Category Archives: Little Aussie

Baby Down Under #2: The Public Hospital

Little Aussie

12 days ago, Baby #2 entered our family. Here she is, the little squish face!

When Hushpuppy (Baby #1) came along four years ago, I wrote about our amazing experience with a public birth centre, and though her birth didn’t go exactly (even close) to plan, it was still overall an experience I wish I could have repeated and would recommend highly. But, because Hushpuppy ended up being a C-section, I wasn’t eligible to go back to the low risk birth centre, and instead we opted for the public hospital option.

So, for any of you expats or parents to be who are considering your options (or, for any of my Americans who wonder what “public” health care is really like), I thought I’d share the experience we had this time around with our local public hospital. Of course, this is just one story among many.

The Choice

Here in Australia, we have the option of having maternity care through the public or private system. Anyone with a Medicare card is eligible for the public option, at no additional charge (everyone pays into Medicare through taxes). Public patients are seen through the public hospital in their area, do not have a choice in doctor, and may stay in a shared room, depending on the hospital. Private coverage requires private insurance (often with a year of maternity cover, in advance), plus fees of around $8 – 10,000, depending on your doctor and hospital. The benefits of private care are consistent care from a doctor you’ve chosen at your preferred hospital.

Key factors that guided our decision to go public were:

1. Total confidence in our local public hospital, which has exceptional maternity facilities and a NICU, should anything have gone awry
2. We weren’t concerned about choosing our own OB (personal preference – I wanted to primarily see midwives).
3. Bonus: Our local hospital has done a major upgrade to the maternity ward since we had Hushpuppy, so there was a good chance that I’d get to stay in a private room. Room sharing was essentially the only complaint I had about our first experience.

Pre-Natal Care

My first call, once the 2nd line appeared on the test stick, was once again my trusty GP. She did the initial round of blood tests, and gave me a referral for the hospital. At my request, she also gave us a referral for the Harmony Test, which was the only thing we had done privately. It is completely optional genetic testing, and cost $500 out of our pocket, with no Medicare rebate.

I was booked into the hospital for my first appointment at 12 weeks. A lovely midwife (they were seriously all lovely) took my medical and family history, explained that I would see midwives, aside from two visits to the doctor’s clinic because of my previous C-section, and had an initial conversation with me about my birth preferences. I left with all of my appointments booked for the duration of the pregnancy. Too easy!

All went along swimmingly, with regular checks at 8 to 6 week intervals (closer together once we got nearer to the date). The doctors and midwives walked me through my options regarding scheduling a C-section (an option because of my first) or trying for a VBAC. I was firmly in camp VBAC, though this time a little more realistic about how birth happens as it will, regardless of your best plans.

Around 34 weeks, we took a tour of the maternity ward, which is a very well worth it optional, for a cost of $8 per adult – so, $16 for the husband and me (Hushpuppy hitched on to our coattails, complimentary). That was our only other out of pocket cost, so total cost to us for the whole pregnancy was $516.

Things started to get more complicated at my 36 week appointment with a doctor. My main concern going in was that the baby had been breech, and I was worried that if she hadn’t turned, I’d have little choice but to schedule a surgical delivery. Turns out the little champion had flipped herself, but then – completely unrelated – my blood pressure reading came up much higher than normal. My routine appointment turned into a battery of tests for pre-eclampsia – which I didn’t have – and instructions to follow up with the maternity clinic after the weekend.

I’m not going to lie. I went into a bit of a frenzy at that point. I more or less fasted for two days, hoping that would somehow lower my blood pressure, though I’m sure that the stress level I’d worked up by the time I walked into the clinic did nothing to improve my still elevated results. Again, I had no other markers for pre-eclampsia, but I was asked to come back again the next week. And then, again the next week. This whole exercise was stressing me out to no end, but meanwhile, I made it through my mini baby shower and Easter. Hushpuppy was so excited about the Easter Bunny, my main objective was to keep the baby snug inside until after the Bunny delivered his chocolate eggs.

The Birth

The following Friday, I was in for more tests and an ultrasound to monitor baby’s growth. While nothing was seriously alarming, there were enough borderline markers between my blood pressure and a couple of things on the ultrasound for the doctors to counsel me that it was baby time. And so, after dropping Hushpuppy off with a friend, we were at the hospital at 8a.m. the next morning for a birthday. My last ditch attempt for a VBAC through having my waters broken was a no-go, and so, after I cried my tears, I was in surgery for my second C-section by 11a.m.

Everyone has their own experiences of birth, and a planned C-section is not something I would have ever chosen for myself. Hushpuppy’s emergency C-section seemed to fly by, with little fanfare, but I can’t say that I found much to like about this

experience. The doctors and midwives were all professional and caring, but the operation was much too uncomfortable, clinical, and jarring for my taste. I suppose what I’m saying is that if anyone tries to tell you that C-section is an easy way out of birth, I’d give them the dirtiest look you can muster. There’s no easy way out of birth.

The baby came out shrieking like a wildcat, so I had no question that her lungs were functional. The doctors held her up for me to see, and after a quick check by the midwives, they placed her on my chest for a skin to skin session. In the recovery room, they helped with her first feed, and then popped her under a heat lamp to warm up while Dad sang to her, and I drifted in and out of sleep.

The Hospital Stay

The hospital recommends a stay of 48 hours for a vaginal birth and 72 hours for a C-section, which they’ll vary on a case by case basis. Big score for us – we did get one of the private rooms! In fact, the ward was extremely quiet over the weekend, and I’m sure everyone there was in a private room, with beds to spare. That privacy made every bit of difference to my mental well being between this stay and the last. I did hit a spot of overwhelm on Monday morning, when the quiet weekend ward suddenly came alive with weekday traffic, and it seemed like my room was Central Station with, not just the regular midwives and doctors popping in, but the photography lady … some guy doing a research study … a volunteer selling newspapers … a nice old lady with knitting from the Anglican church, who couldn’t quite get to her point … We mentioned it to the midwife on duty who promptly saved the day by finding us a “Do No Disturb” sign. Sanity restored, and the remainder of our time there was about me, the baby, Dad and big sister.

I don’t feel like I’m an overly picky eater, but the hospital food was at least as horrible as expected, so thankfully Partner-in-Crime came armed with a giant bag of snacks and a steady stream of meals that sustained us for the 3 day stay. Oh, and lest I forget his daily coffee delivery. I had the worst heartburn during my pregnancy, to the point that, even with medication, I’d given up many foods, and all drinks, aside from water. That first flat white he set down on my tray was like an affirmation of why I married this man in the first place.

Going Home

We went home on Anzac Day, after 3 nights in hospital. I mourned the good drugs they’d been giving me in the hospital, as I suddenly felt like I’d been hit by a freight train when I got home (again – C-section – not easy – ooof). Maximum doses of Panadol were on the menu for the next week.

The following day, a midwife from the hospital came to visit us at home to check on our settling and weigh the baby. We ended up having two more visits from the midwives, who determined that baby was growing well, and we didn’t seem to be losing our minds (the gift of the second baby, everyone tells me). They will come or call for up to two weeks, depending on each family’s needs.  Next, we’ll have a visit from our local Early Childhood Centre for baby’s first health check, and from there on out, we’ll visit them for routine visits. And of course, we’ll always have our family GP available for illnesses and medical concerns.

So, once again, I had a baby whose arrival was nothing like I planned. They laugh at my plans, these babies! But, however she came, I’m grateful for the care we received that brought her to our family safely and with respect. She’s settled her little self right into our home, and I can’t wait  to share our ongoing adventures, now as a Down Under family of four.



I Love You and I Like You

Little Aussie

My baby girl turned 4 last week, in a blaze of wrapping paper, buttercream, and a steady stream of declarations (hers) about all the things she can do “now that I’m four.”

Four does seem like a momentous shift. No question that toddlerhood is well and truly over, and her independence has grown by leaps since we last rounded the sun together. As these milestones tend to, it got me thinking about where we’ve been – our journey together, so far. My memory landed on this feeling I had all through my pregnancy. I worried that my kid probably wasn’t going to like me.

Before she arrived, the things I knew to be true about my future child were: I would love her with the ferocity of a thousand charging stallions. She would love me, too. I would do the best I could figure out to do for this confounding little person.

I was fairly certain, however, that while she would love me, she wasn’t going to like me. Me – the rule maker, setter of bedtimes, and restricter of screen time. Me, who would always tell her where she needs to go and what she has to wear to those places. The one who would make her clean up messes and wash her hands before dinner. I imagined that I’d be the buzzkill. Oh, she’d love me, but how much fun is the one who is always trying to keep you in line?

In our earliest days together, it almost felt there was truth to my premonition. We didn’t get off to the most cordial start to our relationship. I had a hard time feeding her properly due to supply issues, and then her dairy and soy intolerances, which took weeks and weeks to work out. I had one job. One job. To provide nutrition to this kid – and I was failing at it. The poor little hungry and uncomfortable thing was none to happy about it, either. Then, there was the harness she had to wear for a month to correct her hip dysplasia, just as she was trying her hardest to get mobile. And, she hated to sleep. Hated. It.

As I predicted, I would have jumped in front of a moving train for that little bunny, but she really wasn’t having the best time with me.

And then, sometime around 6 months, things started to click into place (except the sleep – the blessed, blessed sleep!). We hit our groove. She’s always been fiercely her own person, with her own will, but it never occurred to her for one second not to like me.

In my mind, I’d somehow turned my baby into a tiny teenager, not realizing what a long road of cuddles, devotion, and emotional need we had before us before we reached that age when her tenuously growing independence will cause her to sometimes see me as the spoiler of plans, and the ruiner of fun.

I look back now, and remember fearsome tantrums at 18 or 20 months, which I learned to let  run their course, until I’d finally step in to offer a hug to an emotionally drained toddler, who would collapse into the respite.

I will never forget her first ear infection, around age 2-1/2. As I carried her to the doctor’s office, she sunk her sore head on my shoulder and told me she loved me, of her own volition, for the very first time.

These days, my baby girl can feed herself, put on her own shoes, and pack her own toys away. There are more rules and restrictions from me now, than there have ever been. And, sure, she doesn’t always love putting her blocks away before TV time or having to wear a hat to play outside, but she also loves bigger than ever. We have a hundred snuggles a day. She tells me she “really, really, really, really” loves me. We talk about her observations, her dreams of being an astronaut or superhero, and her very real fear of monsters. Even when I’m short with her, and down on myself for losing patience, her forgiveness is immediate and unconditional. She can be shy when new people talk to her, but never with us, whose faces she scans the room for, and whose company is still her favorite in the world.

As expected, there’s a big, big love between my this girl and me. But it’s the unexpected gift of this unwavering little best friend that humbles me the most. To steal a line from Parks and Recreation, I love you and I like you, my Hushpuppy. And, it is the greatest gift of my life that you love me and you like me, too.

Why My Family Needs the Olympics

Little Aussie

I’m not a sports person – nothing against sports, I just sort of forget it even exists, most of the time. But, when the Olympics rolled around, I felt like we’d all get something out of watching, so we’ve been tuning in catch as we can for the past few days, and this experience of watching the Olympics with our 3 year old girl  has turned out far more important than I expected.

A few reasons why the Olympics are turning into something special for my family:

The Opening Ceremonies

From the first moment of the Opening Ceremonies, my little girl was on full alert and bursting with questions about what the performers were doing. It occurred to me that this was her – and probably many children’s – first experience with conceptual performance art. We take her to art galleries and children’s performances, but it’s rare to see theatre on this scale. I tried to answer all of her questions and point out interesting things for her to notice.  I thought it was a splendid example of beauty, spectacle, vibrancy, color, metaphor and message. The more children see art, the more they can appreciate it, and this show was something special.

Women in Sport

I have a sporty, sporty little girl. Soccer class is her favorite hour of the week, and ever since about 2-1/2 when a lot of little girls started enrolling in dance class, it has not been unusual for her to be the only female amongst a dozen boys. In daycare, she doesn’t look twice at the dolls, instead rushing out to the playground to scale the climbing equipment. I couldn’t possibly be less athletic, so I know she didn’t get it from me, but she is just wired for activity, coordination, speed, and competition. As she gets older and more aware of gender roles, I don’t want her to lose her love of sports, just because it’s not what most of the other girls are doing. I am already seeing the first signs of it creeping home – “Arrabella said that I’m a boy,” she said to me the other day. And then a few days later she started crying, “I don’t want to be super. I want to be beautiful.” My heart broke, and I got angry, but mostly because I know this is just the beginning of her internalizing this stupid message.

So, having all of these examples of the different sports that women can play and excel at is a moment I am not going to miss. I know the women in sports have spoken out about not wanting their physical appearance discussed, which I understand and I don’t think the media should use it as a talking point, but frankly, with my little daughter starting already at 3-1/2 to get the message that she can’t be both sporty and beautiful, I am going to say how strong, fast, determined, and beautiful these women are. My girl is beautiful, and I don’t want her to think that she has to choose one or the other.

Hey, Arrabella, have a look at these incredible Olympic women and tell me they’re boys, hey.  


Last night, we watched Catherine Skinner as she captured her gold medal for trap shooting, and it did not go past my kid that she was receiving hugs and smiles from her fellow competitors. “Why are they hugging her? Are they happy?,” she asked. 3 year olds aren’t particularly known for being magnanimous losers (or winners, nah-nah-nah-nah-nah), so don’t think I was letting that teachable moment float by!

“It’s kind to congratulate the winner, even if you wanted to win. You should be nice, even when you win. Blah, blah, blah.” I don’t think that this is automatically going to turn her into a pre-school statesman, but she got the picture all on her own, and I trust that we’ll continue to see good examples of sportsmanlike behavior.

Family Together Time

We do a lot of activities together, but it’s rare for us to find something that we can all agree on to watch. Heck, even my husband and I are rarely interested in watching the same program, never mind the tiny tyrant’s usual demands that our single TV be perpetually tuned to ABC Kids. So, to snuggle up together in front of something that we can all appreciate is a fleeting moment to embrace.

When your international family has three teams to cheer for, it’s even more fun. Go Team U.S.A.! Go Serbia! Go Team Australia!  We’ll be watching, and learning from you, our excellent athletes.

A Visit to Club Pippies in Chatswood Westfield

expat issues, Little Aussie

A Visit to Club Pippies

Edit: Club Pippies is, unfortunately, now closed.

Confession time: I get a little jealous – in particular, I turn a shade greener whenever I hear about fellow parents with family nearby. Such is life as an expat parent (parents with families out of state, who don’t have a great relationship, or whose family is no longer with us – I see you, too). For us expats, of course it was our choice to step away from our village, but sometimes I do have a quiet twinge of envy towards people who can manage a date with their partner while the grandparents take the reins for a few hours, or get to run a couple of errands, while leaving the kids for some quality time with aunts and uncles. So, when I was invited to visit Club Pippies at Chatswood Westfield, I was intrigued by their “Shop and Drop” program, where parents can leave their kids with the staff while they do their shopping, or sit outside and get some work done using the free WiFi.

Not quite “baking cookies with grandma” level, but it still sounded pretty good.

Club Pippies Chatswood

We popped into Club Pippies on a weekday afternoon, and it was fairly quiet, but Hushpuppy still quickly found a couple of friends to conspire with. She did some painting and craft with little boy, whose mum had gone out for a some shopping. Then, she and another girl ran into the big play gym with one of the staff members, from where she occasionally poked her head out over the next two hours, just to tell me that she’d mastered the slide or that they’d renamed all the balls from the ball pit after fruits. Actual acts of bribery were required to convince her to leave as we inched close to dinner time. Meanwhile, I sat at one of the tables in the cafe drinking my coffee, wondering why I hadn’t brought a nice book to read, or my grocery list to tackle alone.

Grocery shopping alone. Even big dreams can come true.

Craft at Club Pippies

Nailed it!

Club Pippies Westfield

The club’s manager told me that they always have activities on for the kids, and that they change them out during the day. All of the staff have First Aid certificates and Working With Children checks.

I loved how the staff got the kids playing cooperatively together. Sometimes play centers can turn a little Lord of the Flies and it’s every pre-schooler for himself, but the staff kept saying, “would you like to play with Bobby?” and “Look, you and Anna can play with this together!” – and so play together they did. They remembered off of the kid’s names, and knew the particular interests of the frequent attendees.

Club Pippies accepts children from 6 weeks onward, and run extra activities during school holidays. Parents can either “Stay and Play” ($12 for 30 minutes up to $25 for 2 hours) or “Shop and Drop” ($18 for 30 minutes up to $45 for 3 hours). I asked for the full lowdown on the monthly membership because I really felt like some of my expat parents will get something out of it, so here’s the deal: For $99 per month, you can bring one child as many as 3 times per week for up to 2 hours per session. If you do the math, that’s not quite as cheap as Grandma would be, but a lot less than a babysitter or occasional care in Sydney.

**I got a little cheeky, and asked if Club Pippies could sweeten the deal even further for my people, and they said, “yep, sure thing.” So, mention Between Roots and Wings, and you’ll get $20 off your first month’s membership. (Club Pippies does require that you commit to at least 2 month’s membership, and then you’re free to cancel with at least 2 week’s notice).**Club Pippies Chatswood**I did not receive any compensation to write about our visit to Club Pippies, though our visit was complimentary.


If you go…

Club Pippies – Level 6 at Chatswood Westfield
Website / Facebook 
Email: / Phone: 9419 5050
Suitable for ages 6 weeks up.
I’d suggest dressing kids in something suitable for craft and active play.
Mention this blog for $20 off your first month’s membership.

The Zebra Conundrum Part 2: Notes on a Third Culture Kid’s Accent

language, Little Aussie

Notes on a Third Culture Kid's Accent“She’s been telling us all the names for this,” the daycare worker told me this morning, holding up a garden toy. “She said it’s a spade, and can also be called a shovel.” That’s my cunning little AusMerican, showing off a skill she’s worked out all on her own.

Last year, I wrote “The Zebra Conundrum,” a post where I talked about choosing whether to pronounce words my way (American) or the Australian way when talking to and reading with my 2 year old burgeoning talker. At that point, it still wasn’t clear what words she would pick up, with what pronunciation, or if she’d find it all terribly confusing. I was certainly finding it confusing.

When I’m speaking to Australians, I’m pretty good about changing my language from Yank to Aussie, but it feels odd to do so when speaking to my nearest and dearest. Like a fraud. Or, a even a betrayal.

Maybe that was a smidge dramatic.

Today, I have a 3 year old chatterbox, and the funniest thing has happened. Australians tell me that she has an American accent. Americans, on the other hand, hear an Australian accent. And, I can see where they’re both coming from.

At the gym creche, the Australian workers like to ask her to say “soccer” because they think it’s cute how she says “sock-ER,” not “SOCK-a.” Yet, I’m continually taken aback when she asks to eat a “to-mah-toe.” Yet, somehow, she requests a “buh-NAN-uh,” not “BAN-nan-uh.”

The other day, she ran up to this thing at the playground, and told me – Notes on a Third Culture Kid's Accent

…”I want to go on the roundabout…” It took me a moment to even remember which country calls it that.

It became clear to me that she’d picked up on the social nuances one day when we were out with a British friend of mine. Hushpuppy had chosen a doll, and she marched up to my friend and told her that the baby was wearing a (*insert nearly indiscernible pause*) “nappie,” despite the fact that I have only ever called them “diapers” at home. Somehow she knew that my friend, who speaks with a different accent than her mother, would know them as “nappies.”

When I wrote about the Zebra Conundrum, I was mostly concerned with how my word and pronunciation choices were going to impact her future language. What I didn’t give nearly enough credit to was TV. We like our ABC Kids in this home, and they show programs from Australia, England, and the U.S. I believe that, more than anything I’ve done or not done, that the mix of accents from The Wiggles, Peppa Pig, Curious George, and so forth, has impacted her fluidity in moving between accents. I don’t know how else you can explain the way she occasionally whips out the most British sounding “mummy!” just like our hero, Peppa Pig.

She also recently began childcare, and looking around her center, she’s surrounded by a lot of other Third Culture Kids, who will surely be leaving little linguistic stamps on each other, as their language develops together.

From before she was even born, everyone we know wondered how her accent would turn out. Meryl Streep or Nicole Kidman? Or, Guy Ritchie era Madonna?

While it’s still a work in progress, it would seem that she’s sounding exactly as she ought to – one part her parents, one part her culture, and a big sprinkling of her own wits, desires, and charm.Notes on the accent of a Third Culture Kid

NSW Fire Station Open Day

Little Aussie, Sydney With Kids

A Visit To NSW Fire Station Open Day

Last year, I took Hushpuppy to her first movie – Fireman Sam: The Great Fire of Pontypandy (which, it must be said, was a lot like the other fires that infest Pontypandy on a daily basis, only longer and with popcorn). Ever since, she’s had a budding fireperson streak, conducting harrowing “rescues” and alerting about “emergencies” on the playground. So, when we heard about the New South Wales Fire Station Open Day, there was nowhere we would rather have been.

That time of year is coming up once again – this year on May 20, 2017 at participating fire stations across NSW – so I wanted to make sure that all of my fellow parents of Junior Fire and Rescuers had the skinny on one of our favorite events.

We found our local fire station in Crows Nest, and joined a few dozen other local families, most with young children who were generally fairly awed by the trucks, equipment, and the firemen and firewomen, who were making rounds of conversation, setting up demonstrations, and happily snapping photos.

Most important photo of the day. She’d be talking about this meeting for weeks…Fireman with child at NSW Fire Station Open Day

There were a few demonstrations while we were there, including the raising of the ladder truck (general aaaahs and amazement all around). And, they also put on a safety demo about preventing fires in your home, complete with a pretty impressive explosion that sent my 2 year old into tears, and the older kids into shrieking delight. (My girl will be 3 this year, so I’m sure she’ll handle any pyrotechnics like a professional). Fire Station Open Day Crane

We could walk inside the station and see the trucks, the uniforms, and the fire pole, which they wise had roped off to suggest, hey maybe don’t climb it, our insurance isn’t that good, alright? The station even got a call while we were there, so off one team went, sirens a-blaring, which was obviously the height of cool.

Not to worry, there were plenty of trained firefighters on hand, ready to take up a hose. Fire Station Open Day Mini Firepeople

The most popular attraction was the fire truck, which was open for the kids to climb on. Everyone displayed admirable order in queuing for their turn and keeping the pace moving, while parents snapped photos of their little heroes.Fire Station Open Day - Inside the Fire Truck

The line was only sightly shorter for the requisite sausage sizzle. It’s hungry work, keeping up with the awesome Fire and Rescue crew.Fire Station Open Day Sausage Sizzle


If you go…
New South Wales Fire and Rescue Open Day 2017
20 May 2016, 10a.m. – 2p.m. at participating fire stations
Full details on the website
Free entry. Bring a few gold coins for the sausage sizzle.
BYO firefighter costumes (highly recommended!)

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The Expat Family Photo Book

expat issues, Little Aussie

Expat Family Photo Book

There was a moment during my pregnancy when our midwife asked if we had any family to help with the new baby. I don’t know if I’d ever felt so alone as I did at that moment when her face momentarily registered horror and concern when we said that, no, we just had us to contend with the tiny hurricane that was soon to enter our home.

While it’s true that having family help on deck to help with a newborn would have useful, I’ve come to miss having our families nearby much more acutely as Hushpuppy has gotten older, able to interact, and eager to sort people into categories. Surely, if you ask almost any expat family the biggest challenge of living abroad, they will tell you that it’s the sadness and guilt that comes with lost time with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

We’ve logged plenty of airline miles to ensure that Hushpuppy has spent time with both my family in the U.S. and Partner-in-Crime’s family in Serbia, and she sees them on Skype when we’re able; but I wanted a way for her to see family anytime, and to help her understand who fits where in relation to her.

So, I made my little Third Culture Kid a gift I hope she’ll hold dear – a personalized family photo book.

To create the book, I simply used a photo editing site (Snapfish because they had a good sale on, but I think most sites have good photo book editing software these days). Along with a multitude of layout choices, there were also a lot of stock images and accents to choose from to make it a bit adorable, so I just spent an afternoon playing around.


I divided the book into U.S.A. Family, Serbia Family, and Australia Family, giving a page to each relative, and scattering the accompanying pages with photos from moments she’s shared with each of them.

I have been enjoying looking at this book with her so much. We carefully go through each page, naming everyone, and talking about things they’ve done together. It certainly doesn’t replace having all these special people nearby, sharing her growing up together, but I hope that this book will be a special keepsake for her to always remember that her family is near in heart, if far in presence.


Seychelles Mama

More on our expat family life…

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INK – Interactive Neighborhood For Kids – A Hidden City in Gainesville, GA

Little Aussie, usa travels

Tucked away behind the train station and across from the Hall county’s recycling center is a hidden little city, and one of the most wondrous places I’ve ever taken my child.

INK (Interactive Neighborhood for Kids) in Gainesville, GA is an interactive museum set up to resemble a town – but a perfect little village where everything is just right for children. It’s quickly become our favorite stop when in town visiting Grandma, though Hushpuppy and I can only go when we have a minimum of three hours, preferably more, to get lost in a day’s worth of work.

When you enter the play area, you step onto a main street with rooms on either side, each one a different work space. There’s the diner, the bank (with an actual ATM), the dentist’s office, the animal hospital, the hairdresser, the courtroom, the ever-popular grocery store, and a “Broadway” stage with costumes. Each room is full of items from real offices and shops, and many have outfits that the kids can wear, like doctor’s coats or chef uniforms.

Hushpuppy is partial to imaginary-transporting herself from one shop to another on a motorcycle that sits in the middle.

A little further in town is a section devoted to all things train (important in Gainesville). There’s an old fire engine. And, on the outskirts, is a farm with a cow that you can milk and a talking chicken.

Then, there’s the real police car. With lights and the whole thing. 

And, tucked away in the back room is a post office, a Red Cross shelter, a city building room, and … wait for it … an airport with an actual airplane. I know, right?

And if all of that is not entertaining enough (as if), there’s also a toddler room chock full of toys for under 3’s and a climbing structure for older kids.

The kids are free to explore every nook in any (safe, non-destructive, reasonable) way that they see fit.

I read online a criticism that someone found the toys to be “old” and “dirty.” Well, listen, they’re not new, everything is well loved, and the space is clearly an old warehouse, but I’ve never seen anything that’s dirty, unacceptable, or in any way unsafe.  My kid has plenty of new toys at home that she professionally ignores, so previously used items that spark her imagination for hours on end are more than acceptable for my standards.

I wish we had something like INK in Sydney.
Truth be told, we do have something like this, but truly, it’s *nothing* like this, if you catch my tone.
They just need real coffee – for adults – and it would be the world’s most perfect town.


If you go…
INK – Website
Location: 999 Chestnut St, SE, Gainesville, GA
Admission: $8 per person (including adults)/ $6 on Sundays
Bring your own food and eat in a designated lunch area inside or at picnic benches outside. 

The Tale of the Child Who Cared Not About Instagram: A Visit to Babyland General Hospital

Little Aussie, usa travels

I do love posting online all those whimsical moments to cherish that I just happen to capture in photographic form while my kid and are are, oh, just out and enjoying our everyday life. And, I so totally never go in thinking, “I need to get a picture of my kid doing XXX because that would make a great photo to post” ( Nobody (especially bloggers) does that, right? Just so fortunate when I have my camera on hand at that lucky, lucky moment…

So, I definitely did not have any images in mind when, as part of our Great Tour of Northeast Georgia (AKA – “visiting Grandma”), we took a drive through some beautiful sub-Appalachian scenery to arrive in Cleveland, GA at the storied birthplace of the inscrutably and profitably uncomely Cabbage Patch Kid – Babyland General Hospital.

Babyland General Hospital is not so much a “medical facility” as it is a “store” masquerading as a “museum,” hidden inside the great walls of a manor that may as well sing  a synthesized version of “Tara’s Theme” as you roll onto the estate. The staff all wear doctor’s uniforms to assist in their work of tidying up the toys kids have dragged around the store caring for newborn dolls. And, every hour or so, they make a show of the most bizarre ritual of “Mother Cabbage” “giving birth” to a new doll. Like much of great world mythology, it’s a spectacle you don’t want to think too hard about or wonder what it might do to your child’s future understanding of science and human reproduction. photo 2

I have a complicated personal history with the Cabbage Patch doll. I must have been 6 or 7 when their dimply plastic heads stumbled onto the world stage of “must-have” toys. It was the perfect age to be completely overtaken by “All-My-Friends-Have-One-itis,” and so began my very first sustained campaign to obtain something popular that my parents didn’t want me to have.

My parents thought the dolls were ugly (correct), overpriced (true), and faddish (ding-ding-ding), and so on moral grounds, refused to part with their good American dollars in exchange for one. I felt heartbroken and left out every time my friends paraded out their beloved “Annabelle Sues” or “Ezekiel Marks.”. At some point, my grandmother got her hands on some fake Cabbage Patch doll heads and actually made me a couple of impostor dolls (in retrospect, a pretty massive effort to appease me while following my parent’s moral imperative). But, they didn’t come with a birth certificate or ridiculous name, and I never felt they were quite right. This feeling of injustice carried on in me for literal years until my 10th birthday when, gifted with some spending money, I bought myself my very own red-braided Cabbage Patch doll, which I treasured as a victory of my impending adult freedom when I would, not only buy all the dolls, but eat sugar covered cereal and watch every forbidden episode of The Simpsons.

I give you this background so that you’ll understand where my mind was when, a quarter century later, we trotted my own child off to the actual home of The Cabbage Patch doll. Though my rational adult mind could see how nonsensical this entire operation was, my 7 year old heart wanted my girl to fall deeply in love with some curly haired “Bernice Alana” best friend or bald baby “Henrietta June” that she might care for with self-refilling baby bottles. Her grandmother – she of the ethical high ground – even offered to shell out 70 of her generous Grandmother Dollars to procure one for her beloved granddaughter from abroad.

Twice now, a year or so apart, we’ve taken this child to the abundantly fertile Patch. And, twice, my cooing attempts at building a kinship between her and one of these bloated kewpies have been met with a determined indifference.

I’ve chased her around with my camera ready to snap a moment of adoration between herself and any single one of the multitude of doll-babies, doll-toddlers, doll-schoolchildren to reside within the walls of the Plastic Plantation.

Alas, maternal, she is not…


“Can you sit and smile at Mama?”

“This would be cute and hard to mess up.”
“Here, let me cover up the logo with my arm.”

The more I chased her around espousing the virtues or potential doll matches, the more she looked at them sideways and then picked up toy watering cans or admired the plastic crystals adorning the baby garden. It was as if, by some magical spell, she could see everything in Cabbage Patch land aside from the Cabbage Patch dolls.

Eventually, she did find a friend – a stuffed Rottweiler sitting on a bench, keeping some “kids” company.
This is my baby,” she told me.

She put him in a stroller and pushed him around the whole store, taking marvelous care of him.

Grandma, naturally, was more than happy to make the canine adoption complete with a swipe of her Visa card.

Later at home, I made one final fleeting attempt at glory. “What’s his name? We could call him Cabbage Patch so that you remember where he came from.”

“His name is Dog,” she replied, and trotted off, satisfied with having the final word.

And so it was that a girl and her Dog reminded me that it’s not her job to mend the little sadnesses of my childhood by stepping into an image I’ve mentally crafted. That’s not her job any more than it will be my job to satisfy her every future dream of having the doll/game/machine/clothing item that “everyone else has.”

It was certainly, as her grandmother puffed proudly, also a testament to our girl’s superior aesthetic sense and good taste – something, she was kind enough not to say out loud – that must skip a generation.

How To Mentally Prepare For a Long Haul Flight With a Toddler

expat issues, Little Aussie

In a couple of weeks, Hushpuppy and will be boarding flights for the long trip back to the States.

My current panic level: Moderate to calm

Hushpuppy and I have clocked a lot of long-haul miles together, and my increasing familiarity with travelling with a toddler is the only reason I’m not in the Red Zone. Last year, I very nearly cancelled our first trip home because of my anxiety over flying alone with a then-22 month old firecracker of a lap baby. I would have missed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and my brother’s wedding, all because the thought of the 21 hours in transit alone with a feral toddler had become an anxious obsession. I was having nightmares every time I went to sleep.

Thankfully, I turned to the wise advice of other expat mothers I knew. Long haul travel with children is the well-trodden territory of expat mothers, so these marvelous women talked me down and convinced me to go. And, honestly, is was fine. Mostly fine. In any case, far, far more fine than all the personal apocalypse scenarios I’d been playing in my head.

So, I wanted to write this post for anyone who is going to do long-haul with a squirmy, rat-bag toddler. There are millions of excellent posts out there with advice on how to physically prepare for air travel with young children – what to pack, how to get the best seats, and so forth. You have Google. I won’t repeat that here. This post is to help you mentally prepare for the trip, so perhaps you won’t lose quite as much sleep as I did.

How to Mentally Prepare for Long Haul Travel With a Toddler

You Need Mantras

I am serious. My expat ladies loaded me up with an arsenal of mantras to keep me going. I wasn’t sure how much words would help me, but knowing that there were skilled travelers behind these personal cheerleading moments made me feel like I had a small army backing me up. So, please consider me part of your team, and let me give you a few of the mantras that get me through.

  1. You Can Do This!!! (Simple, but imagine a whole marching band and drill squad singing this. You Can!)
  2. It’s only ONE DAY of your life.
  3. You will never see these people again.
  4. If any idiot shoots you a dirty look, just remember how lucky you are to have this awesome kid. Their life is empty. Empty and loveless. You are winning.

Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Everyone Does Not Hate You

A lot of my anxiety came from the idea that I was going to walk down the plane aisle to a chorus of sighs and eye rolls, that I was going to make people mad, and just generally that everyone was going to hate me for being the mom with the baby on the plane. I packed bags and bags of chocolates to give to flight attendants and seat neighbors (most of which I never ended up giving out), and braced myself for being the Most Hated Woman in the Sky.

But, none of these fears came true. Here’s what actually happened. Lots of people offered to help. Flight attendants helped get me the best possible seats and brought me food when I missed a meal. The businessman next to me, who I apologized to for my very presence before I even sat down, played iPad with my kid and was kind as could be. When my kid cried for 20 minutes at landing, people came up to me after and said, “you did great, Mom” and “I remember those days with my kids.”

I’m not saying that no dirtbag will ever cross your path with an ugly look or snide comment, but most people are decent human beings with compassion and empathy.

Ask for Help

See above.
Yay – society works!
Also, accept help when it’s offered. People like to help. Let them.

Don’t Pack All the Things

Individually wrapped toys that your kid can open each hour – that’s the advice a lot of sites will give you for keeping your kid entertained. I am here to call B.S. Do you know how much room that takes up in your carry on? A lot. I did it. It takes a lot of precious space. And, you know what? All your kid is going to want to do is play on the tablet, watch the in-seat entertainment, pull out and put back the safety information cards, and – hopefully – sleep. In all of the flights we’ve done, I’d estimate Hushpuppy has logged maybe 14 minutes of interest on crayons, 41 on stickers, 6 on books, and 2 on Matchbox cars. I’m not saying don’t bring anything, but I am saying don’t go crazy. Being able to access things you actually need in your carry on is far more important than packing half of Daiso in hopes that your kid doesn’t suffer one single moment of boredom.

The one exception to this rule is snacks. Popcorn, raisins, crackers. Pack ’em all. Pack lots.

You Probably Won’t Sleep

Prepare ahead with as much sleep as you can manage the night before. Even if you’re lucky enough for your poppet to sleep, the best you can hope for is to drift off into what I call “mom sleep” – that state of sleep where you still know every breath your kid takes, every move she makes … every smile she fakes, every bond she breaks. You’ll be watching her.

It’s OK. You’ve been there. Remember the newborn months? Or, the night before every single research paper was due in college? It wasn’t awesome, but we survived it. This is just one day. And, the good news is that you’ll sleep like a boss on the other end where there will, hopefully, be some doting and helping hands.

It’s OK to Cry

Airplane crying? Welcome to the sorority of Expat Mums and long-haul travelers. It will probably be something so small that sets you off. For me, I asked a flight attendant to help me put up my bag. She scolded me that my bag was too heavy. I sat in my seat and cried for 10 minutes. I just really needed that cry. And, then I remembered my mantras and all the women I had behind me. A little cry doesn’t mean you’re not going to get through it. It’s just another way to kill a few minutes. And, it was nothing like the ugly airplane crying I did when I watched Marley and Me on the plane a few years ago!

Drug ‘Em. Or Don’t. Who Cares.

Oh, the great Benadryl/Phenergan debate. Do you give your kid a mild sedative to ensure that they sleep, or does that make you the #worstparentever? Do you want to try it? Do it. Makes you feel ooky? Don’t do it. You’re not going to ruin your kid’s life or make or break your trip one way or the other.* Me, I had it with me as a “break glass in case of emergency” precaution. It made me feel secure, and I never ended up needing it.

But, for the love of all the air and space gods, test it out first if you think you might go that route because you do not want to find out that you have one of those kids who thinks it’s Mountain Dew. That would ruin your trip.

*All disclaimers about pre-existing medical conditions, check with your doctor, I am not a trained professional, etc, etc.

Try to see things form your child’s perspective

This may sound a little treacly, but if your kid truly does crack it and make you feel a kind of crazy, try to change the script in your head by putting yourself in your child’s place. They’re not actually acting up to make your life miserable, but because they’re tired, uncomfortable, excited, overwhelmed, and maybe a little scared. And, they may be tiny dictators, but they really are just little.

Is there anything you can do to change their reality and make it easier? If not, see if you can cut them a little slack. You’re on the same team  – Team Let’s Get Off This Airplane Together In One Piece. Go team!


Are you a survivor of long haul travel with young children?
What are your mantras?
Tell us how you did it!

Seychelles Mama