Holidays. They seem to bring out the best and the worst in all of us. A heightened sense of what it means to be human and alive, mixed in with the chaos and calamity that ensues when things don’t go to plan.
Last week we returned from our Winter beachside escape. At times it felt stunning and amazing, though to be honest, for a good portion of the time it also made Dave and I both feel like staging a covert escape.
The odds may have been slightly stacked against us.
Taking four children (plus a dog) away for three nights is bound to be a little tricky under normal circumstances, let alone when almost all of us were sick. I was taking strong medication which was affecting my sleep, mood and sense of taste, and Harvey was in the process of transitioning to bottle feeds during the day. Nevertheless, we set off in an air of naivety and hoped for the best.
We arrived at the cosy cottage in Sorrento and quickly realised that while it was charming and well-furnished it wasn’t exactly designed for a rowdy family with four kids. Knowing that we would have to pay for any breakages of the boutique ornaments scattered throughout the place did little to help me relax. We also struggled to get the heating working and found the tension quickly seeping in.
The front patio at Bluepoles Beach House in Sorrento
Eli was thrilled to get a huge bed all to himself.
Growing up, a treasured part of my holiday memories involved being able to choose whatever we wanted from the supermarket. Granted, this may have been a little more exciting for me given that we grew up with a vegan/vegetarian diet, but the kids seemed suitably thrilled when I proposed the situation. Shopping with four kids just before dinner time probably wasn’t the best plan, though, and we soon realised that we were largely outnumbered in the adult-hyperactive kid ratio. Dave ended up staging a hasty evacuation while I attempted to figure out on the fly the supplies that we would need over the next few days. Thanks to handy bucket of chalk in the car it ended up not being a complete disaster.
I came to a lot of realisations over the course of the holiday.
When I am stressed I become a particular type of person – withdrawn, frustrated, emotional, wound up in the little things, unable to properly grasp perspective. I catastrophise and picture the worst, feeling as if we will never make it out of the quicksand. Snappish responses at the kids come far too easily and I begin to tell a resentful story to myself about my role within the family. At my best, I become completely different – calm, joyful, spontaneous, fun-loving. I delight in the little moments, savour my surroundings and feel almost serene in spite of it all.
The Enneagram has been a game-changer in understanding this dynamic. At first glance, the almost pentagram-like lines on the diagram seem like a design rather than data. Yet, these lines play a significant part in understanding how one’s type is expressed in periods of growth and stress. As shown below, I go to the worst of a Type Four when I’m stressed and towards the Enthusiast (Type Seven) when I’m thriving.
There were moments during the holiday when I felt as if I were breathing underwater. The flood of thoughts, stresses, needs and frustrations threatened to drown me and I really struggled. Bickering children, coughing fits during the darkened hours, a baby who refused to settle. Things that normally wouldn’t have impacted me somehow felt like a huge deal. An empty cling wrap container, drying clothes draped over every available surface, a falling candlestick. I allowed it to overwhelm me and govern my emotions. One of the only ways I found helped me regain perspective was to repeat the mantra ‘You are not your thoughts’ over and over.
Then there were the magical moments.
Our great family friends came down to spend the first day with us and it came close to perfection. The guys allowed the girls to beat a hasty retreat to the quirky Captains of Rye cafe while they wrangled all seven (!) of the kids and we left feeling recharged and ready for parenting again.
We shared a BBQ lunch together and then revisited the beach, watching with mirth as clothes were eventually completely discarded and four skinny ninjas appeared, ready for battle. The warm winter sun soaked into us as we sipped on hot chocolates and watched tiny hands fruitlessly throw handfuls of sand back into the wide expanse of ocean. Even Harvey’s unsettled cries failed to make a dent in the experience, as I felt such peace and gratitude for the incredible beauty that surrounded us.
When we parted ways and packed sandy bodies back into cars for the drive home it was with the satisfaction of a day well spent. Returning to the beach cottage, we headed straight for the outdoor shower on the deck, where the steam rose and the sand slid off, three contented smiles as they huddled together and pleaded for it to never end.
The next morning we rose early to meet the Ferry, smiling at the familiar faces of grandparents who had driven down to share the journey. The warmth inside was encompassing, and we sunk into comfortable seats to watch the waves sail by. When we ventured out onto the upper deck, the wind whipped around us, making us feel alive.
Eli lost his tooth on the Ferry… and then I lost it out of a hole in my purse. Thankfully the Tooth Fairy was very understanding after I wrote her an apology letter!
After an initial miscommunication about our intentions for the jaunt, we fortuitously stumbled upon the Queenscliff Brewhouse – located perfectly across from the playground and at the base of the hill, and enjoyed an absolutely delicious lunch together in which all of the kids managed to behave the entire time. While waiting for our orders, I ventured into the town to explore – sorting through vintage treasures, leafing through artifacts of eras past. When the Ferry eased back into the port at Sorrento, we truly felt as if life couldn’t be more perfect.
Sorting through the memories and emotions of the trip, I feel indebted to the Enneagram’s framework of understanding. Knowing in the moments of overwhelm that I was heading straight into Type Four territory gave me the edge I needed to process all the difficult emotions, even if I couldn’t reason my way out of it at the time. I can’t avoid periods of stress and melancholy, but I can try to reorient my perspective to travel more towards the Seven, more towards absolute delight and captivation in the moment.
The feelings of exhaustion and frustration fade, and now we get to craft the story. The struggles become a part of the narrative, not the ultimate outcome. We are left with the materials of beauty – moments of captivation, ecstasy and happiness – which can be woven into grander threads of hope. Even if Hudson, upon being asked what his favourite memory of the trip was, did reply: ‘the car trip’.