up of sand down to the water, and gorgeous gum trees, native bush and cliff face to the south. Waves rolling in but impressive enough for the big four to boogie board, and a long, gorgeous whitewash of shallow water. Enough for the littlies to jump around in with life jackets under close supervision.
One of our greatest challenges for the day is getting ourselves, the eight kids and our mountain of stuff onto the beach. My man and I look like a pair of giant tortoises trudging along the sand. We sink lower and lower to the ground until we agree on a spot and plonk! We are often not only loaded with buckets, spades, boogie boards, towels, hats, umbrella, food, water, but sagging at the knees under the weight of small children. And, of course our chosen beach is a bit of a haul, so I have to do a bit of mental preparation before we embark once and sometimes twice on our daily journey.
The kids and I are having a lovely time beach combing. Looking for little bits of sun bleached something’s on the sand -and displaying our treasures in the evening. I have brought our ‘too whizz bang for me’ new camera and have been taking lots of gorgeous photos of the kids. It’s easy to take great photos when you have divine little characters doing interesting things all day. And a long range lens means that most of the time they are not even aware that I am capturing their childhood magic.
Nothing is more divine to me than the pure joy and adulation on our children’s faces at the beach. There are always the usual complaints about the sand, the heat, sunscreen in their eyes, kids shaking sand from towels on each other and fights over sandcastle building. When I watch them riding those waves, and jumping in the water, it totally takes me back to those joys in my own childhood. I have always adored the beach and all that goes with it. The clean air, the seemingly luminescent light, the array of all shapes and sizes of bodies on display. The kids are usually reluctant to leave the beach, with only the promise of a return trip the next day enticing them to trudge back up the sand walkway to the car.
Of course, holidays are not all blue skies and sunshine. Our little darlings can be excruciatingly tricky at times. Most days, the big kids would like to be doing something exciting, like going to the local swimming pool complete with monster slide, sand dune sliding, jet ski riding, parasailing or horse riding. The difficulty is that x4 or x6 or x8 depending on who participates, it becomes prohibitively expensive.
As it was a thirteen hour drive here, we stopped in the stunning Bowral for one night. We had to secure two rooms, which was $330 for the night. We went to the local Mittagong R.S.L. for dinner, which was another $120 – cheap really. But seriously, it does all add up! So, we are eating in, and spending a lot of time at the beach (which is free!). Most importantly we are incredibly fortunate to have free accommodation for two weeks.
One of the great joys of holidays is to see your family all interacting together, enjoying each others company and getting to know one another a bit better. I relax the hair schedule. I still brush and put most of the girls hair up, but it might be a bit lumpy. It’s more about knot control. I leave my thirteen year old son alone. Our hairdresser asked me on his last visit how he prefers to do his hair. “Ahhhh, he doesn’t, so really short would be great”. I know I am not alone on this one.
What we are doing on these holidays is making memories. My memories of my childhood are so sketchy. I seem to remember vividly all of the desperately fabulous bits and the desperately terrible. The clearest and most wonderful memories I have are of a six week trip my family took up the east coast of Australia in our lime green and white Millard caravan when I was ten. I can recall what I wore, how the sun felt on my face, my sweaty thighs being stuck to the hot, vinyl Kingswood car seat, the blustery gale like wind on a ferry trip, bashing through the bush in an old bus on Fraser Island, and arriving back to school tanned, relaxed and feeling a wiser soul.
I want that for our kids. This trip away has been a test run to see if it is possible for us as a family of ten to have a similar experience. Some moments it seems like the cleverest thing in the world to do and others I am set back on my heels and think we must be crackers. One thing is certain, I will clearly NOT be doing the navigating!
What memories did you make this summer?