Just the two of us How to have a happy empty-nester hol­i­day

Jenny Tucker is thrilled that it will be just her and her hus­band again this sum­mer

Woman & Home (South Africa) - - In this issue... -

It was my hus­band’s hol­i­day to Brazil that made me think he was the man for me. Thirty years ago, when we had just started dat­ing, he told me he was o on a three­week trip with friends to Rio de Janeiro and the Bahia coast­line. It seemed so dar­ing and thrilling, the kind of jaunt I’d give my eye teeth to do, and in that mo­ment I de­cided, here is some­one who could be in­ter­est­ing to have around. I was right.

You see, travel has been our thing. Some cou­ples buy cars, or join ex­pen­sive mem­bers’ clubs. We’ve al­ways agreed that money is well spent on air­line tick­ets. Be­fore we had our two boys (now 19 and 16), we tripped across a sig­nif­i­cant lump of the globe, notch­ing up mem­o­ries, tak­ing risks and hav­ing buck­et­loads of fun. It’s not to say we haven’t had mem­o­rable hol­i­days with the kids (the one where our ram­pag­ing tod­dler plopped in the villa pool and my hus­band jumped in fully clothed – jacket, shoes, non­wa­ter­proof watch – is for­ever etched in my mind), but there is a di­vid­ing line be­tween cater­ing for fam­ily get­aways and ac­tu­ally do­ing what you’d truly pre­fer to do on a much-needed break. Like avoid spend­ing two hours in a toyshop when it’s gor­geously sunny out­side, or pass pa­per bags to a teenager on the flight home af­ter a mishap with a bot­tle of retsina.

Back in the day, we planned our jaunts with a pas­sion. Even though we weren’t flush with cash, we’d save fe­ro­ciously and of­ten dis­ap­pear for a month, our back­packs stu ed with books and scraggy T-shirts. Be­cause it was just the two of us, we were free to go wher­ever we wanted, live on a bud­get and take our chances. We’d re­search a long list of op­tions: South Amer­ica, China, In­dia, Aus­tralia... and be giddy with the thrill of it all. There wasn’t even an itinerary most of the time, let alone a first-aid kit con­tain­ing Calpol. I’ll al­ways feel blessed that we got to sing Bob Mar­ley songs with a crazy Ital­ian on the beach in Mex­ico... ate seafood caught 30 min­utes ear­lier (by us) on the beach in Belize... and dived with ham­mer­head sharks in the sparkling-clear wa­ter of the Gala­pa­gos Is­lands. Oh, the joy.

Tod­dler time

But, like the rest of life, when chil­dren come along, things change rad­i­cally. Hol­i­days mean you of­ten be­come a roadie for a week or two, car­ry­ing in­flat­a­bles around like a street hawker and con­stantly run­ning to the ice-cream seller for an ice lolly to ap­pease bouts of scream­ing that oc­cur at in­ter­mit­tent in­ter­vals. When kids are young, hol­i­days can be ex­haust­ing. Like one of my friends said, “It’s a change of scene, >>

but worse be­cause ev­ery­one is out of their rou­tine and the kids never sleep.” I re­call my boys were ob­sessed with play­ing end­less games of ‘Mommy Mon­ster’ in the pool. This en­tailed me be­ing the mon­ster and chas­ing them up and down while snap­ping my jaws like a rav­en­ous al­li­ga­tor. They’d squeal with de­light and swim away, of­ten kick­ing me in my snarling chops while do­ing so. It was sweet to see them so ec­static but, af­ter three hours of the same, I was al­most cry­ing with re­lief when I fi­nally man­aged to read two pages of my novel be­fore col­laps­ing in a snor­ing heap.

And there have been won­drous trips with my chil­dren that I’ll cher­ish un­til my last breath. We trea­sured those golden years when they reached an age where we could choose more ad­ven­tur­ous lo­ca­tions and they were still com­pli­ant enough to agree. We bun­dled them o to Ar­gentina where we went white­wa­ter raft­ing on Christ­mas Day; we ex­plored Thai­land where the youngest was so shat­tered by all the es­capades that he lit­er­ally fell asleep face down in his din­ner ev­ery night; we camped in a re­mote part of the In­dian jun­gle where we were gob­s­macked by the daily visit from a wild ele­phant fam­ily who came to bathe in the nearby wa­ter­fall.

But, of course, our chil­dren got older, be­came teens and had opin­ions of their own. Sud­denly we were an­noy­ing and sooooo bor­ing as hol­i­day com­pan­ions. It was ob­vi­ous that girl­friends, friends, soc­cer, and Wi-fi were more cru­cial than spend­ing two weeks in a Turk­ish villa with an in­fin­ity pool and par­ents who dare to chat to you! A few years ago, we did travel as a fam­ily to a beau­ti­ful part of Turkey and hap­pened upon a pri­vate beach club, known as Fun Land, which, for our el­dest, was about as much fun as step­ping on a ra­zor blade. While the club oered giant bouncy cas­tles an­chored out at sea, soar­away slides and piles of all-youcould-eat food, he chose to stay back at the villa with his com­puter, be­cause it was “too hot in the sun”. He came home the colour of Tipp-ex and wield­ing a deep fur­row be­tween his eye­brows where he’d scowled so much.

Wish you weren’t here...

And while I did go through a brief phase of griev­ing for the fam­ily hol­i­day idyll, I soon re­alised that life – and par­ents – must move on. One of my best friends, Fiona, has re­cently started en­joy­ing time away with her hus­band again. They’ve just booked a trip to San Se­bastián in Spain, where they will gorge on tapas rather than scour­ing the back streets for a chorizo-free restau­rant for their ve­gan daugh­ter. “It’s such sweet re­lief to go away on our own,” she tells me. “We can do what we love, like walk round ci­ties, browse in book­shops and see gal­leries with­out a bar­rage of moan­ing. We love be­ing up and out early – they want to lie in till noon. And we no longer get an­gry that they’re not ‘ap­pre­ci­at­ing’ it enough!”

An­other pal of mine, af­ter sur­viv­ing a dou­ble bout of cancer, re­signed from her job re­cently to em­bark on a five-month utopian trip to far­away lands. She of­ten sends me pho­tos and mes­sages to keep me up to date (and en­thralled) with her ad­ven­tures. It’s such a tan­ta­lis­ing dis­patch. Her last post in­formed me that she’d rocked up to a dinky beach hut in Costa Rica run by a man named Wolf. Wolf! En­vi­ous? Who, me?!

We once took the kids on hol­i­day to a coastal car­a­van site. We thought it might be fun, but it rained ev­ery day and our car­a­van smelt of old socks. One day, my youngest threw a fit about pick­ing up his damp clothes from the bath­room floor. He turned to me, puce with anger, and bel­lowed, “You can’t tell me what to do. I’LL DO WHAT I WANT!”

Well, now it’s the time for my hus­band and me to be a two­some again, a cou­ple who can travel for longer, di­verge o the beaten track (per­haps Bali or Tu­lum), be dar­ing and lis­ten to the glo­ri­ous whoosh of the world’s seas with­out in­ter­rup­tion. And if we want to drink a glass (or three) of wine at 3pm or 3am, that’s our busi­ness. Be­cause you know what, we’re go­ing to do what we want.

‘While I did grieve for the fam­ily hol­i­day idyll, I re­alised that life needs to move on’

Jenny and hus­band, Pedro last year in Por­tu­gal. Left: zip lin­ing in Costa Rica, 2007, with sons Luca (left), five, and Rafael, eight

A fam­ily hol­i­day to Uruguay, 2008. Be­low: in Ra­jasthan, In­dia, in 1996

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