Photos in this post are from the party we had for Mum’s 60th, my reason for travelling back to South Africa. It was a painting party held at a boutique hotel just outside of Johannesburg followed by a gourmet picnic in the hotel grounds!
I was going to include this in Stella’s four month update post but as that’s taking me so long to write, I decided to do a separate post about how well Stella travelled to South Africa. I am finding it harder and harder to make time during the day to work on the blog and evenings are for sleeping thanks to what I am hoping is just the four month sleep regression and not the continuation of some bad sleeping habits on behalf of our littlest family member! Back to my last minute trip to South Africa. A few weeks before Mum’s 60th birthday on the 8th August, I lay awake in bed after a 4.30am feed and couldn’t get back to sleep. I kept thinking about all the family occasions I had missed because I live far away, in particular I was thinking about missing Mum’s amazing 50th birthday celebration when the family and 20 close friends all travelled to Mozambique for a long weekend. I had just started a new job working for Bloomberg in London and we made the decision that I stay and work as I had no leave allocated and a bizarre sense of dedication to my new corporate lifestyle. I had just spent the previous 6 months working 60 hour weeks FOR NO PAY at a photographic studio in London trying to launch my photography career. Sigh. Those were the days.
Anyway, I digress. So I was lying awake at 4.30am whilst the rest of the house was asleep and I couldn’t get it out of my head, the fact that I have missed all these family occasions and for what reason? Money, time, effort? I decided that I really wanted to travel home for Mum’s 60th birthday party and when I finally fell asleep I dreamt about flying and missing planes and losing luggage. When I woke up I asked Ron what he thought and he was behind the idea 100%, the plan was that Stella and myself would fly home for a long weekend and Ron would take a few days off to stay home and look after Amy. Later that day I called Dad and he thought it was a brilliant plan but suggested I call my sister Liv and decide with her whether we tell Mum of my intentions or not. Mum does not like to be surprised, or rather Mum appreciates the anticipation of events as much as the actual event itself. Liv and I had a long chat and because the party was less than three weeks away we decided to keep it a secret and surprise Mum instead! I went into full scale planning mode and that night booked our tickets. Then we had to run around like idiots getting Stella’s passport application filled out. Despite having to go back and get her photo taken again and missing the Friday afternoon post deadline, I managed to get the application lodged for priority and then I was able to sit back and anticipate how much fun it was all going to be.
I am not sure why I was so relaxed about travelling alone with Stella. I think because we flew from the UK to South Africa with Amy at the same age and survived I knew I could handle it and when you spend all day, everyday taking care of a dramatic and entertaining three year old plus a four month old baby, well the thought of just being responsible for the baby seems positively relaxing in comparison. I was super organised and so didn’t really have to worry about anything whilst travelling and the flight was every bit as relaxing as I had hoped it would be. Stella slept for hours at a time in the bassinet and when she was awake she was sweet and smiley and happy and then would have a feed and go back to sleep. Unlike Amy at the same age, Stella settled really easily in the bassinet so I could just wrap her up and plonk her down. I likened it to being at a spa for a day, I was sat down comfortably with a spare seat next to me, my baby in the bassinet. Someone brought me food and offered me drinks and then came and cleared it all up. I could watch whatever I wanted on tv and eat a bag of lollies without sharing. Later if I pressed the buzzer then someone would come and ask me what they could bring me! I even got some sleep which I wasn’t really expecting. As a result I arrived feeling rested and excited.
I carried Stella in the sling in the airport as our big pram with the clip-in car seat is too big to take to the door of the aircraft. Although it was hard work carrying her, it was so easy as she is still very happy tucked into the sling against my body. Everywhere I went people smiled and asked how old she was and if they could help, I was overwhelmed by the help actually, people really did go out of their way to assist me. Our plans to surprise Mum worked perfectly, Dad collected us from the airport and then we met Liv in her car down the road and she drove into the driveway first. She went inside to call Mum out to see something and then Dad and I drove up and I hopped out the car. The look on Mum’s face will stay with me forever, she was stunned, so overwhelmed that she just put her head in her hands and walked away! We were all very tearful, happy and excited and I was overjoyed that we had all made the decision for me to go home!
I was so happy to be home that I didn’t even worry about whether Stella would sleep or not. In the end she went down in the cot in my sister’s old room at about 8.30pm, slept until I got into bed at about 11pm and then I gave her a feed before tucking her up next to me in the bed and we both slept until about 2am. She was awake then for nearly an hour but was content to lie next to me in bed chatting to herself while I read my book and then after another feed she slept through until 7am the next morning. Just like Ron and I had suspected when we planned this trip, the length of time that I was away was just the perfect amount, not so long that Stella got over the jetlag and mixed up her days and nights and not too short so that I actually got to really enjoy my time with my family.
Stella was the perfect baby for the day of the party despite the fact that she was coming down with another cold. She was asleep when everyone arrived and when she woke up and came out to say hello, she handled the attention like a consummate pro! It was a like a flock of magpies descending when all the Grannies rushed over to see her! The rest of the day she either hung out in the sling and charmed people with her smiles, or she slept in the pram which I parked in a quiet spot at the hotel where we were holding the party. The activities for the day included a group painting task which is why we are all dressed up in forensic suits and then a gorgeous gourmet picnic outside in the beautiful highveld sunshine, at one point later in the afternoon it all got too much and Stella and I both fell asleep tucked into a comfy lounge chair. Later Mum told me everyone who walked past stopped to take a photo of us sleeping together. Thankfully I don’t think I was drooling too badly! Despite the time difference I wasn’t really affected with jetlag either and my sister and I think that this is because when you are really sleep deprived, it doesn’t matter what timezone you are on, you will be feeling tired and also able to cope with that feeling of exhaustion better than if you were well rested. Although I was tired on occasion, I never felt so tired that I couldn’t relax and enjoy myself.
Stella’s cold got worse on Saturday night and we ended up calling Mum’s Dr on Sunday morning just to check what her recommendations were. I was worried that Stella’s blocked nose and throaty cough might move into her sinuses or ears before we were to fly home. Thankfully despite being sick with a horrible cold, Stella was still her usual sweet self and she was a little better on the Monday, helped by saline nasal spray and the humidifier in my sister’s room. Of course I was sad when the time came to go to the airport but because we are all travelling back to South Africa again at the end of the year I didn’t feel too sad saying goodbye. It was such fun doing a last minute trip, there were no expectations and as a result we all had a really good time and didn’t sweat the small stuff. The problem with going back home for a long holiday is that sometimes we get bogged down in the details and forget to really appreciate the time together as a family. This lightning visit really helped remind me of this fact and I look forward to being a lot more relaxed in Johannesburg at Christmas, not worrying about who to see and where to go and what to take with us.
The flight home was every bit as relaxing as the flight on the way there. This time I had both seats on either side of me free and no other babies near by. Stella was beautifully behaved again, apart from when she threw up ALL OVER me in the airport waiting to board! It was quite hysterical actually because just after I had found a discrete spot to feed her before we boarded, they started to get people up and lined up behind a table for another security check. A man was walking around the lounge asking people on the flight to Sydney to come and line up and then Stella just chucked up the whole feed into my lap so I had to drop my trousers right there and then and get changed! After childbirth my sense of modesty has been somewhat scarred! In another amazing act of generosity this kind man told me not to worry about lining up, he would send someone over to do my security check then and there and afterwards I could go and sit behind the check-in desk and they would see that I boarded the plane first. The help I received really made travelling with a baby on my own much easier than if I had even had Ron there to help!
And so it was that Stella and I were security checked and ready to board before the long queue of people had even started to move and when I was shown onto the plane I really was the first person on board. The flight was shorter by nearly 2 hours travelling back to Sydney 12 hours as opposed to the 14 hours on the way there and by the time we arrived back in Australia I was really looking forward to seeing Amy and Ron. Its hard to describe how I felt being away from Amy for the 5 days, I think in a way the hardest part was almost the fact that I didn’t seem to miss her nearly as much as I feared I was going to. She is such a strong willed, independent and happy child that I knew she wasn’t going to suffer from my absence in any way and that made it a lot easier for me to go and enjoy myself knowing she was ok. And being away from Amy was worth the joy that I felt seeing her run towards me in the airport, her little, skinned knees, knobbly and grazed sticking out from under her too short dress, her face covered in ice-cream and her sweet sticky kisses. Everything about this trip back to South Africa is now a treasured memory and a milestone weekend, not least because Amy decided to toilet train herself the one week of her life that I am away from her!