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Do you recall the time when taking a flight for a holiday get-away was not unusual?  It was common to see parents, with kids in tow, among the excited travellers.

For those of us sitting in front of them, the bump in the back of our seats caused by excitable little legs was far from welcome, but the click of the safety belt, and the loudspeaker blaring:

“In the event of an emergency, attend to your own oxygen mask before a child or person in need” signalled take off.

Parents could breathe a sigh of relief as they thought of the pleasant break ahead of them  — the kids safely on board, Kids’ Club awaiting at the end of the journey, and a drink by the pool.

Back then, the all too familiar instruction about oxygen masks seemed counter intuitive until we thought about it.  Then it made sense.  In an emergency, oxygenated, able-bodied parents were better able to help fit masks on their little kids — but with no emergency expected, it wasn’t worth overthinking.

Besides, that instruction applied to those memorable days up in the air. Nowadays we are down on the ground — possibly for quite a long time.

It’s true, luxury getaways in jazzy planes were not available to all parents, not even in Australia. But most parents had their ways of managing parental cabin fever brought on by the stresses caused by school, home and employment.  The balancing of parental duty and reward, hard work and respite, were perhaps easier to achieve then.

Thinking back, for many parents, admittedly not all, there were people to help.  Some were paid, such as babysitters, and some were free, such as willing grandparents who would step up and give a hand for a much needed breather.  There were also the advantages of schools and schoolteachers, welcoming cafes, kid friendly parks and get togethers where the kids entertained themselves and parents got to hang out at the same time.  In some ways, this was almost as good as a holiday.

And yes, there were the family get-a-ways. For some it may have been camping, or simply visiting relatives a bit of a drive away. For others,  it began with kids riding their colourfully decorated little child travel cases with wheels, ‘ports’ for our Queensland friends, tearing through busy airports, parents averting collisions between their power crazy little case-riders and intolerant fellow travellers pushing equally misbehaving trolleys — the security check shamble, the onboard trickery to amuse their jiggling little bodies, and ultimately, the reward… the Kids’ Club and the drink by the pool.

But things have changed. And there’s no sign that we will ‘return’ to the way things were — possibly not ever. Parents have traded airport security for shopping centre policing as they push trolleys through supermarket aisles where the virus may lurk,  trying not to drop soggy disinfectant-drenched tissues, instead of pushing cases bursting with swimming gear and colourful sun hats.  And now, parents buckle up in their ‘hopefully’ Covid-free cars to travel to the only destination that’s available to them — their babysitter-void homes, with grandparents, like Mr Squiggles, on screens.  The Kids’ Club and the drink by the pool are a distant memory … or was it always only a dream?

Either way, many parents, but perhaps not all, are experiencing feelings not dissimilar to oxygen deprivation: at times, euphoria — isn’t it great being home with the kids? — and ultimately, breathless weariness.

It’s true.  Here on the ground,  many parents are down.  The need for ‘oxygen’, figuratively and in some cases, sadly quite literally, is plain.

So reach out – reach up – and down the oxygen mask – but first you must find it, in whichever form it may take, and having found it, calmly fit it, and breathe deeply — those around you who need you to be able bodied and oxygenated, most likely your children, are relying on you.

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