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Nothing Is Fun For The Whole Family


This seems lovely, doesn’t it? Until you realise that is not the ocean Garnet is wallowing in but actually self-pity. See the ripples of misery he is causing? See how they threaten to knock H off his stand-up paddle board? 

The school holidays are over. May Blossom went back to class this morning, creeping like snail unwillingly to school, after we’d located her lunch bag and drink bottle, and wiped the slug trails off her hat.

The family Gusto spent a good part of these holidays on a tropical island in Vanuatu, which was, as always when you travel with a three- and a five-year-old, roughly equal parts so good we never wanted to leave and so bad we wished none of us had ever been born.

The first forty-eight hours of the trip were dreadful. It was so unpleasant that we were going to leave, and were looking into alternatives to where we were staying. Weirdly, by day three, neither H nor I could really put our finger on what exactly had been so intolerable.

I mean, there were a bunch of little inconveniences, like our transfer forgetting us at the airport in Luganville, and our hut on the island having first no hot water and then no running water at all. There were way too many carrots at each meal for the first two days. And more mozzies than we anticipated. But really it boils down to the fact that H and I were exhausted, in great need of a holiday, and utterly unpleasable. Nothing was good enough for us. Everything felt wrong, and we felt stupid for choosing such a terrible place, and spending so much money, and not having any fun. We both expressed the fear that maybe we were just no longer capable of enjoying ourselves.

We were so grumpy that I think if the hotel had offered to resurrect David Bowie and have him slide under out mozzie net and sing us to sleep that first night we would have said “But where’s Freddie Mercury? I don’t want to hear just David Bowie. Why did we even come here? I hate Vanuatu and I hate David Bowie.”

But when we stopped being arseholes, we had an absolutely excellent time. Not all of us, obviously, because we adhere to an old maxim that I was raised with: ‘Nothing is fun for the whole family.’

In this case, the family member who really had lost the ability to enjoy life was Garnet. Poor old Garnet. He fell asleep just before our second flight, and really never quite recovered from waking up discombobulated and thirsty. For the next seven days he rarely let me out of his grasp, and he cried and threw tantrums hourly. Here is a small selection of the reasons why.

  1. He wanted ice cream in a cone, not in a massive martini glass. There were no cones on the island. The nearest cone was a 35-minute boat ride away.

  2. He wanted three brownies for dessert. He should have three brownies, he argued, because he is three. Because he is three, he wanted three brownies because he is three.

  3. He was not at home in Sydney, but on an island in Vanuatu.

  4. His heart was broken for a hermit crab whose shell his awful mother accidentally stepped on. No amount of explaning that hermit crabs just move on to another shell made any difference. Eventually his grief for the broken shell of the hermit crab morphed into grief for the flat we sold when he was six months old. He would like to have that flat back. We are cruel and heartless parents for selling that tiny flat to buy a much nicer and larger house.

  5. He wanted a stuffed teddy bear. Why does he not have one?

  6. He wanted his fishing net. Why did we not bring his fishing net on holiday?

  7. He wanted his own ipad. Why do the kids at the next table each have one of their own and why are they allowed to watch it during meals and why won’t I buy him one right now. I asked where he thought I might buy him one, and he suggested the sea.

  8. He doesn’t want me to die because then he will have no mummy. He doesn’t like whoever Daddy will marry next. I refrained from saying that the feeling would likely be mutual.

  9. He wanted to ride the foal who lived on the island. Why can’t baby horses be ridden? Why is the world so cruel? Never mind that we let him ride a full-sized horse, and the horse went swimming in the sea with him on top. No foal, no fun. Not even the revelation that the local term for foal is ‘pikininni blong hoss’ cheered him up. I think it’s one of my favourite phrases ever.

  10. He wanted to go fishing. By this stage we were leaping to attention and swiftly throwing all our effort and money at whatever he asked for in the hopes that it would just stop the howling for even a minute, so we organised a boat to take us a few hundred metres off-shore to go fishing, with proper rods and bait and everything. He fell asleep thirty seconds into this exercise and had to be shaken awake when H caught a large coral trout, which we obviously told Garnet he had landed, due to his unparalleled sleep-fishing skills.


For the first few days of this behaviour we thought he was just being a hideous threenager, but then we realised his occasional coughing was becoming a bit relentless, and the steroids that usually fix his croup weren’t doing anything except possibly enraging him a bit more, which we didn’t need.

Eventually, I took him back to the nearest town – half an hour away by speedboat– and we passed a pleasant morning at the local hospital, which was full of people with real injuries and terrible illnesses, all of which were being treated with paracetamol and penicillin. The staff very graciously treated us like actual patients, and we too left with a few handfuls of paracetamol and penicillin. That was exactly what he needed and within forty-eight hours he was much better and began to actually enjoy the last few days of the holiday.

Alas, it may have been to late for the numerous honeymooners on our island, who no doubt went home to research permanent methods of birth control after spending a few days with our family.

We started to have a very good time once Garnet was on the mend. We all dialled back on being arseholes quite significantly, and started being relaxed holidaymakers, which I much prefer. I spent most of my time on my bed under the fan, reading books, or on my daybed beside the beach, reading books. I was pretty much landscape for the better part of a week. Sometimes I rolled down into the sea for a while and lolled in the shallows. I did once go snorkelling because I felt I ought to, but then I remembered I hate snorkelling and get claustrophic and am frightened of fish.

We kayaked out to sea a little bit most evenings and sat quietly waiting for sea turtles to swim around us and wave, which they did, obligingly. Twice we rode horses in the sea, and the horses swam and we floated along on the top of the water holding their manes, feeling very adventurous and also pretty reckless and scared and wondering how we would explain to people back home that our children had died because we let them ride horses in the sea.

And once we kakayed from the sea along small rivers and through lakes until we reached a blue hole, which is exactly what is sounds like. Remember the movie The Blue Lagoon? Well, it was like that but with more life jackets for the kids and less of Brooke Shields’ boobs. It was amazing, and for a few minutes there, something was fun for the whole family.

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