The holiday break that almost broke me

October 18, 2022
8 mins read

How to have big fun on your holiday break (not). Includes eye-gouging, projectile vomiting, Rainbow’s End and Costco. By GARY STEEL

It was going to be a pressure valve release to ease the stress of a particularly fraught year.

During the second week of the school holidays, we were getting away for three nights and four days. Nothing spectacular, just a short trip down country to make up for the previous two school holidays, where we pretty much just stayed home with the occasional day trip.

Now I know why. Staying home is so much better in just about every way.

We’d taken all the precautions, made our bookings early, had the car checked out for the long haul by our friendly mechanic, figured out our timings, and even remembered the first aid kit along with CDs to play on our elderly car stereo, which doesn’t even do Bluetooth (shock, horror). It seemed like a good omen on the morning that we were only running 30 minutes late.


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But half an hour into our trip the 3-year-old, who was eating a packed sandwich, sneezed. This tasty combo of masticated bread and snot triggered a gushing spew in our 8-year-old, who accurately trained her acid bile on the only warm jacket my wife had packed for the trip, and other porous surfaces.

This unexpected event necessitated a roadside stop outside an old pub. Had it been open at 8.30 on a Monday morning I may have retreated inside for a cold one. This would have given me the necessary philosophical insight on our forthcoming holiday, and we might have turned around and headed home right there and then.

But no. After the clean-up, and the placating of screaming kids, we pressed on. Some 30 minutes later, our neighbour rang to say that our lop-eared rabbit Moe had escaped from his enclosure, and was helping himself to our veg garden. There were several other fraught progress reports during the day, as other kind neighbours joined in the bunny hunt. Thankfully, by day’s end the ball of evil fluff had been captured and put into solitary confinement until we could return and figured out how he got out in the first place. He’d fallen asleep in a discretely-placed cat carry vessel with a nice bed of hay inside, so the capture simply required shutting its door.

It’s a long trip from our Northland home to Athenree campground near Waihi, where we’d booked a ‘motel’ unit. It’s a beautiful spot and it was a great relief to be released from the confines of our vehicle, along with the litany of complaints, ear-piercing shrieking and fighting coming from the back seat.

The 8-year-old showed her appreciation by launching a “hug-attack” at me, a manoeuvre the kids learned from one of their favourite TV shows. This involves the perpetrator catching the victim off-guard, running at them, and in this case, attempting to jump up and clasp both hands around the neck. Except that one of her hands was off-aim, and the thumbnail of her right hand jabbed me directly in the left eyeball.

I felt like I was dying. I must have sounded like a wounded bull. For a minute or so I really did think that she had taken out my eye completely, such was the physiological reaction to being forcefully stabbed. I couldn’t open it, I couldn’t see, it hurt like hell. Eventually, I realised that the eyeball was still there, but it took about an hour just to be able to open my eyelids enough to see that it was still intact. The kids were awestruck that there was blood on it, and that it was soaked in redness.

The long day was over. I couldn’t even read the 8-year-old’s bedtime story. I retired to bed to nurse my wound and hope like hell that there’d be vision in my eye the next day, and that I wouldn’t have to spoil this precious holiday with a trip to an emergency ward.

When I woke on Tuesday I could see, but the vision in my left eye was blurred, and it was very red. I felt completely out of sorts. Unfortunately, we had a full day planned and there was no backing out. The wife would have to shoulder driving duties for the rest of our holiday. This time, it was the 3-year-old’s turn to spew. He was ill all day and slept through most of it. The chemist recommended some eye drops that eased my pain a little, but between the 3-year-old’s illness and my sore eye the day in Tauranga – which we’d been so looking forward to – became a chore to endure.

Central to our trip was a visit to my parents’ memorial at a local cemetery, but because of the duress we were under we ran late and forgot the implements we needed to freshen up the plot. The youngest one, who never got to meet his grandparents, slept in the car through the whole thing.

One of the main reasons we booked at Athenree was the hot pools. There’s nothing more relaxing than soaking in thermal water and despite everything, at least we had that to look forward to. But because the 3-year-old was ill, only one parent could have a soak at a time, and of course the 8-year-old insisted on going. The complication? Children aren’t allowed in the adults-only 39-degree soaking pool, but children need supervising in the bigger, lukewarm pool. The lukewarm pool was no fun at all for me with my sore eye and all the splashing and noise, but I couldn’t get a relaxing soak in the hotter pool because of the rules. So even this one special activity, which would have helped compensate for everything that had gone wrong, wasn’t available to us. I suppose I could have been harsh and insisted on Daddy-only soaking time, but…

The next morning we packed the car and headed back to Auckland for the kids’ first-ever exposure to Rainbow’s End. I lived in Auckland for close to 30 years without ever feeling the teensiest desire to visit this amusement park, but kids will be kids. We’d booked tickets to the children’s area as they’re both too short to participate in most of the rides in the main part of the park. And near-miraculously, both of them had a FANTASTIC TIME! The 3-year-old was feeling much better and both of them were beside themselves with joy. The grownups weren’t exactly ecstatic having to trudge around the park, stage-managing and supervising the kids for hours and hours as they repeated all their favourite rides. Seventh heaven for the wee mites, a bit of a drag for Mum and Dad. But of course, we soaked in their joy and that got us through.

My elderly aunt kindly put up with us on the last night, but the kids just wouldn’t calm down after a day at Rainbow’s End and were unruly and rambunctious and I felt ashamed at their impolite behaviour.

Thursday morning my eye was still sore and gravelly and I just wanted to go home. But we had one more major job to complete: our first Costco experience. I’d signed up online and thought that getting in and grabbing a few things before hitting the road back up north would be a painless experience. Oh how wrong I was! The entire parking building was full. We ended up parking on the street some distance away. When we rolled up there were queues out to the door. Multiple queues. Queues of people waiting for their instant membership cards. This involved showing them the online membership, along with a photo ID and proof of residence, at which point they took a mugshot – black and white so that it mercifully did not show my bung eye – and bingo! A cluster of machines was assembled on the right side of the long table to churn out membership cards.

This process took about 30 excruciating minutes, at which point we were allowed in. I was momentarily relieved, and then instantly aghast. This enormous space was absolutely crawling with people. Everything was random, so people and their carts were going every which way at the same time. Imagine if roads were like this, with no left or right lanes: carnage. Not only was it completely chaotic, but without a map of the huge interior, it was impossible to know where you’re going. IT WAS HORRIBLE! At this point, I would rather have been chased by a gang of badly composing zombies intent on chowing down on human flesh than deal with literally thousands of Costco shoppers. My anxiety went through the roof and I just about imploded. I HATE CROWDS! WHY AM I HERE? JESUS, SAVE ME!

The wife – who is incredibly stalwart and a real rock in such situations – was focused on the prize/s. We had planned to have lunch in what we’d heard was a food court, but couldn’t find it. Eventually, we asked an employee who sent us off in the general direction. It turned out we had to go BETWEEN two of the counters, which each had massive lines of people waiting to purchase the goods on overloaded carts, and then line up at a single shop to order the food. There were massive queues at the one food shop as well, so we swiftly gave up on that idea.

The wife wouldn’t leave without at least a cursory purchase or two, so I tried my very best to contain my anxiety. There would be no point, after all, at freaking out and ending up in a straitjacket. A massive bag of massive croissants and a trolley-full of extra-sized everything later, we finally inched our way to a check-out counter and an unexpectedly cheery, chatty counter person. Almost there… almost there… slowly towards the exit… Except that the wife suddenly remembered that she’d planned to take the kids’ photos next to the giant stuffed toys. We headed through a gap in the counter only to have an angry-faced authoritarian staff member bawl us out and tell us that we couldn’t go that way, and would have to go out the exit and come back in again. Not having the energy or time to do that, we gave up the idea and trudged all the way to the car.

On the way home, the 8-year-old complained of feeling ill and during the last couple of hours’ travel time we had intermittent screaming and yelling and crying in the back seat. She ran a temperature for the last few days of the school holidays, which meant little sleep for the already-exhausted grownups. Meanwhile, I woke up the next morning with two completely blocked ears. An infection had rendered me as deaf as a post and miserable with it. Hey, but at least bunny was back in his cage.

When a family occasion goes horribly wrong the first thought is often: “Well, I bet we’ll look back at this and laugh!” But nobody, ever, decided to go through hell just for a few retrospective chuckles in their dotage. Time softens our attitude to many of our less savoury experiences simply because we’d be basket cases otherwise. Chances are, things might work out better next time.

Steel has been penning his pungent prose for 40 years for publications too numerous to mention, most of them consigned to the annals of history. He is Witchdoctor's Editor-In-Chief/Music and Film Editor. He has strong opinions and remains unrepentant. Steel's full bio can be found here

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